Find Out How a Play Room Consultant Can Change Your Child’s Learning at Home

As parents, we often find ourselves scanning the living room or basement, wondering where the heck all these toys came from. And wondering, why after hours of tidying and picking up after our children, it seems like more and more toys keep appearing out of nowhere. It’s as if every parent is cursed with the never ending toy problem:  toys keep sneaking onto every visible square inch of walkable space in our homes, destined to injure us parents as we stumble in a sleep-deprived haze as we try to make dinner, vacuum, or do anything else productive.

One thing I’ve never thought about as I stared at my toy-strewn living room in awe/disgust/despair, was how all these toys could potentially be a learning opportunity. To be completely frank, I’ve never considered how my children’s play room could be a learning space. But all that changed once I met Connie Huson, a play room consultant and former teacher who specializes in transforming play spaces into opportunities to educate our children as they play.

After chatting with Connie about her practice, I thought sharing an interview-style blog article would be extremely beneficial to parents who were curious to learn about the educational side of free play.  The below interview is a result of my curiosity, and Connie’s philosophies. Get ready to learn!

Q: I haven’t heard of a playroom consultant.  What exactly do you do? 

A:  I have taught with the Toronto School Board for 14 years, 7 of which were in Kindergarten, which is known to be a play-based learning program.  I’m also a mom to an 8 year old and a 5 year old.  

Using these experiences, I offer in-home consultations where I help parents create playrooms that foster learning and creativity.  I teach parents about the value of play and how to set up an area of the home that will encourage lots of unstructured play time for their child.  I explain how to decide which toys encourage more imagination and creativity than others, how to sort, organize, and edit the toys they currently have. By the time my 2 hour consultation is complete, a newly organized play area is set up and ready to use.

Following the initial overview of their space, I provide detailed notes with ideas for play, suggested furniture, suggested toys and art materials, as well as tips on how to maintain the space. I also bring a few of my favourite storage and organization units to show how an ideal play area would look, if the family I’m working with doesn’t already have storage in place. 

My clients often say that after my visit, the way their children play has been instantly transformed, and they’ve learned more about how children play!  That’s what I love to hear. 

Q: I’ve never thought of how my play room can affect learning! Can you give some examples?

A: In Kindergarten programs, the environment is considered “a third teacher”, meaning it is set up in a way that guides student play and learning.  The arrangement and types of materials that are made available can encourage play that will enable children to practice specific skill sets, even if they are not aware of it!

For example, setting up a mock restaurant with a kitchen, cash register, paper and pencils will encourage children to practice taking orders (which involves communication skills, social skills, writing practice and math).

The research on the importance of play as a way children learn is extensive.  I’ve set up my own home using principles of play-based learning from my Kindergarten class experience, with great success in how much my kids play and create. My mission is to share this experience with other families. 

Q: As a former teacher, why do you think free play is so important? 

A: Over my 14 years of teaching at a mid-town Toronto school, I saw my Kindergarten students get enrolled in more and more programming – Mandarin classes, music lessons, hockey, swimming, tennis, gymnastics, skiing, art, robotics…  all amazing opportunities, but kids already have a long day at school. And then for these children to go off to lessons several times a week, is asking a lot of them. The school day is very stimulating and very structured – the kids have little time in a school day to do whatever they want to. 

I noticed more and more students in my classes looking tired, restless, or anxious.  My wish was for my students to go home to relax and play however they liked, and perhaps spend time snuggling with a loved one while reading a book. 

I want parents to know they will be giving their kids exactly what they need for learning, well-being, and future success by giving them as much time for unstructured play, imagination, and creativity as possible! 

Q: How do you think play will affect children in the future?

A: Creativity is one of the most important skills that companies need most, now and especially for future jobs.  It’s also a skill that is helpful in all areas of life. I’ve been doing more research on fostering creativity and am so excited to encourage parents to offer opportunities to build this skill in their children.  There are so many easy opportunities to offer kids at home and it can change their lives!

One of the best things parents can do for their children for school success is to read to them daily.  It should also be known that giving time for unstructured play contributes to school and life success!  

I strongly suggest to evaluate when your child has free time, and where you could insert more space for play and creating.  The best move I made at my house was cutting out television and all screen time from Monday to Thursday. That time after school is now filled with drawing, painting, cutting and pasting, dress-up, building, reading… I love watching what new ideas my kids come up with every day!  We sign up for just one class or lesson per week at any given time, and when planning our weekends, we make sure there is time to just be at home together.

Q:  What should I consider when designing my play room?

A: The space should look good! It should be uncluttered, with toys sorted by category, easy to see and reach.  You don’t want a big box filled to the brim with a variety of toys in it. 

I suggest having a shelf that is kid height, with individual boxes for specific toys, e.g., a bin of blocks, a bin of toy cars and vehicles, a bin of plush toys and dolls, a bin of small animals and dinosaurs. There should be some books on display or in an open basket. Rotate the visible books regularly – chances are your child will pick up an older book and read it! Have a table and chairs that are kid sized for playing at and making art.

Consider the learning areas set up in a Kindergarten classroom and what materials you have for those areas:

Building and construction – wooden blocks, Lego, Duplo, train tracks

Art – drawing and creating with a variety of materials, glue, variety of paper, play dough

Drama and imaginative play – dress up costumes, toy kitchen with toy food and plates, bowls, cups, doctor kit

Reading – books on display

Writing – paper and pencils, crayons, markers

Math – numbers, shapes, puzzles, counting tools

Music – toy and real instruments

Science – magnifying glasses, magnets, non-fiction books on topics that interest your child

Kids don’t need a lot of toys.  Too much stuff is overwhelming for them, like it is for us.

If you have a lot and don’t want to get rid of much now, put out a small amount and put the rest in storage to rotate through over time.  If it doesn’t get used when put out again, maybe you should consider donating it!

I also recommend furniture and décor that is white, wood, or neutral in colour.  This makes the space feel calm and bright, and allows the toys, books, and art materials to stand out.

Q:  What should parents consider when buying a new toy?

A:  Hasn’t every parent said, “They just want to play with the box!”?!  The more open ended the toy, the more imagination and creativity a child uses when playing with it.  Ask yourself if there are many different ways your child can play with the toy, so it is likely they will use it often.  If the toy only has one purpose or use (i.e a car that only works on a specific ramp) it may not be the best item to take up valuable real estate in your playroom!

To read more about Connie and her practice, visit her website at Connie is a wealth of knowledge, and her mission is to educate parents on setting up the ideal playroom for their children’s educational benefit. 

Stephanie Casino EsguerraStephanie Casino Esguerra is a wife, mom of two, digital content specialist and founder of the Canadian parenting website
When she isn’t working on providing Canadian parents with access to giveaways, product reviews and parenting tips on Lucky Little Ones, you can usually find her working on her next creative project, thrifting, or squeezing in a quick workout. She claims her daily fuel is often in the form of strong coffee and even stronger wifi.