Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On Going Nuts and Play Stations

When I first decided to stay home with my daughter Beatrice, people asked me quite frequently what I did all day. It was generally said like this: "What do you doooo all day? I would go nuts." I generally took it as a well-meaning question. One of genuine interest. To be frank, all of my friends were single, young, and didn't have any idea what you did with a kid for ten minutes, let alone 24 hours. Now when I am asked that question, I feel a surge of sympathy, which I don't mean condescendingly, but it is hard to think and be creative after you have been working in a corporation, or for other people, for so long. Your day is laid out clearly. You know what is expected of you. You get feedback. The reason I know this is because I wondered the same thing before I stayed home. I decided to stay home, but it seemed like it would be overwhelmingly boring.

The first few months of Beezus' life, I breastfed in front of the television. I watched daytime television programs over and over again. Television was my entertainment and staying home drove me nuts. It seemed impossibly impossible. And every day I thought, "Next week, I will go back to work." As Beezus got older, I turned the television off. I realized later that the early days felt like I was just on long weekend. I needed that period after birth to relax and zone out as much as possible. When I finally de-worked, I could see that life at home was going to be a beautiful, amazing, creative adventure.

One thing that staying home hasn't done is drive me nuts. It does the opposite. It makes me calm and gives me focus. Going out in the world makes me a little nuts now. It's so loud. People are rude. And I am a weirdo. The parenting nuances and philosophies my husband and I have adopted came about organically as we have learned to parent one newborn through four-year old, through the loss of our second daughter and into the birth of our third son who is turning sixteen months in a few days.

My husband and I didn't read a lot of parenting philosophy or dogma before we became parents. We did what felt natural, then gravitated towards philosophies like our own. We tend towards Waldorf toys and philosophy, because they tend to be simple and beautifully made and inspire creative play. One thing we were sure about it that we didn't want big bright red and blue plastic toys all over our house. Kids live here. That is obvious, but we didn't want to feel like only children live here.

I guess the other element of that is the noise of children's toys. My husband has degenerative hearing loss and wears hearing aids. Background noise upsets him. Life feels chaotic when there is some whirling dervish of a toy beeping and clicking and screaming and playing carnival music. It is so chaotic and uncomfortable. Being at houses with all that crazy noise make me feel claustrophobic, like I am suffocating by sound. When Sam and I first got together, I was someone who came home and turned on NPR for some background noise. So, being mindful of his hearing loss has taught me to turn off one thing before turning on the next. When we sit to eat dinner, all music, television and toys go off. When we sit to talk, we talk. We don't listen to music as well. When we listen to music, we don't play games, we listen. It has been very good for me, because I am a multi-tasker and it helps me to be present with the task at hand. Bea's little friend came for dinner one night, and during dinner she said, "It is really quiet here." And I hadn't thought about it before, but it is quiet.

But besides just the noise chaos we have quelled, we quelled the toy chaos by organizing our house into play stations, though we never intentionally called it that. That was something that also came about organically as I learned to stay home and introduce creativity into our daily lives. I dare say it is the thing that saved me from going nuts and kept our day moving and creative.

What I mean by stations is that there are areas in each room designated for play and that contain toys. Nothing was formally introduced to our children as, "Here, Children, this is the only place you may play. The other area is Adult Human area." Rather, we just kept all the toys contained in one place, and each room has a different type of toy/play. So, throughout our day, we move throughout the house. That keeps us from being bored.

In our living room, for example, there are two baskets stuffed with toys. One for Beezus' toys, and one for Thor's toys. There is also a Rody, and a wooden castle with some princesses, horses and knights. Both kids love both of those toys. I pulled out the Rody for this photograph, but generally, he is in his stable, which is the space between the red couch and the secretary. We also bought this sweater ball, which is easily made out of old sweaters. It is fun to kick and throw, and it doesn't hurt when you get nailed in the nose. So the kids feel free to play ball in the house.

This bookshelf in the living room is one  most people don't notice. It is under one of our sidetables. But it contains the homeschooling and craft books I have collected. When we feel bored, we pull one out and pick an activity. The best books I have on that shelf are Celebrating the Great Mother, which has seasonal based spiritual activities and crafts, and The Kids' Nature Book, which is 365 activities for kids for outside. That book is listed by every day of the year, and is dictated by a Northern Hemisphere weather system and seasonal nature book. We try to follow it a few times a week when we are interested in an outside activity. Celebrating the Great Mother also has guided meditations for children, which my daughter LOVES, perhaps more than anything else we do during the day, and ways to customize seasonal altars, which we do. Guided meditation with children is a wonderful way to inspire storytelling and imagination as well as calm them throughout the day.

