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Creating Sensory-Enhanced Play Spaces for Children: A Comprehensive, Holistic Guide - studio huske

Creating Sensory-Enhanced Play Spaces for Children: A Comprehensive, Holistic Guide

8 minute read

When you hear the word sensory, it makes us think of engaging the five senses or about addressing the need to manage stimuli. But sensory engagement can also be about familiarity. It's about creating a grounding personal space, which minimises overwhelm and facilitates freedom of expression and creativity. A welcome by-product of a considered sensory space is relaxation. If you've ever spent the bulk of your day racking up screen time, then you'll know, that sensory relaxation or de-stimulation is as valuable for me and you as much as any child. That's where the power of a well conceived space comes in to play. Designing a play space that caters to children's sensory needs while nurturing their creativity and imagination is a very rewarding endeavor.

10 features of a minimalist play space which help to balance sensory load 

In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore the crucial elements that make up an ideal sensory-rich play environment. From the importance of natural daylight to the significance of hidden storage solutions, we'll delve into each aspect and provide insights, examples, and expert opinions to empower parents and designers alike.

 studio huske 10 features of a well designed sensory play space part 1 daylight

1. The Importance of Natural Daylight

The most basic requirement of a play space, which might seem obvious, is daylight. However, when I think of how many homes I see where the basement area is a dedicated playroom or mess room then you'll understand why I found it obvious but important to point out that daylight is a huge supporter of sensory play.

Sunshine, how it moves across the room, the shadow play it creates at different times of the day is extremely dynamic and somehow soothing. The dance of light brings warmth and energy to the room, but also supports kids taking on new challenges. It's so important that they can clearly see what they're doing to hone their fine motor skills to take on tricky tasks. To stack two pieces of Duplo carefully together. Natural daylight is the cornerstone of any well-designed play space. It not only enhances the visual appeal of the room but also contributes significantly to children's well-being. Exposure to daylight has been linked to improved mood and cognitive function in children. A sunlit room provides a dynamic and stimulating and inviting atmosphere for play and learning. When choosing the play space in your home make sure to prioritise this one feature.

Wood is universally beautiful to man. It is the most humanly intimate of all materials - Frank Lloyd Wright 

 

studio huske 10 features of a well designed sensory play space part 2 natural materials

 

2. Natural Materials

In the age of dopamine decor and the resurgence of colour in interior design, incorporating natural materials into the play area adds warmth and sensory richness. Intense colour pops can be balanced out with natural materials. They're mute notes, grounding and organic, to counterbalance more intense tones. They are the yin to the yang of colour. Natural materials engage children's senses of touch and smell, creating a harmonious connection with nature within the home. 

Every object, every being, is a jar full of delight

-Eero Saarinen

 

studio huske 10 features of a well designed sensory play space part 3 play on the floor

3. Play on the Floor

Designing a play space that encourages floor-based play fosters physical development and sensory exploration. Low tables, floor cushions, and soft rugs create an inviting environment for children to engage in imaginative play, art projects, or simply to sprawl out with a good book  In the context of floor-based play, the floor itself becomes a 'jar' brimming with the delight of discovery. Studio huske mats support this creativity, and provide an easy-care haptic environment as an underlay for creative play. The mats are textured, but without pattern, to minimise the sensory load.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart.

-Helen Keller

 

studio huske 10 features of a well designed sensory play space part 4 texture

 

 

4. Texture

Texture I feel like it's very similar to natural materials in the sense that it's adding dimension to a room. In our case we have a Ferm Living Kids quilted play mat hung on the wall which counteracts the shiny glass frames of the posters. I would include also our studio roof 3d sculptures in with texture because they add dimensionality. Texture can be thought of in terms of materials, like wall hangings, but also I think of texture in terms of layers and dimension, like the layer of wooden framing on my son's bed adds texture to the space and depth. It creates a kind of front and back of stage to his bunk, and it means also that in tandem with the daylight there is a constant shifting dimensionality to the room. All of this is to say that no one sense ever works in isolation. 

Consider introducting various textures through fabrics, cushions, and wall coverings. Rough and smooth surfaces, as well as different tactile sensations, stimulate the sense of touch.

Rough and smooth surfaces, as well as different tactile sensations, stimulate the sense of touch. Helen Keller once remarked, "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart." In the realm of sensory design, textures offer a bridge between the physical and emotional realms.

