the home arts

The playroom/learning room redo…

I've been talking about it all summer, and now it's finally done!

Our learning room/playroom is in our half-finished basement, which is both cinderblock and drywall. We haven't been able to drywall the whole thing yet, so we've just been using it in its present state. One side is my husband's office and my space for making an artsy mess, and the other side we turned into a playroom about two years ago. As the kids have gotten older, the needs for the space have changed. Clearly, if this space could be turned into bedrooms, we would have done so- but the only windows downstairs are not 'egress'-able (too high off the ground and too small to slip through) so we would be horribly against fire code if we did so. It's a toss up.

For the longest time all of the toys were kept in this space, with the bedrooms being left only for sleeping and reading. That has changed over this summer. It is now more a half-and-half situation. The boys now keep their Legos, Lincoln Logs, building blocks, and cars in their room (it is a shared space- Ben and Isaiah share a bunk bed and David sleeps in a toddler bed). We've found this to be working well, since the older boys (or bigs, as we call them) can often build elaborate cities and towns without having to worry about David the Destruction Crew knocking them down- they can just shut the door while David plays in the living room with his own collection of cars. Sibling fusses have gone way down! Most of Lorelei's toys are in her room now, with the exception of her cooking things and dress up clothes, which all the kids enjoy. The criteria for what stayed in the playroom/learning room: It had to be store-able within what we had (off the floor) and two, it had to be able to be played with by the highest average of children. So, Lorelei's dollies moved to her room, but her cooking stuff stayed because the kids like to play restaurant together. Make sense? All of the toddler/baby toys stayed downstairs, because that is where they are most needed. 

The biggest goal for this redo was to get our learning materials accessible without being, well, accessible. Part of the reason the art supplies have been packed away up high (and hence, entirely unused) is due to the seriously high toddler to mommy ratio and nightmares that David the Destruction Crew might find the paint in an unsupervised moment. This has truly been a struggle for me as I want to create a lifestyle of learning and exploration, but I also have the very practical aspects of lots of little hands that need a lot of supervision. I also wanted to transition the playroom into a much more dedicated space for learning.

Here's the tour.

This is what was in the room before:

IMG_5717 (looking away from the door)

IMG_5718 (looking at the door)

Looking this direction (at the door) there is a 3 foot tall cubby bookcase directly to your right. It used to have cloth/canvas containers with toys in them. It is now our learning bookcase, and all of the curriculum we will use this year is located there, plus art supplies, nature journals, pattern blocks and other things, plus a dedicated cubby for the littles (as we call them) with Lauri foam and other Montessori-type activities just for them. My eldest Ben, is a definitely a visual learner, so I've labeled everything for him.


Here is what it looks like afterward:



Here's a few close ups of the learning shelf:



On the storage:

I found these lockable containers at W-mart. (I just realized they are all un-locked in this picture! heee) I liked these the best because none of the littles have the dexterity to open them but the bigs can open them just fine. I've already noticed their 'create'-ing going up because they have easy access. I also like being able to see it all and tell at a glance which box is 'out' at the moment. (One has paints, another playdough, and so on.)

On the school desks:

There is heavy debate about these old friends in home-school blog-land. "No need to re-create schoo
l at home!" etc. I tend to agree with that sentiment. However, they do have their merits. Ours were all collected for free or pennies on the dollar. In terms of actual learning being done in them, we spend a lot more time at the table than anywhere else. I have found them useful in one-on-one work, especially with Isaiah, because the 'boxed in' feeling helps him to focus and I can sit directly across from him and sort of 'block-out' the rest of the world as we work together on something individually. In a house where there is precious little personal space for the kids, their desks are their one possession that they can 'claim'. There are all sort of personal treasures stuffed in the cubbies below, and I leave them alone. (Although, sometimes I sneak a peek- I enjoyed finding a very, very elaborate map that Ben had drawn across pages and pages in his sketchbook. Lorelei's mostly has baby clothes and princess stickers. I have to check Isaiah's often, since his favorite possessions often revolve around dirt and things from the garden!) 

Bits and pieces:

My mom found the calendar at a teacher supply store last week, much to the delight of Ben our weatherman. He has been very diligent about switching the numbers and things around to the proper day, and particularly delights in putting up the weather cards each day! It's very sturdy- made out of nylon with super strong Velcro in the pockets, and the plastic pockets are double stitched. The alphabet cards are from K&Company (a scrap booking company). The cloth cubbies and cubby system you can find at Target. (It's technically closet storage, I think.) The rest of the furniture you see is probably from IKEA, with the exception of the tall bookcase, which was built by hand by an old family friend. The table is a folding table that raises to three different heights, which I've only ever seen at Sam's Club. 

For honesty's sake, here's what the room looks like right now– I'm glad to see it in use. Ben has been building a very elaborate weather station today all across the table with pipe-cleaners, large books, and some of the cooking toys (used as reservoirs and pumps and things).




  • Grandma Kathy

    One thing that Joy does not mention is that she is training her children to pick up an area before they leave an area, that way they come back to it being fresh and ready to use again. They don’t always want to, and it seems each day one child is a better picker upper than the other but it evens out. But the organization helps the learning, and I told her that when I home schooled I would not have spent the money for that calendar but I know today it would have really helped in the elementary grades because all of my kids have time orientation issues, because we didn’t work as hard on that during that time. Sometimes you have to go for durability and longevity of use over what it costs.

  • Sandi

    Looks great…feels so good to have things in their place. It helps my metal clutter as well as the practical.
    My oldest has an art corner in her room that is a constant mess but she makes beautiful things….it’s a give and take I guess. I tend to like things tidy but I am not an artist either. What’s funny is all her others things are ordered well and have a place.
    My next project is getting each child a basket for their school books so they can move around to where ever and do the independant work. It will also keep cute chubby hands out of thier papers and books while they work.
    You’ve been busy for just having had a baby:o)

  • Joy

    *grins* me, busy? To be fair, my mom and husband did most of it. I just directed traffic! My mom found most of the new things in the room. It’s so funny about the creative messes- I would tend towards letting it be left out (as I do in my own space) but we have the ‘little hands’ problem. I’m so happy it’s all more accessible now! Hopefully they will use it all more.

  • Tanya

    Very cool. We just got one of the cubbies with fabric cube baskets for our playroom. I’m not yet done sorting and purging the toys and art supplies, but already I love the new system. Now to organize my craft area …

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