How To Create A Functional Playroom (For Toddlers And Small Spaces)
In this post, I will explain how I was able to create a playroom that encourages learning. These tips and recommendations on creating a functional playroom come from firsthand experience. I hope to provide some inspiration if you are looking to do the same.
Although play may be a necessity and not a luxury, having a separate playroom for our family happens to be a luxury. Maybe because we’ve always lived in an apartment.
If you’re fortunate to have a playroom but it’s not functioning how you would like it to, then keep reading. I may have some tips that may help you.
If you’re limited space and unable to have a playroom, then it’s still possible to create one.
If you have a small play area and want to expand it, try creating a separate playroom in your living room.
Check out my post on Small Living Room Playroom Combo (Functional Tips For Small Spaces) to see how I was able to create a separate playroom in our apartment living room.
Disclosure: Some posts contain affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase from those links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Creating a separate playroom in my living room solved all my daily toddler play problems. I say this because prior to having one, my daughter’s play area was literally taking over our living room.
This caused me so much stress and exhaustion because of the mess and space her toys were taking up – leaving me with no space to live.
I sacrificed my mental health for my daughter’s fun and learning. However, at times I felt like her play area was just offering an area of play, overwhelmedness, and overstimulation versus an area of play and education.
At times I felt like I was sacrificing for nothing.
I know, sacrificing my mental health sounds a little too dramatic, but it really got to that point alongside nursing. Something had to change and it wasn’t going to be nursing.
It’s one thing to have a playroom and another to have a functional playroom. Having a functional playroom made such a big difference in how my daughter plays and in her learning.
This lessened my stress and exhaustion and made whatever was left, worth it.
If you want to get the most out of a small playroom, I found that it’s best to make it functionally work not only for your child but for YOU also.
How do I get the most of a small playroom?
To be functional, I learned that everything in the playroom should work with each other and serve a purpose. This will give you a fully functional playroom easy for you and your child to move around and utilize, making it convenient, fun, and even educational.
Setting up your child’s playroom correctly (both toys and furniture) and anything that saves space, is important if you’re trying to get the most out of a small playroom.
Keep these in mind before deciding on what to put in your toddler’s playroom.
What do you put in a toddler’s playroom that’s small to make it functional?
Remember to think of what and how you can provide the most function to both you and your child, especially when working with a small space. Prioritize space-saving furniture and furniture that has multiple purposes. This will maximize the space in your small playroom.
The key here is multiple purpose and space-saving. At best, keep it practical.
1. Something to display books – Instead of using a separate bookcase, it was more space-saving and practical for our playroom to just display a few books around my daughter’s playroom.
I like to display books on different subjects with their corresponding toys so they work in synergy. I will explain the synergy aspect later in this post.
Example: I will display books about colors for our color category, I will display books about food for our pretend play kitchen category, and I will display books about animals for our animal category.
2. Something to display toys – for a long while I was using the Ikea dollhouse, as shown above, because it was big enough to fit just enough toys and books without taking too much playroom space.
I initially purchased the Ikea dollhouse versus a small bookcase because I knew that one day my daughter would eventually use it as a dollhouse, so I was just thinking ahead.
It was a practical purchase. I wasn’t wasting money on something that I wouldn’t need in the future; hence a smaller toy shelf.
3. A table – I like using the Ikea sensory table because you can use it for multiple things. It can serve as a sensory table, an art table, and a regular table. A good idea for small spaces.
What’s also great about this table is that you can easily unscrew the legs, take out the bins, and store it away under a bed, sofa, or in the closet.
MOM TIP: for younger children, you can swap the Ikea Flisat chair legs with the legs of the Ikea sensory table to make it shorter. This makes it easier for younger children to use the sensory table if they’re not tall enough to reach the Ikea Flisat chair.
4. Something for art – For a while, I was using my husband’s Ikea fishing cabinet to tape paper onto because it was already in my daughter’s playroom side at the time. I say playroom side because this was after I divided my living room in half.
So to save space, I used the Ikea cabinet versus purchasing an easel. Just a tip if you are really limited space. I would say using a wall can suffice if you’re using the right paint. Maybe patch test first.
Since my husband finally agreed to move his fishing cabinet, I now like to use the Melissa & Doug Tabletop Paper Roll on top of my daughter’s sensory table because it still saves a lot of space compared to having an actual easel.
However, to be honest, I did find that my daughter is more likely to get paint on her when painting on a table and least likely to get paint on her when painting on a wall.
For me – the mess trumped money and space. It was more practical to save space for something else; such as a potty training station for my toddler.
MOM TIP: When hanging toilet paper, hang it the “wrong way” to prevent your toddler and pets from rolling the toilet paper and wasting it.
5. Something to encourage gross motor play – A Nugget comfort couch works great because your child can manipulate it into all sorts of gross motor activities aside from being a sofa.
However, if your playroom is too small to house a Nugget comfort couch, the Pikler triangle also has many uses and works great because you can easily fold it and stash it away when not in use.
I offer photo’s later in this post.
6. Toddler chair – I have found many uses with the Montessori weaning chair; which I use as a step stool, a table, and a chair for my daughter.
I use it mostly as a table to introduce holidays and seasons, but sometimes my daughter will remove those items to sit or stand on it.
I also have the Ikea children’s chair, which my toddler loves to climb on and use more as a gross motor toy.
So there you have it, my 6 toddler playroom essentials for small spaces. I say “something” because, in order for your playroom to be functional, that’s really based on your space, you, and your child. All I can really offer are the basis and the foundation of what I learned has been functioning well for us.
How do you set up a toddler playroom that is small to make it functional?
Now that you have all your furniture and toys, how do you use that to set up a small playroom for a toddler?