Creativity takes courage

- Henri Matisse

 

studio huske 10 features of a well designed sensory play space part 5 prints

5. Print and Abstract Patterns

When I was a child, I was very captivated by an abstract print in my aunt's room at my grandmother's house. I can picture it in my mind's eye and I really think that painting was one of the major driving forces in sparking my interest in a career in design and architecture. All that is to say that I don't think prints in the context of a children's room need to be literal. Although the Duplo posters that they now have in the room are on the literal side, the prints on their bedsheets, bedspreads. soft furnishings are quite monotone and abstract. I think it's a more sustainable way of approaching interiors because they then can't particularly grow out of a certain phase. So it just makes things not per se go out of date.

On a sensory level prints and abstract patterns add visual interest and encourage cognitive development. Wall art, curtains, or rugs with vibrant patterns engage children's curiosity and imagination. As the famous artist Henri Matisse once said, "Creativity takes courage." Abstract patterns can inspire children to explore their own creativity, embracing the courage to see beyond the obvious.

The details are not the details. They make the design.

Charles Eames 

 

studio huske 10 features of a well designed sensory play space part 6 personal touches

6. Artifacts and Personal Items

From the perspective of a child, the kitchen, the utility room, the bathroom, the living room don't feel like rooms that belong to them. This is why I put personal artifacts as one of the components because the play room is the space in the house that reflects them and as part of their self image. When I had a little bit of free time over the summer, I spontaneously started to make some shapes out of my kids beloved scratched and scraped Duplo pieces. Without overthinking it I made a little ,build book' that they could take on the challenge of building little Duplo sculptures that I came up with. I printed on them on a local photo book service. And they were really excited by it, especially my younger son. And I don't think it was so much the Duplo or the little figures. It was just that I was documenting something that's one of their main sources of enjoyment joy and creativity. So in a way I was showing them that I see what they like what they're interested in. It way a way of bridging the gap between us and showing them that I'm interested in in my own way too. Afterwards I made some posters of those images. Sounds very philosophical. It wasn't. Some of the other personal items in their room are toys that they don't play with anymore like the swiss made wooden frog or the Brio dog only gets a periodic turn around the apartment when younger kids come to visit, or my husband's little pig figurine that he had when he was a little boy. So it can be things which are about the child or things which are about the presence of the parent in the child's room. But it just gives a sense of grounding- that it's their space.

On a sensory level including personal items like family photos, children's artwork, and artifacts from travels fosters a sense of identity and belonging. These items can be conversation starters, encouraging children to explore their heritage and express their creativity The renowned designer Charles Eames believed that, "The details are not the details. They make the design." In the context of a play space, personal items are the details that make the design resonate with meaning and emotion.

studio huske 10 features of a well designed sensory play space part 7 varied light

 

7. A Variety of Artificial Light Sources, Including Dim Light

Artificial lighting plays a vital role in setting the ambiance of a play space.

There are three light sources at nighttime in my boys room. One directly above the bunk bed. A dimmable light source beside the dollhouse in my son's single bed and the overhead lighting is for when they are intensively doing an emergency nighttime play before bed. Then all the lights are on. In the second stage of lighting the overhead light is off and each of them have their reading lights. The final stage is when the warm light which is dimmable and gives a very nice soft light. It's beside my son's bed and serves as a nightlight which stays on all night at the at the at its most dim setting. 

Consider pendant lights, floor lamps, and table lamps to create a layered lighting scheme. Dimmable lights allow for flexibility, enabling you to adjust the lighting according to different activities and moods. In the evening artificial light becomes the orchestrator of the room's atmosphere.

studio huske 10 features of a well designed sensory play space part 8 artwork

 

8. Artwork

See prints above. I made two categories to emphasise the fact that prints have a huge role to play when they are present on fabrics and textures and not just contained within picture frames. Artwork adds character to a play area and provides children with visual stimuli. I don't actually believe that it's necessary to incorporate age-appropriate art pieces that resonate with your child's interests. In our home the artwork could be placed in any room. With that in mind I like to see prints in a kid's room that aren't juvenile, and don't talk down. Inspiration can be found far beyond a particular developmental stage. Consider rotating artworks periodically to keep the space fresh and inspiring and introduce contrasting colour combinations.

studio huske 10 features of a well designed sensory play space part 9 cosy nook

 

9. Cosy Reading Nook

A dedicated reading nook is a sanctuary for children to explore the world through books.

