Creating Playful Spaces: Setting Up a Child’s Project Area

Creating Playful Spaces: Setting Up a Child's Project Area

I am really excited that Annie Riechmann from Alphabet Glue and Bird and Little Bird is with us today to launch our Creating Playful Spaces week! Annie is sharing the inspiring project area that she created for her daughter.
Be sure to check back each day this week to discover tips and resources for creating engaging spaces for the children in your life. To celebrate, we are offering a 30% discount on the Playful Learning Spaces eCourse (see coupon below for details).

For the last few years, our family has taken up residence in a small house near the local hospital where my medical student husband spends a lot of his time.  Being near to the hospital means that we get to see him more than we otherwise might, but small space living as a family of four (with a myriad of pets) can sometimes be a challenge. Add to this the changing space needs of growing children, and I find that I often need to reevaluate how we are using our space and what we could change to do a better job of making our home a creative and useable, but also peaceful environment.

Recently, I came across Lori Pickert’s fantastic book, Project-Based Homeschooling, and found myself completely overcome with inspiration. I’m not currently homeschooling my daughter, but we do incorporate a lot of projects into our time together at home. Lori’s book made me realize that I really needed to make some changes to my daughter’s art space to bring it more in line with her needs as an older child (now eight) doing more sophisticated projects and artwork.

Creating Playful Spaces: Setting Up a Child's Project Area

My idea was to increase my daughter’s actual useable surface area, while also increasing her storage for materials and giving her a little bit of room for display. Oh, and I was hoping to be able to fit all of this into an area of our living room that is about four and a half feet wide, and to do it using only stuff that we already had around the house. The medical school family bit also means that our budget is tight and that there isn’t a lot of extra money to spend on cute organizational tools, fun though they might be.

I settled on moving our existing art table to a small section of wall that is adjacent to some built-in bookshelves in our living room.  Having her project space in a central area of the house is important to me; I have never been one to keep the living room decor “adult only.” The kids live here too, and I feel strongly that their activities should be folded into the common spaces in our home.  Plus, we literally have no where else to put them. We hung small display shelves on the wall above her table, and she immediately filled them with favorite collections, such as her jar of beach glass and a row of pretty minerals in decorative jars. One shelf is dedicated to some clay models that she has been working on (for a diorama about penguins that she wants to make). I also hung a small bulletin board for hanging notes, displaying work in progress or for keeping lists of materials that would be useful to have for completing a project.

Creating Playful Spaces: Setting Up a Child's Project Area

I cleared out some no longer needed books from the shelves next to her table, and instead, filled the space with a collection of things that she might need easy access to for creative endeavors of all sorts. There are field guides and reference books, magnifying glasses, science kits recently sent by some friends of ours, and some boxes of paper.  But from her perspective, the best part of the newly organized area is the fact that she now has free access to all the household art supplies. Her baskets and suitcases contain “real” paint (good quality acrylics and watercolors), as well as modeling clay, high quality markers and colored pencils and various rolls of tape; all materials I may have been more cautious with in the past. In her book, Lori makes mention of the fact that children respond to trust about their ability to use high quality materials responsibly by producing high quality work and I am already finding this to be true.

Here is a list of what I’ve included in Mariam’s project space:

  • pencils, hand sharpeners and erasers
  • colored pencils, markers and crayons
  • modeling clay and tools
  • stickers, labels, tape, balls of string, clothespins
  • paper, cardstock, stationery and bits of cardboard
  • paint and brushes
  • field guides, reference books, plant presses in two sizes
  • a bug house, magnifying glasses
  • glue sticks and liquid glues
  • oil and chalk pastels
  • card games
  • a “project journal” where she can keep track of project ideas, make sketches, take notes
  • a basket for storage of work in progress and for materials being used in the space on a more temporary basis

Creating Playful Spaces: Setting Up a Child's Project Area

In all, we are already finding that having easy access to a variety of materials that are well-organized can do great things for productivity, enjoyment of creating and for clean-up too.  My daughter is encouraged by her independence with using these materials and, I’m pretty pleased to have been able to find a way to incorporate a more organized project space into our small living room by making good use of what was already here.


Annie Riechmann is an educator, blogger and mama to two small people who lives in the Burlington, Vermont area. Annie is also the creator and publisher of Alphabet Glue, a literacy themed e-magazine for families, and is an associate editor for Rhythm of the Home. She is an unapologetic lover of striped knee socks, avocados, and field guides, and wishes that she was better at flying kites. You can check in with Annie at her blog, Bird and Little Bird, where she writes about everything from books and babies, to laundering snow pants.



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  1. This looks great! I love that she has easy access to all of these things. I am struggling to set up a project/writing/drawing space for my boys, and I wondered what you’d recommend for younger kids (mine are 4, 2, and 5 months). They love to draw and paint – on paper, on their toys, on the furniture, on each other… And crayons and chalk inevitably get thrown around the room or broken in half. Of course it is fine while I supervise closely, but I can’t always supervise closely when I have to care for the baby. So do I hide away all drawing utensils and bring them out only when I’m drawing with them, or do I let them have easy access? I know that keeping the “tools” unlocked increases creativity, but it also brings a lot of messes! Any suggestions??

  2. Ooooh… That is a tough one! My daughter was a big decorator of walls in her day, she even once told me “If you leave the crayons where I can get them, I will draw on the wall. I know I’m not supposed to. But I will.” I’d say that your best bet is to put the materials out of reach for now, but to begin introducing them one at a time during times when you can be involved/supervise. When you know that your kids are going to be responsible with a given material, then leave it within reach for a while. After that goes well (hopefully!), try repeating with another. In that way, you give them the chance to have some free access to creative stuff, but also teach them that you expect this access to come with a certain amount of responsibility. Your two year old might not be there yet- but it is certainly worth trying.

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