Less Space, More Creativity
Often when I show my son playing games in our garden, readers send me sweet messages in which they lament the fact they they have no outdoor space where their kids can engage in similar activities. I understand completely— this is the first home I’ve ever had as an adult that includes a yard, an I’m grateful for our tiny patch of Earth every day. But I wanted to suggest another perspective and a few work-arounds for those feeling confined indoors with their baby, toddler or pre-schooler at any point during the year.
When it comes to certain activities (regardless of whether or not they’re considered indoor our outdoor), perhaps you don’t need more square-footage… just dive a bit deeper into your creative side.
When I was a pre-schooler, I had access to an oversized flannel board wall for paying with felt cut-outs, as well as numerous large trunks containing dress-up costumes and creative play accessories. Here, we have no room for either. Yet West can still partake in those games any time he likes.
We have 3’ panel of flannel that we simply tuck into the end of our bed or the edge of our couch, and suddenly those surfaces become adequate stretches of space for felt storyboards. (We keep the felt cut-outs in my favorite market basket so they’re easy to tote around.)
Similarly, there’s no ideal wall that we could paint and turn into a practical chalkboard. We had one of those lightweight Ikea chalkboard easels, but we kept running into it since it didn’t collapse. So we gave it to other parents in the neighborhood, and instead we got a flat chalkboard that we can tuck in the closet or flat up against a wall when not in use. We suspend it from a doorknob with a piece of twine or place it on the floor when West wants to draw on a larger surface.
As for dress-up trunks, we skip the bulky container and just spread the contents throughout the house in spaces that make the most sense for each particular piece. West always knows where to find his butterfly wings, binoculars, rain boots, and duck hat. They’re just not all clumped together in one oversized container.
When it comes to traditional outdoor activities, such as sand boxes and water play, it is clearly more environmentally-minded, space-savvy and budget-friendly to explore community resources, rather than default to buying something of your own. However, for the times when you want your child to be able to explore a messy game at home and don’t have a yard, there are compact and low-waste options available.
A small folding table topped with a collapsible tub, inflatable tray or a compact suite of eco-friendly, water-safe toys can work well for water, sand or other sensory elements. (West enjoys adding petals, rocks and leaves to his PlanToys water set, which is made with 100% sustainable rubber + wood and coated with a non-toxic finish. All colors are made from vegetable dye.)
If you don’t have a bathroom or tub large enough to accommodate such a set-up (we don’t either!), meet your new best friend: The Gathre Mat.
I’ve blogged about Gathre many times before, as we’ve used their mats for a bit of everything. We have one dedicated mid-sized mat that we used for diaper time back when West was in his Grovia cloth diapers, but we also have another, larger mat (which we cut into 2 pieces to suit our needs. We use this 2nd mat for covering the couch when it rains to protect it from puppy paws, and for covering the floor when our son uses watercolor paints, or plays with splash toys indoors.
Normally we do these things outside. But when it rains, during fires when the air quality becomes unhealthy, and other unique situations, we just drop down the mats and let West make a proper mess in the Cottage. The mats are stylish, easy to clean, and fold up tight. They can also be used time and time again as beach mats, picnics blankets, crafting surfaces, rug protectors under highchairs, and so forth.
While there are admittedly no groundbreaking small space ideas in this post, the point is to remind us all that we don’t necessarily need a larger home. We can work creatively with what we’ve got, while keeping our footprint small… and stylish.
(Note: As always, please keep safety in mind when it comes to your home and kid(s). The set-ups and activities that succeed in one environment for a particular child might not be suitable for a different type of home or another family.)