How to encourage creative play: A guide to playroom setup

When creating a designated space for your child to play it is important to create the right environment to foster creativity. Do you know what toys you should get? Do you know what areas your playroom should have? I will take the guesswork away and show you how to encourage creative play

I knew the importance of play for infants and toddlers and when we bought the house, we knew that the formal dining room was going to be a space that was not going to be used a lot and decided to turn it into a playroom.

Este post esta disponible en Español: Crea un Salon de Juegos para fomentar la creatividad en casa

I didn’t put much effort into the playroom, I honestly didn’t know what to buy and I wanted to do some research first and understand what I needed to do and buy to encourage creative play.

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When you don’t put effort into the play area, chaos can emerge.

I had a leftover Ikea shelf that we brought from the old house that we didn’t use at the new house. I had an open bin shelf I found at a garage sale for $5 and black padding floor to protect the wood floors (and to ease the bumps when Manny was learning to walk).

When the playroom doesn’t have good organization and visual appeal it is hard for kids to be encouraged to spend time there and be creative

I was amazed that even at 12 months, Manny had already a large box full of toys he barely used. I knew I was in for trouble of an overcrowded playroom if things continued like they were, so I set myself on a mission to change that.

The perfect playroom set up

A creative playroom should have different areas so that your child is encouraged to use and explore different activities. I found myself lost in finding what were the right toys to buy, what areas should the playroom have, and how to encourage creativity and play.

It took a lot of research to understand what were the right materials and toys to get (or add to the wish list) and a little help from a friend to help me move the furniture to bring it all together and make a playroom everyone wants to spend time in.

We did it and we created this. And now, I’m going to walk you through it so you can set up a playroom and do inventory of your toys and see what should stay and what should go.

encourage creative play
Less toys to be accessed are key to creative play. Doesn’t mean you get rid of all other toys, it means you showcase what you want to show case and then rotate.

My goals to create a playroom that inspires creative play were:

  1. A colorful environment – but avoid it looking like a rainbow just threw up
  2. A place that no matter the age creative play would happen
  3. Get toys and materials that would inspire creativity (boy! was this hard to find but I got it! )
  4. Create a space that looked organized and that it would grow with him as he got older

How to Encourage Creative Play in the Playroom

Open Shelves – Montessori Concept

Through my research, I learned the Montessori concept of using open shelves instead of toy boxes.

The more I learned about this concept the better the more I liked it. Montessori classrooms or homes that follow this, use the open shelf concept in the way that each section of the shelve, focuses on one activity only.

Open shelves allows to visually see what toys they have and inspires play

This concept worked really good for Manny’s age because he is still too little to understand the concept of opening a drawer or pulling out a box to understand that his toys are there. He needs to visually see what’s there and easily grab it. What I learned is that no matter the age, this concept works for kids of all ages.

Toys need to look appealing, kids need to clearly see what they are and how they can engage in creative play with them.

When using open shelves, you can use baskets to group smaller toys together and group activities.

We used the Ikea shelf for this concept, then kept other sections of the playroom with bins to hide unused toys. Actually, we took some toys to the garage and his room. I learned that the less toys they have out, the more they are encouraged for creative play activities.

Open shelves work better than a toy box because:

  • It is easier for the child to clean up (everything has a place)
  • It teaches responsibility, maintaining an organized room is expected
  • It provides a calm feeling and this feeling can lead to a calmer and less chaotic environment and play
  • It removes visual clutter that prevents creativity to flourish. Toys are beautiful, why not display them, use them to beautify the environment. 

Choose open ended toys

The best way to avoid having a room full of toys and nothing to play with is to choose open-ended toys.

This was the hardest thing to understand when researching what type of toys, I should get. What is an open-ended toy after all?

An open ended is a toy that can be used in many different ways.

A fire fighter costume. Do you think is an open-ended toy? It is not. Shocking right?! It is not because you can only play with it as pretend play of a firefighter. What happens if your child wants to be police one instead? Or a ninja? Then you have to buy 3 separate costumes. Then you have a full closet full of costumes and that can get overcrowded easily. What happens when in 6 months he doesn’t fit in them anymore? Do you have to buy the whole set again in his bigger size?

Instead, opt to get open ended toys that could serve the same purpose. Choose different fabrics, capes and other multi-use materials that can be used to create their own costumes and pretend play.

This concept was easily understood when I asked myself the following question: “who is in charge of play? The toy or the kid?”

The toy is in charge when there is only one way to play with the toy.

If they toy is in charge, then that is not an open play toy.

The more open ended toys you have available, the more creative play is encouraged.

A plastic cow. Is it an open play toy? Yes, it is. Because there is a lot of imaginative play they could do with the cow. Many games can be made around the cow. The cow can be on the farm. The cow can be the superhero in the story. One toy – many options and suitable for all ages.

