Take a picture; it'll last longer...
My husband often talks about that great day when the kids' toys are out of our livingroom. I've stepped on enough Transformer arms, wooden blocks, and other unbelievably hard and angular objects to understand where he's coming from. But I secretly dread that day. That is when my kids will no longer be underfoot, when I will have to call them down for dinner, only to have them disappear into their lairs again once they've eaten. Our playroom is evidence of the presence of the most wonderful kind of humans in our house: children!
It can be so easy to get caught up in the desire to have THAT playroom...the one with a gorgeous, colourful, and miraculously lint-and-cat-hair free rug, wooden play arches and mounds of playsilks, woolen foods and beeswax crayons. I LOVE seeing playrooms like that. I understand the motivation: plastic is terrible for the environment and for children. Natural materials are aesthetically pleasing and durable, and more healthy for our children to play with. They encourage more imaginative play, appreciation of the natural world, and an awareness of the skilled work of human hands.
My reality is that I can hardly afford gas for my car some weeks, let alone $300 for a pretty wooden play kitchen. Ours comes from a set that was being chucked from our kindergarten classroom. I do know a high school student who is willing to build me one in shop class. Will it be as professional and pretty as the one I saw in the Nova Natural Toys catalogue? Doesn't matter. What matters is spending money responsibly, and recognizing that my kids don't really care. Instead of play arches, we hang blankets from the hooks that we've installed on the window frames, and drape them over chairs to create play spaces.
I have finally reached the point where I can say, "No, I don't need that". Do I want it? You betcha. For lots of reasons. Do my children know the difference? Nope. While I'd love uniform, labelled containers to store our toys in, I just don't want to spend the money on them. I use maple syrup buckets for storing Jude's driftwood collection (magic wands, walking sticks, lazer guns, conductor's batons), and plastic fruit baskets for keeping our playfood together. Yep, the playfood is plastic, too. And they love it. I can knit wool food. And I do. But I haven't yet found the time to replace every piece with a wonderful handmade.
(I did make the strawberry and the orange wedge at the bottom right!)
Here are some things I think are essential in a playroom, and they don't need to cost a lot of money:
A place to create art (this easel came from IKEA). These papers are AMAZING: they're Wall Post-Its by 3M. I LOVE them! Quick to stick up, remove, then stick somewhere else for display.
A good trick for painting is to line a cup with a small zippered plastic bag, and put the paint in it. When the painting session is done, just seal up the bag and store for next time!
A cozy place to cuddle up, daydream, draw, read.
We often drape a blanket across this window to create what the kids call their spaceship.
Crayola makes great window crayons that children LOVE. They're really appealing to use, and easy to clean up. Just wipe off with warm water!
A place to store odds and sods. This armoire was at my Nanny's house when I was little. Mom passed it to me recently and it has been a big help in keeping all those craft materials organized (glitter, pipecleaners, googly eyes, stickers, etc. are all tucked neatly away!) I plan to brighten this thing up with paint one of these days when I have some time to kill...check back with me in about 15 years...
And some bits of nature, to touch, hold, play with, draw, and experience. Driftwood, rocks, nests, flowers, and so on can be found in corners all around our playspace, and you need only step out your door to find them.
You don't have to spend a lot of money to create a lovely space for your children. What I find most important is really picking through the toys regularly, cycling things out and back in, and trying to give everything a place of its own. My children wander aimlessly and complain of boredom when the playroom is a mess. And although it sometimes feels futile to tidy it up (as they'll tear it all apart in under an hour), I do find they will sit and really PLAY when they know where things are. I also feel more motivated to sit and play WITH them when the chaos has been subdued. And they'll also happily tidy up when they know where things go.
This state of tidiness is fleeting, which is why I'm happy to have the above records of our playroom in its perfection. I'm happy at the end of a busy, creative, fun day to see the little messes my kids have made. It's like a message carved into a picnic table-top: We Were Here.