An Interior and Inclusive “Play -Away” Room can be Building Block for Happy kids.
The following blog post is a re-print from an EP /Exceptional Parent Magazine,reprinted with permission.
By: Charles M. Schwab Architect
“Play is the highest form of research” noted Einstein. So let’s take a look at how your little Einstein’s , or Dr. Frankenstein’s, as the case may be, can play safely and creatively in an interior space within your home. A Play-Away room designated and designed specifically for inclusive play.
Play is learning and forms the foundation for literacy as children may explore new vocabulary and exercise their imagination by storytelling. Play can take many forms from peek-a-boo to shaking a rattle and it can give kids a chance to be spontaneous and give them choices as to what and how they want to play. Play gives the opportunity for parents to interact with their children and they can encourage their kids by knowing when to interact and when not to.
Play gives kids space to practice balance, physical movement and test their limits and it can even help parents learn how to play once again themselves. Play is helpful to parents in learning about their children and it can help them learn their child’s body language while teaching them patience and understanding. Mostly kids need to learn how to control (or not) and decide their own play. And perhaps most importantly, play is and should be simply… fun. ( reference # 1)
In 1958 Sigmund Freud suggested that every child at play “behaves like a creative writer, in that he creates a world of his own, or, rather, rearranges the things of his world in a new way which pleases him….The creative writer does the same as the child at play. He creates a world of fantasy which he takes very seriously-that is, which he invests with large amounts of emotion”.
Ok, so now we have determined that play is indeed important to all children, research has also shown that the physical benefits of play can be particularly valuable for children with muscular and joint illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. (reference #2)
Since this is the home improvement issue, let’s look at how and where we can encourage inside home play in a designed space so toys are not haphazardly tossed around the house floor and the kids can have a space of their own they can grow with. At their early age, toys thrown all-about can pose a real safety hazard for anyone, especially the kids Grandparents who come to visit and may not see little matchbox cars all over the floor freeway.
I have a hopeful solution. A new room in the 21st Century Universal Design (UD) Home has become known as the main floor Flex-Room as it can change over time. In this case, let’s call it a “Play-Away Room”. If you live in an existing home and there is an old living room this is the perfect location to turn a rarely used space into the playroom. Whether new or existing home, it is preferred that the room be near the main living areas.
A Break from the Noise
An existing living room, or new home space, may have an open passage way or door opening that can easily be sealed with glass French doors. The idea is to create a private space that is still visible from the common areas so you can keep an eye on the kids, yet create an acoustic barrier and a private space where they can explore, and even make a mess, all by themselves, all the while, providing quick intervention should you wish.
Without such a designated space, when the kids grow up the house may very well sound like a video arcade. To that end, I’d like to discuss acoustic wall and ceiling treatments now so that when the kids use it for a video game room or better yet , homework area, the room is well suited for those uses by protecting both sides of the room from unwanted noise. The room is designed to be flexible so it will serve you well into the future.
Consider remodeling by removing the inside dry wall at shared walls and installing thick recycled cotton denim sound absorbing in-wall insulation. Thicker insulation absorbs more sound. Then attach metal sound resilient clips 24″ on center horizontal between studs. These will act as spring-like sound isolators. Install “Quiet Board” dry wall to these clips. It’s expensive but the idea is to block noise . If your very serious, build another 2×4 wall on the inside adjacent to the wall facing the great room. Maintain a 1/2″ space between the walls, sound insulate both and use gyp. bd. on all 4 sides of the two adjacent walls.
On the ceiling remove the gypsum board. and install sound batt insulation. Install 2 layers of gyp bd. The trick here is to stop the ceiling bd. 1/4 inch short of the side walls and caulk with sound sealant. This will stop vibrations from transferring to the walls and then through them. The French door should be double pane glass and install a bottom door sweep and side gaskets around the door. Sound is sneakier than your hide and seek children and it too loves to explore open space.
A Safe and Resilient floor for All
For this and all play-away rooms safety, flexibility and equitable use is imperative. We want a slightly cushioned floor finish that is roll-able, yet slightly cushioned so kids can fall gently when rough housing a bit. Rubber inter-connecting floor tiles are a good choice here. They provide a little give and can be washed so the artist in your child may be expressive without you worrying about destroying the carpet. Water based tempura and acrylic paint, as well as watercolors will wash. When the kids get older replace it with thin cushioned and low pile carpet.