Around the fireplace is our music stations, which is a big basket of instruments. See, it's not that we don't like noise, we just need to do it mindfully, and purposefully. Every day, we play music at some point. Beezus has taken two Music Together classes, and the CDs from those classes are great for leading our music time. Our favorite song is The Earth is Our Mother, which is the hippiest song in the world, but the kids just love to play drums to it. I haven't gone out and bought every instrument together, but have sort of amassed them over the years.
 When I took the picture of the basket, I decided to lay out all the things in that basket. Lots of stuff fit into it, and it is great to have an open space for the kids to reach in and play music whenever they like. We also love the play scarfs, which we bought on Etsy. We dance to some of the instrumentals on the Music Together CDs, and use the scarfs to dance, for picnics, for superhero costumes, for our altars...if you don't have play scarfs, get some. You won't be disappointed. Give a kid a scarf and see what happens, because that is what creativity is about.

The play kitchen is unsurprisingly in our own kitchen/dining room area, and the kids make dinner when I make dinner. We also have a shopping cart for them to use the area like a market. Kids of all ages love playing in pretend kitchens.  I think the great thing about play stations is that I don't micromanage my kids' play. I merely move from room to room to do my daily chores and duties, and they switch gears to play. It also makes clean up so easy, because we use a lot of all purpose baskets, so we can sweep everything up and put it in the basket and return it to its corner. Our shopping cart works in that way for our kitchen area. I do find wooden eggs in my pots and pans, but in general, the kids are good about keeping toys with toys.
My art studio has a ton of kids art supplies, puzzles, legos, games, and other stuff. I see a clock on the floor for learning time, and a piano and the play phone. There is so much here, because sometimes I need to paint commissions and don't have a babysitter. So, we all hang out together, and they can explore their own worlds.

I also have a little easel for them and a table to draw and do crafts. We sometimes move the easel into the basement, then bring it back up in a few months. This space is a space that can get splattered with paint, glitter, glue and mess and there is no screaming. It is a mess-welcome space. I think that encourages mistakes and true art.
 Even our guest bedroom downstairs has a play element, it has a trunk filled with costumes. This area is actually the side of my son's crib. We removed it to create a day bed for him. I took the crib, and turned it 90 degrees, and use it as a costume rack. Beezus has a lot of different kinds of princess costumes and play things, and this is great when she is having a playdate, so the little girls can look through the dresses.

Lots of hats, bonnets, and hoop skirts in that trunk, which gets stuffed and closed when we have company. It doesn't look like the children go into that room at all when company is arriving. Though, funnily, my mother came to stay one weekend, and turned down the sheets, and Beezus' little stuffed elephant was in a sling taking a nap.
In the basement, where our washing machine is, we have toys that we received that blink and make noises, and the kids love going down for chores, because they can play with new toys, or old toys that have been forgotten, or are just a little below their age level. In their room are books, and baby dolls, and stuffed animals. All in all, there isn't one area of the house that doesn't have something to play with, and there is no area, save their shared room, that there isn't an adult element to. Even the bathroom has a basket of Schleich animals that they play with in the bath and beyond.

I guess to wrap up, part of what makes staying at home wonderful is giving yourself the freedom to figure out what makes you nuts and preventing it. I hate clutter and noise, so I got rid of the noise, and solved the clutter problem with play stations and baskets. I still step on little toys, and as you can see in the pictures, some toys end up in the dress-up area, and costumes end up in the music basket, but before I set up my house this way, I was going nuts collecting all the toys to move them to one area with toys. Hope this is helpful to someone. I would love to hear about your experience figuring out some of this stuff.


HereWeGoAJen said...

We have a lot of the same toys and the same toy philosophies. I cannot stand noisy toys.

Have you tried dyeing your own play scarves yet? You can even use paintbrushes to paint the dye on. We did some rainbow ones recently, but I haven't gotten any pictures of them online yet.

still life angie said...

Do you mean just for an activity? Or is there an inherent advantage to dyeing your own playsilks? Where do you buy undyed play silks? And do you need a sewing machine to finish the edges? (I can't sew at all.)

Anonymous said...