Always keep in mind to set your child up for success.
You want to set up your child’s playroom so that it functions to encourage a more playful learning environment rather than just a playful environment.
You want everything to be accessible to your child and everything to work with each other. This is including the toys on your child’s toy shelf and the toys you want out of your child’s reach so that it still encourages independence but is convenient and less stressful for you.
The key here is accessibility, synergy, and convenience. Remember to always set your child up for success.
Things to consider
1. The type of furniture you will be using – If it serves multiple purposes, is there a way to keep all the toys and accessories needed for those purposes close by, easily accessible, and convenient for the parent/caregiver to find and access?
Example 1: You will see a photo down below of our Pikler triangle being used as a table.
If you’re stuck in a dilemma where you’re really limited space but really want the Pikler triangle to introduce gross motor play, maybe go with the Pikler versus a table and use the Pikler as your table.
You can place toys that you want your child to use the table for underneath the “Pikler table” such as legos, play-doh, animal figures, etc. to make it functional.
2. How the furniture is displayed – Do they flow with each other where your child can easily maneuver between and around the furniture? Is there a better way to utilize the space with all your child’s toys and furniture so that your toddler will still have space to move around and play? Are you utilizing wall space?
Example 1: If you are using taller bookcases, play items that you do not want your child to access should be placed higher up in the shelves and the ones you do want your child to access in the lower shelves. CAUTION: anchor your tall bookcases to the wall especially because toddlers love to climb.
Example 2: If you decide to use a book display for your toddler’s books, then maybe make that their quiet corner and put something for them to sit and lounge on while they read. This would be a good spot to place their toddler chair.
Example 3: Use book shelves that you can hang on the wall versus bookcases.
3. Type of toys you’re displaying – Is it space-saving or does it have multiple uses? Are they open-ended? Are they age-appropriate or within their developmental stage? Does it interest your child? Are they a choking hazard?
Example: Our Pikler Triangle provides my toddler with gross motor and imaginary play but can easily be folded and put away when not in use so it’s space-saving too. You can even use it as a table.
4. How your toys are displayed – Are the one’s you want your child to access easily accessible? Are the products you do not want your child to access hidden or far from reach? Are you efficiently utilizing your shelf space?
Example 1: The photo below is my daughter’s most current toy shelf. Prior, I was using the Ikea dollhouse you saw in the previous photos. I now use the Ikea dollhouse to display toys I don’t want my daughter to access as shown in the photo below.
To make it functional for the both of us, I have it displayed versus hidden because I want her to still have the independence of choosing what she wants to play with on that shelf by pointing at it. This is my cue that she’s done with independent play and it’s time for us to play together.
On the top right of the shelf, I have plants for sensory and a picture of my daughter and my son.
Example 2 – I keep her paint supplies all in a basket that my daughter can easily access because she is still unable to twist open the caps of the paint to where she can make a mess.
When she wants to use it, then she will bring it to me letting me know she wants to paint and I’ll stay with her during this time.
I love this method because it gives my daughter the option to independently choose whether she wants to play with the paint, versus me asking if she wants to paint.
Example 3 – I like to have the Crayola Magic Markers/Paper versus regular crayons and markers at arms reach for my daughter so she does not have to depend on me when using these items (I am okay with her accessing these markers on her own because these markers do not work unless it is used on the Crayola Magic Paper).
Example 4 – I keep my daughter’s sensory products either in a separate bin or inside of her sensory table where she is unable to access them (she still needs help opening the covers of the sensory table.)
I keep her kinetic play sand in its container so she is unable to open it; however, I keep it under her table so that she can still see it and decide for herself whether she wants to play with it.
I love the Kinetic Sand Folding Box and for a long time I hesitated on this purchase because of aesthetic reasons, but this product actually has been very practical and convenient to have around.
It comes with the sand, a box, and all the contents needed to play with the sand for a very affordable price. You literally just open the folding box and start playing. It’s so awesome and one of our favorite sensory products.
5. Amount of toys you are displaying – If you have a toddler like mine, keep it minimal to not overwhelm him/her. Because you are trying to keep it minimal, try to display toys that work in synergy to encourage new and multiple types of learning.
Example: In the photo below, was our previous toy shelf display by categories. This an example of how I displayed my daughter’s toys in a single cube of her toy shelf.
Do you see how everything flows with each other? This is what I mean by “synergy.” Everything on that shelf serves a purpose to work with each other to encourage other types of learning and new learning. She uses the Lovevery lockbox to hide the rings and the pompoms.
6. Your child’s current interests – If your child is still interested in a toy that is past his/her developmental stage/age, you can still keep it on his/her toy shelf but try to find ways to enhance the toy to where it can encourage new learning.
Example: My daughter still loves to play with the Lovevery lockbox and flexible ring stacker. Both of which are past her developmental stage. You see this in the photo’s above. This video is another example of my daughter hiding the rings in the lockbox.
It does take a little bit of time if you haven’t already been observing and following your child to better understand how and which toys to display. Parents who follow the Montessori Method may already be doing this.
So there you have it, my 6 tips and recommendations of how to setup a small playroom so that it’s functional. Please check out Small Living Room Playroom Combo (Functional Tips For Small Spaces) for additional tips.
To really get the most out of a small playroom, it needs to be functional in every way. Keep in mind furniture that serves multiple purposes and are space-saving.
When displaying toys, think of the educational purposes they serve, are there other possibilities to display them so that they can offer or introduce new learning, and are they easily accessible? The toys you have out of reach, are there ways you can display them so that it still fosters independence for your toddler?
Most importantly, make sure that the playroom is safe for your toddler to independently play in and always focus on setting you and your child up for success so that everything in the playroom offers you both convenience, fun, and learning.