If you have a Pinterest account, and you have considered opening a home daycare, then chances are you’ve seen the ornate playrooms which grace its boards.
I don’t know about you, but those beautiful, open, organized play spaces make me feel completely inadequate as a family childcare provider, homemaker, and mother. I don’t have the time, money, or space for most of those things. Half of my room is hand-me down toys and furniture from friends and family. And you know what? They’re perfect for us.
Kids are hard on their environment. I want beautiful things that I don’t need to freak about if kids get banging pans or slopping paint around. I want beautiful, but my kids need practical. It’s a common obstacle for me to find that perfect balance between the two. I frequently take a step back and remind myself of the sparse layout and cheap random (and few) toys my Littles had when I first began my program. And you know what? They were just as happy then as they are now. However, I am constantly rearranging our room, moving and switching out toys, rearranging furniture, changing out wall hangings. The playroom is our space. It’s just as much mine as it is my Littles, and I want it to reflect that. My playroom is their space.
Anyhow, I tend to alternate toys through our program. This does several things, but mostly it enriches their environment. However, there are a few main items I always keep available to my kids, no matter what rotates through. These are my playroom essentials that I feel every home daycare program and playroom should have. So, I decided to pass on my list of essential favorite things to you.
The 10 most Valuable Toys Every Successful Daycare Playroom Needs
I have our train table as number one because it is the most vital piece of furniture in our room. When my neighbor texted me to ask if I wanted the train table, I said yes without hesitation. Hubs moaned and groaned about how much space it would take up, but I didn’t care. But I told him that I would find a place. All I knew was that our Littles needed it. But I didn’t realize how vital it would become to our program. You see- it’s not just a train table. It’s a block table. A coloring place. A shaving cream exploration area. It’s play-doh creation mat. We have tea parties on it, hide underneath it, discover the latest sensory materials on it. My toddlers learn to walk by pulling up on the table and cruising around it- the train table is just the right height for them.
Every good playroom needs a kitchen area. It can be as elaborate or as simple as you like (or within your budget). We started out with a cheap plastic hand me-down kitchen, but has since evolved. Ours is now a fabulous wooden kitchenette, with little hooks and drawers. My Littles have a great little set of BPA-free fruits and vegetables, pots and pans, and even little aprons and homemade chef’s hats. My new kids make a bee-line to our kitchen area every time they walk in my home. The Littles love grabbing the pots and pans and aprons and bringing them to the train table whenever I get out sensory materials (I have a strict rule that sensory materials stay at the train table, or it goes away). Next to the train table, the Little’s kitchen area gets the heaviest use.
Having a great book library can almost go without saying. Right now, my books are stored on the bottom shelf of our bookshelf, and in baskets around the room. I love the heavy cardboard ones for the baskets because those are the books my littlest demolition babies access the most. On Pinterest, I have several ideas for book storage on my pinned, but I haven’t executed any yet. I do notice that the Littles have a difficult time putting the bookshelf books up correctly and it makes clean up time frustrating for them, so we do need a new method. A variety of books, in a variety of spaces, is a vital part to any good home daycare or playroom.
Bookshelves are not just for books! I love the Montessori method of attractive arrangements of small amounts of toys and activities, and it’s inspired my bookshelf layout for the kids. Keeping out smaller baskets or trays with toys or activities is a terrific way to set up a playroom. They can deliberately choose a toy or activity this way. It has a special home for clean up, and it keeps toys and clutter to a minimum.
Children need a place to put their things. In an environment where we share everything, it is important for them to have a space they feel is “theirs”. When I first opened my childcare, the cubbies consisted of milk crates, diaper boxes covered in fabric, and hooks for their jackets. It worked out just fine for them, it was cheap for me, and it still looks nice. My grandfather, later, built me beautiful wooden and stained cubbies for the children. I like them better, not only aesthetically, but because they keep the children’s blankets and clothing separated a little bit better, for hygienic reasons.
Plastic Shoe Boxes
I love my plastic shoe boxes. I get them for a dollar a piece at the dollar store. Over time I have probably amassed 30 of them, all stacked neatly on top of my cubbies. The shoe boxes hold puzzles, busy activities, fine motor works, sensory boxes, train tracks, etc. It’s a part of my “rotate the toys” collection, and they are invaluable to our program. The children know that they can request boxes whenever they would like (if they clean up their designated “area” before getting something new out)
A rocking chair
The rocking chair isn’t for the Littles- it’s for me. It’s for snuggles. The chair is for book reading, bottle feeding, story-telling, and boo-boo kissing. While I don’t do much sitting, the sitting I do do, happens in this chair.
Blocks are an elemental part of every single daycare/playroom set up I have ever seen. The STEM and social emotional benefits of having a quality block space are insurmountable. I could go on and on about the benefits of blocks in a early childhood program, but that would be a blog post (or two) in itself. So instead I’ll link you here and here, if you’re interested in finding out more.
Children mimic what they see their adults do. I always keep a handful of baby dolls for the children to play with. Some days, the babies are used to play doctor, to give naps to, to take shopping with. They feed them bottles (or pretend to nurse them), they change diapers, or “Wear” them just like I wear their friends. Other days, the babies remain in their box, untouched for days. But I always leave them out because I believe they are important to imaginative and pretend play.
Kids love to have a secret space to collaborate and hide. Sometimes, one child is feeling overstimulated and needs a quiet confined space to themsleves. Other times, the entire group fo bigs pile in together, whispering and playing. In Indiana, Childcare Answers Level 4 Paths to Quality licensing procedures necessitate that you are able to see all children at all times, and in that case, a fort or tent made with sheer curtains like the one above will work just fine.
I haven’t always had dress up items out and available for my Littles, until this year. It’s always the first area to get destroyed, but that just means that it is the first area which is played with. I have a good mix of super hero capes, dresses, and animal costumes, which I change out regularly for the kids- I leave out just enough costumes that each child should have a little variety, without being overwhelming. My favorite is when my babies mimic their Bigs and don capes and ears while streaking boldly through the playroom with glee.