Every child needs a place to play. It’s said that play is the school of rules. Children use play to learn about interacting with others and the world around them. The need to play doesn’t change if your child has autism. If fact, most early autism intervention experts stress the importance of child centered play therapy for language development and social communication skills.
Children can make almost anything into a game. A simple car ride can easily morph into counting red cars that pass by on the highway. Parents should always encourage spontaneous play to help their children develop important observational and conversational skills. However, spontaneous play is no substitute for a dedicated playroom. Here are some handy tips on setting up the perfect playroom for child centered play therapy:
Make It the Right Size
Playrooms are an afterthought for a lot of families. Many playrooms are nothing but leftover space in the attic or basement. That’s not a good way to plan the perfect room for child centered play therapy.
The first and most important consideration is the size of the play area. If the room is too small, your child won’t feel comfortable letting loose and having fun. Bumping into things and bouncing off the walls has a tendency to stop fun in its tracks.
A dedicated room that’s at least 10-12-feet square is about right for a dedicated playroom. Luckily, that kind of space is easy to find in the typical house. It’s the size of an average bedroom. Remember, though, that a room of that size filled with furniture won’t have enough room for children to really let loose and have fun. Make sure the entire space is dedicated to one thing: child centered play therapy.
Too Big Is As Bad As Too Small
We live in a super-size me society. Don’t let that mentality spoil your perfect playroom. Resist the temptation to level up the playroom to gargantuan size and then fill it with every kind of toy and activity you can afford.
Autistic children need a little more help than other children with distractions in their environment. It’s important for their playroom to allow them to stay focused on what they’re doing. A great big room is always an invitation to lose focus and wander off in the middle of an activity. Design your playroom to allow lots of mobility, but avoid spaces so large that they encourage wandering.
Out of Sight Is Out of Mind
Child centered play therapy can be quite boisterous, but it works best when it sticks with one thing at a time. To encourage concentration, parents need to minimize visual distractions. Because children’s playthings are designed to be eye-catching and vibrant, that can be a tall order. Organizing your playroom can help.
Don’t put everything on the floor. It’s tempting to place all the toys within easy reach, but it leads to serial distraction, not fun. Use shelving to place object not only out of reach, but out of the direct line of sight of your child.
A great side benefit of putting toys on high shelves is the increase of free play area on the floor. Children and adults will have more fun if there’s less chance of embedding a Lego block in your heel. One word of caution: avoid shelving that can be climbed. Even if the shelves are affixed firmly to the wall, it’s dangerous for children to scale a bookcase and reach for items. A shelf at eye level for an adult that runs all around the room is a better idea.
It’s Not a Decorating Project
The perfect playroom for child centered play is a place to play, not a decorator’s showcase. Avoid using garish colors and wallpapers with wild, repeating patterns. Paint the walls a pleasant, neutral color, and avoid the temptation for murals and other wild decorating schemes. Keep the focus on the activity in the room, not the room itself.
Get a Table That’s Up to the Job
Exuberant, physical play is one of the most effective play therapy techniques. It’s not the only one, however. Sooner or later, you and your child are going to want a table for more sedate activities like coloring or reading. Your play area will need a desk or table, and some chairs to really be versatile.
Make sure the table is up to the task. It should be very sturdy, and hard to tip over. Avoid any table or chair that has sharp corners. You can push the table up against the wall when you’re rousting about, but sharp corners will be a permanent minefield in your room. It’s perfectly OK to use a standard height table right away, but make sure your child’s seat is adjustable enough to put them at the right height for the table. If you can afford it, matching the table and chair height to their size as they grow is ideal.
If at all possible, place your playroom near a bathroom. When your play area is on the opposite side of the house, every bathroom break for your child will turn into an expedition full of distractions. If you need a bathroom break, a long absence from the room will disrupt whatever rhythm you have going.
Pad the Floor
Hard floors are easier to clean than padded or carpeted floors. They discourage robust play therapy games, however. Carpeted or padded floors are more comfy underfoot, and they have other benefits as well. Too many hard surfaces in a room make it into an echo chamber. Carpeting soaks up the sound, and it encourages boisterous play.
You’re the Expert
These suggestions are just that: suggestions. They’re a great place to start when you’re planning the perfect child centered play area. However, you know more about your child than anyone else. Feel free to adapt your playroom to the wants and needs of your child. The only important thing is to have fun!