God, I love this post. We live in a Victorian terrace house, it is long and thin and full of stuff. We have a front room which is mainly an adult space, although there are children's books and DVDs in here. We don't have a TV so when the kids want to watch a movie I set up my laptop in the front room and they are peaceful on the sofa.

The back room has a dining table in it. Well it's a dining table/ art table/ work table. We also have two large toy boxes in here and a set of shelves where we put art stuff and particularly beautiful toys or toys that would be less fun if they were shoved in the toy boxes (i.e. we have a beautiful wooden car transporter toy that most adult will stare at reverently for hours!)

In the kitchen we have a play kitchen made from an old foot-tall olive tin and various food play things, my favourite being some knitted food that makes my heart glad.

The kids share a room upstairs and this has LOADS of toys in it. From time to time I try and organise the toy bags into catergories like "dress ups", "dollies and soft toys" etc but they're often just shoved away. The bathroom has a tub of bath toys. The only rooms that aren't play room are the spare bedroom - mainly because it's so full of junk that it's not really pleasant to be in, and our attic bedroom which we have always tried to keep a grown-up space.

Curls O Fred said...

I think we have some similar toy philosophies. Sooo glad to read this. As I try to glean bits of gold from other parents, it's really hard when there are just vague explanations...I really value the more in depth explanation and the pictures were great. So, I thank you.
Also interested in what HereWeGoAJen mentioned about dyeing play scarves!

Hope's Mama said...

We too share many of the same philosophies about being at home, and that makes me smile. But I've also got lots of great tips from you here as well, so thank you!
I have different toys in different areas, only problem is, our house is teeny tiny. Two bedrooms and one rather small living area.
So we have a mix regular toys in the living room (both wooden and obnoxious plastic/noisy ones), hundreds of books in the bedroom, plus a toy train and a few other bits and pieces that I didn't want in the living area, the art supplies are set up on our coffee table with a small chair for Angus but that currently consists of just some crayons and paper - it has been hard to get him to sit still for art. And outdoors we have lots of pretend gardening tools etc which Angus loves getting amongst when the weather permits - he's really an outdoorsy kid. I have grand plans to do more of what you've written about here, if we ever get in to a bigger place. Still a few years off I think.
I really enjoyed this post as well.

Mary Beth said...

I am pleasantly not surprised we have quite a few of the same toys and storage ideas! I taught Kindergarten for a long time before having children and have set up our house/play areas like I did my classroom.

We have a room on the first floor with most of the toys E, and now O, play with regularly. There's books and puzzles and dress-up/hats and things on the bottom shelves of a, um, I don't know what it is but it's a cross between a table and a shelving unit.

We also have built-in shelves, two sets with a window in the middle. The bottom two shelves on each side are kid toys--some wood, some plastic, a few noisy. The tops shelves are our books, cds, dvds, the television and sundry accessories. And Calla's shelf.

Upstairs we have a playroom attached to E's room with about a billion books, a train table, lots of toys. The toys go in this order: downstairs, upstairs, attic. Favs are downstairs, then they get sorted through the upstairs. Also there's toys and books throughout the house for whoever needs to play somewhere. The instrument bucket it upstairs, too--it makes its way downstairs and back upstairs as needed.

I have two drawers in the kitchen devoted to art supplies and the same easel you have. Also a big lasagna pan full of paint and crafty stuff, though I'll confess I suck at crafts.

My only thing to add is to rotate toys. I switch things out, stash things and magically they reappear. Keeps things fresh. Sorry for the epic comment!

Sara said...

Very timely post for me.

As we are phasing out some of the real infant toys for good (bye, bye play mat with the arches to hang things from, so long mobile, swing—you're almost done), I'm looking at what I want to do with the spaces opening up. At the same time, I'm trying to get rid of my home office to turn this space into a play area (not that there won't be play else where, but this seems like a prime space for play and reading and art.

I'm thinking about a cozy reading corner where the swing is now, piling stuffed animals into the bassinet, using the big basket animals are in for dress up . . .

We have a play kitchen in our dining room and a tall table with stools that Kathleen uses as a desk/art area right now. We have an old coffee table was shoved to the side of the dining room holding plants and a lamp household storage underneath, but it is the perfect height for puzzles and once I moved some of the stored items, bins of toys store nicely underneath (this is still a work in progress). I'm a big fan of bins for tossing stuff in. I'm thinking about refinishing my old toy box for storage. Right now, I'm trying to pare down what's in my space to make room for shared space—and I'm actually really excited about that.