Open-ended Toys Suggestions

wooden block set – event the oldest loves playing with these

Create a Reading nook

Reading is very important for me and my family so I knew a reading place had to be part of the playroom.

I looked for reading nook cushions and was super surprised by their costs. So expensive! $200 for a floor pillow? I decided to DIY it. 3 large pillows from Ikea, 2 colorful smaller pillows and a large dog bed for the floor. Now, it’s so cozy that my only problem is to get the dogs out of there as they seem to want to lay in our pillows when we are not looking.

Books – I have a small box close to the nook with 4-7 books. I rotate these constantly. The larger library is at Manny’s bedroom.

It is important to have the books facing out (not the spine) so he can easily the covers select what he wants to read.

The box is close to the reading nook for him to easily grab a book and lay in his nook to read. We also read together and even breastfeed in there.

old reading nook design concept – too many books but the concept is the same.

Interested in learning what type of books you should have Check out this guide. Want to know how to read to your baby? Check out this Facebook live where Liz, a literacy teacher shared with us how to choose books for our little ones and what to look for in a book.

Art and sensory play area

Part of the playroom has also guided play activities. These activities are the art projects we create and the sensory play developmental activities I create for him. These are not open play for now and are fully guided.

When we have older kids, they do have more freedom to use some of the art supplies but when it comes to paint, this is fully guided.

I like to have a table where Manny can get used to doing work. Nothing I hate more than seeing a kid doing homework on the bed. For me, it is so important to start fostering good habits like sitting properly at a table to do projects, homework and similar activities.

choose a table that they can easily sit down – this is a small table found at Ikea perfect for toddlers

It is also important to have an area where their art can be displayed ( I don’t have this yet so I use tape for now on the wall.. shh don’t tell my husband)

It is important to display their art, it shows their creation is valuable, they are important.

Invitation to play area

Rotating toys is key to ensuring kids don’t get bored with their toys. After seeing the same toy over an over they get used to it and loose interest. This is a concept we see a lot in places like MyGym or Gymboree, where they rotate not just the toys but the location of play areas.

The invitation to play part is my favorite part. It basically means you use a shelf or a table, and set up scenarios by grouping toys and creating the initial set up for them to play. This can be done for any age.

On the below photo, I took all his farm animals and set them up around the green grass carpet for him to play with. The same invitation to play here can be used for older kids. The game will vary but the way they play will differ according to their age.

Create an invitation to to play area, it could be a shelf, a table or even a rug

You can make any type of scenarios, you can group toys of the same color together and let your kids explore and create their own play. need ideas? Just search for #invitationtoplay in Instagram or #imaginativeplay or #openendedplay and you will find tons of ideas fo different setups and activities you can implement at home.

Another way I create an invitation to play is by creating weekly themes. I recently did a pirate weekly theme. I then, set up activities to do throughout the week around that theme.

Taking the farm example, I could create not just the scenario about the farm but I could take out the farm animal books. I could create a sensory guided activity around farm animals and play music and games around that. It’s just another way to explore learning and play. Themes just make it easier.

Popular posts for #invitationtoplay on Instagram

I hope this gave you an idea of how you can encourage creative play in your own playroom and increase the creativity of your kids at playtime.

Use the toy guide to check what toys you already have and what toys you can let go. Next time you are at a garage sale, keep an eye for furniture and other equipment to set up different sections in your playroom area.

Products used on this playroom and suggested toys:

click here to see all of Manu’s Playroom Toy List and wish list here

Products used in this playroom

See the full list of Manny’s toys and wish list at


23 thoughts on “How to encourage creative play: A guide to playroom setup”

  1. This is super awesome post and should be shared!!! I don’t have kids but i think it is very important to encourage kid’s creativity. Sharing it across my network. Thank you.

  2. My son is 3 months old. I can already tell he is in need of some toy stimulation. Even if he doesn’t quite play with anything else, I think just having it around makes a difference. Oh and so it seems that my office/gym is turning into his playroom, ha!

  3. Great ideas. This is the age of cognitive development and fostering creativity in kids. You are doing a great job.

  4. Wow, what a great ideas and I will definitely follow these steps or ideas in making my son’s playroom. Thanks for sharing!

  5. This is such an important topic. Playing is such a big part of growing up. So important that our kids have enough and creative place for it.

  6. I am more concerned with my kids now that I used to be. So important that they were engaged in educational toys and it helps so much if you have a creative playroom.

  7. Thank you for sharing this. As my baby is growing up I am planning to have a special playroom for her.

    • You don’t have to have a big space like this one to create a space for creative play. You can do a small corner with a few basic toys that will set up the environment for play.

  8. This is a great playroom idea. Kids will really enjoy this. I’d share it with my parent friends.

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