A cosy reading nook doesn't have to be completely enclosed, per se. The area under my kid's bed serves as a reading nook. But also the bunk bed with balustrading around it is a nighttime needing nook for my youngest son. I think two of the key components are soft furnishings and the sense of enclosure. I added the wooden frames to our Ikea Kura bed partially for safety, but also for that sense of a cocoon. And I did the same to my son's single bed by the door. I added the blue panel at the end to give a sense of enclosure. It was a Feng Shui instinct, thinking that when people come in the door passing his bed he would feel more enclosed and cosy. In every room in our house, but especially in the boys room, we have a lot of oversized cushions which serve as futons but also to sit down on or to lie against harder furnishings. At times, it can be up to five five in their room.  And Nook is not necessarily fully enclosed, but it just gives a sense of enclosure. 

Consider adding comfortable seating like bean bags or a plush armchair, along with a well-organized bookshelf to your nook. The reading nook should be well-lit and free from distractions, allowing children to immerse themselves in stories.

 

Out of clutter, find simplicity

- Albert Einstein

studio huske 10 features of a well designed sensory play space part 10 Hidden storage

 

10. Hidden Storage

When choosing my son's beds I knew that I wanted under bed storage for their lego. In the end the Yann bed from La Redoute came through. It has lots of little compartments which open easily on a hinge, and also has the pull out drawer I was looking for. It's important to me that the kids start to think a little systematically. Each toy category has a home. So they know where to find it, and more importantly, when they're old enough they know where to put it away! It takes no time at all to make their room look tidy because most toys are hidden out of sight, but still accessible and ordered. So hidden storage solutions are essential for maintaining an organized and clutter-free play space. It makes for a low-list, easy to manage play space. Furniture with built-in compartments, decorative storage bins, and baskets that double as seating all contribute to a tidy environment.

Bonus: Plants

Introducing indoor plants not only adds a touch of nature but also purifies the air and enhances the sensory experience. Children can learn about plant care and observe the growth process, fostering a sense of responsibility.

Plants in the kid's room is a work in progress for us, we'll get there!

As I've previously mentioned I'm a systems thinker, so it helps me to dissect and categorise what appears to be working for us. Designing a sensory-rich play space for children involves a thoughtful combination of elements, but it's quite an instinctive art. In designing sensory-enhanced play areas, we simplify the path for children to explore, learn, and create in a nurturing and stimulating environment. By combining these elements, parents and designers can craft spaces that support a child's sensory needs, foster creativity, and spark imagination, ultimately enhancing the quality of their early years and beyond. Last but not least, and engaging, easy to organise space just makes everyone's life easier, which is what we're all about!

 

Designing a sensory-rich play space for children involves a thoughtful combination of elements, but it's quite an instinctive art. We've compiled a list of 10 elements that are sure to add value in a sensory space. In designing sensory-enhanced play areas, we simplify the path for children to explore, learn, and create in a nurturing and stimulating environment. By combining these elements, parents and designers can craft spaces that support a child's sensory needs, foster creativity, and spark imagination, ultimately enhancing the quality of their early years and beyond. Last but not least, and engaging, easy to organise space just makes everyone's life easier, which is what we're all about!

 

Further Reading and Research

For those interested in delving deeper into the world of childhood development, sensory play, and imaginative play spaces, here is a list of recommended books:

  1. "The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind" by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

  2. "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" by Richard Louv

  3. "Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids" by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross

  4. "The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups" by Erika Christakis

  5. "The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children" by David Elkind

These books offer a wealth of knowledge and practical insights

 

 


About the author

Kate is owner and founder of studio huske, a swiss-based kids interior-products brand which is dedicated to developing premium quality, phase-less. genderless, robust, wipeable children's products. The range celebrates texture and colour and textiles which appeal to both the adult and the child's eye alike. Produced sustainably in small batches in Korea, the vegan leather textile used is OEKOtex 100 certified and has a Korean eco label. Studio huske products are intended to be a daily support in the lives of both parents and children. Designed by an architect mother for her own kids- by parents for parents.

 


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