Color your Child’s Imagination
Color has a powerful impact when used with intent and can really fire your kids with creativity. The introduction of light, nature and color can all have a positive impact on everyone’s sense of well being, especially a child’s. Perhaps the easiest and most affordable way to make a colorful impact in your play-away room is with paint.
Studies conclude that cool colors have a tendency to calm and warm colors excite. Excessive use of reds, oranges and yellows induce excitement and increase blood pressure. Along with patterns, when used in excess can cause frustration and anxiety for those with autism. At the same time orange is a great stimulator and encourages new ideas and yellow can be uplifting and encourage spontaneity.
Blue is opposite on the color wheel with red and thus counterbalances it. Blue has been shown to slow our metabolism and heart rates and thus has a calming effect. It can reduce hyperactivity in children but is a poor choice for discussion and sharing as it can suppress conversation. Green expresses firmness, order and balance and is known as the master color. It stands for harmony and soothes the nervous system. It brings about a sense of renewal and it can calm your child’s nerves and heart, and your too.
For children, soothing and interesting colors may communicate a warm, safe and secure place as well as act as stress relievers. They can brighten dispositions for both them and the parents. Take a little time and research the qualities of other colors, purples, indigo’s and lavenders are also a few of my favorite and your children will have their own too as color is specific and personal to everyone.
A cozy Window Seat may make the Play-Away Room Special
Now let’s look at some seating and table ideas within the room and at a very special spot where the inside and the outside of the house magically melt together, at the window. There must be a window in the play -away room to be successful and enjoyable as a play space. Consider building a timeless window seat. A window play seat can be a fun space for a child and for a young adult as well.
Build a seat 24″ wide seat with a height matching your child’s wheelchair height if they use one or roughly 30″ above the floor if they don’t. You don’t want it so low that it will be impractical when they are bigger. A step stool with suffice until they can jump up alone. Slightly slope the sides to make a comfortable back rest. Above both sides build in bookshelves. On each room side of the window seat build in open shelves, only 14″ deep, so kids can reach all the way in. At this time build the shelves for the universal reach range of from 18″ to 48″ above the floor. Label one side “cuddle- zoo” ( for example) and the other label with block shapes or whatever you like. This will encourage your children to pick up after themselves. Retain the walls above perhaps with cork pin boards to display your child’s artwork. Also, under the seat, build open shelves for those big toys that can be easily shoved underneath . The side shelves adjacent the seat will serve the children as they age, here meaningful books and even homework can be stored. Remember a waterproof and covered GFI outlet high enough near the seat for teenage computer use. Drop the ceiling over the window seat to the height above the window casing and you will have a gem of a space to sit with your toddler and read to. Include blinds there and it may even serve as a nap space that your child may happily use without fuss. Glass can be changed to translucent if the idea of your child sitting openly in the window concerns you. This will depend on the location of your window and neighborhood. Mom knows what’s best .
An Inclusive Table and Chair
For the art and block or doll table, consider building a series of three tables that telescope under, inside each other. In this manner the tables will serve kids of various sizes and as they age they can move up to the next size. These can be on castors that roll and lock with a push of a wheel lever and you can roll them about freely.
A clever chair idea may be a block of steps that where little kids can sit on the first step and they can move up a step as they get bigger, matching the bigger table. This is better explained with a sketch. Remember to always keep an open 5 foot turning circle so any child who uses a wheelchair can freely move about. This si another reason to encourage the kids to pick up after themselves, keeping the space roll-able.
Shelter Reigns Supreme.
We all know kids love shelter and like to make cubbie forts most anywhere. If for example you don’t have a spare room for a play away-space perhaps open up the underside of a stairway and carve out a space for two children and a table. They will love playing under the steps, just as me and my brother did where we had our “model room”.
If you’r not able to go so far as to create a window seat but want a fun and simple space for your kids, picking up on the cubbie fort idea, maybe make a inside tree house out of cardboard with the sitting space actually within the trunk itself and the tree limbs and leaves as cover overhead but under the room ceiling.
Perhaps build a cardboard “subway” with skyscrapers as cover and above at street level. Photos or cardboard drawings of trains could be behind the subway, against the wall, with bench’s and table where the kids can sit and play inside the subway ,while they’re waiting for the train.
Those are just a few ideas for a Play-Away room. You may have noticed that I did not mention a tv in this room. I believe real play should be interactive and immersive as opposed to static and numbing. My research has revealed to me, and I wish I had more space here to discuss, that simple building blocks can be the most effective play toy for engineering and math as well as relationships between materials etc. The point is the more open ended and the more diverse the play materials are the brighter you children will be.