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5 Tips to Create Responsive Play spaces

Creating a regular program of thought-provoking play spaces can seem overwhelming, but with some creative thinking, magic can happen!

Written by: Jo Harris Educational Advisor  

Creating a regular program of interesting and thought-provoking play spaces can seem overwhelming, especially when a storeroom is crammed with resources. Looking at any one item in isolation may not inspire any creative thinking, but magic can happen when experimentation begins!

Many contemporary planning approaches explore the idea of evolving play spaces in which the environment does not have to be changed too frequently, in favour of allowing children ample time to fully explore the resources. Modifications can be made as and when needed in response to children’s needs, ideas, and interests.

Taking time to consider how different materials may complement one another can provide a spark of inspiration that will continue to benefit children and their learning. It also reflects a natural tendency that many children have: to blend and combine materials to achieve a personal and individual outcome.

Mix and Match Materials to Create Unique Spaces

Different materials provide the potential to create new ideas and to extend play. Where flexible options are displayed for children, there are also more opportunities for them to sustain their interests, sometimes without having to leave the original play space.  Adding a variety of materials including fabric, wood, stone can be used in many ways and to represent different objects, sparking different conversations and talking points during play and interaction.

Building a ‘town’ from these 3-dimensional house-shaped chalkboards, children, and educators could personalise them with words and images. Choosing a selection of mini wooden treasures, items could become people, vehicles, animals, and more.  A beautiful coloured silk playcloth provides a base inspired by nature.  

Inviting Play Spaces Encourage Interaction

By design, a round water table is almost always an instant draw card for children. Due to its shape and height, it is easy to fit several people around it, with the same access to the contents inside.  

A deep tray is perfect for the exploration and investigation of materials, whether wet or dry, which could include sand, goop, dried pasta, or rice could be explored with cups, jugs, scoops, and buckets. The base of the tray could be lined with fabric pieces to create the illusion of water, grass, or sand. 

As it is a lightweight tray it could be moved outdoors to create a portable play space to act as a nature table. Adding a wooden divider to the top of the tray, children could collect and categorise items found during play.

Observe How Children Engage with Resources

When selecting furniture, adults look for features such as weight and storage capacity. When children see child-sized furniture, they can see the potential for how they might interact with it other than to hold resources.

The Timber Hexagonal Playhouse is ideal for exploring, with three different ways to enter and exit. The internal mirrors allow children to watch themselves as they play and converse with others.  Children can also stand comfortably to use the built-in tray on top to create small world play scenarios.

Flexible Resources for Flexible Learning

Stapelstein stacking stones can be used everywhere children wish to take them. Vibrantly coloured, they are light to carry but robust enough to withstand indoor or outdoor play in a variety of ways.

Educators can weave them into program planning to develop children’s physical, cognitive, and creative skills as they sit, stack, sort, roll, spin, and balance on the stones. Infants and toddlers could use them to support their balance as they develop strength and coordination when sitting or crawling.

Children can develop their cognition, creativity, and social skills to invent imaginative games and develop problem-solving skills as they explore different ways to fill them with natural materials and other resources.


Accept Children’s Invitations to Play

When children initiate play with an adult, it is important to allow them to take the lead by being open and present in their actions and words. Engaging in their learning, adults can support children to meaningfully extend their experiences.

Talking with children about their play helps them to feel supported and that their ideas are valued. Modelling language and strategies during play can instill confidence and encourage children as they develop their relationships with others.

This is also an opportunity to record quality observations, capturing information that can include children’s interests and preferences. Educators can use this opportunity to assess children’s play skills and need for future planning.

Remaining flexible when designing learning environments for children can significantly increase the chance that resources will be utilised and enjoyed. It will also ensure that educators are more likely to discover and meet identified needs through intentionally planned activities and experiences.

Including children in their learning personalises their experience and means there is room to be adaptive and responsive, building their self-esteem and agency as active participants in their learning.

Combining familiar and new resources can extend play with a sense of ease for all involved. It is an ideal way to scaffold and shape children’s learning and understanding. It also increases the opportunity to take a regular look into your service's inventory. Knowing what is used frequently, and what is used less often, as well as monitoring the condition of resources can be made simpler and more cost-effective in the budget.

Perhaps most importantly, children feel they are included throughout the planning cycle and the quality of their play is enhanced accordingly. 

For more ideas to create inspiring play spaces visit


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