Children at any age need careful planning to create places for study and play. Even if your child is years away from studying geometry, you can apply the principles of divided, open spaces to organize his or her playroom so that it also serves as a functional homework area and grows with him or her.
The secret to keeping toys and school gear neat and organized isn't just having enough space. It's having accessible storage your child will actually use.
- Location: Set up the study zone or play area where your child will be close to you, such as near the kitchen or family room. Neither you nor your young child will be comfortable with a playroom in the basement if you spend most of your time in the kitchen.
- Measure: Take down the dimensions of what you will be storing before you start designing and installing shelves. Think adjustable sizes rather than standard symmetrical arrangements. (Measure some bigger toys to make sure the shelves are adequately sized.) Avoid sharp angles and corners that can hurt a child.
- Weight loads: Most toys are fairly light, but a row of books can get heavy. Architects often specify 3/4-inch-thick birch plywood for bookshelves; spans shouldn't be longer than 30 to 36 inches between supports. If you are using a thinner plywood, such as 1/2-inch, reinforce with supports every 24 inches.
- Long-term storage needs: Children's playrooms and bedrooms tend to be small, so take advantage of every bit of space by building shelving to the ceiling. Store what your child plays with every day on the lower shelves; rotate other toys and games to the top shelves. Also, don't forget to include enough desk-type area to accommodate computer equipment and handwritten work.
- Material alternatives: Compare your options before you buy. Economical painted particleboard, rather than laminate or birch plywood, works fine for built-ins.
- Labels: Use labeled plastic bins, boxes, or baskets for small toys, such as blocks, cars, and plastic figures. For young children, label with a picture of what goes in the bin. Don't forget storage for computer games and disks, music CDs, and other modern paraphernalia you'll accumulate as your child grows.
- Lighting: Include an adjustable, lighted work surface. With vertical shelf supports and L-brackets, a work surface can be raised as a child grows -- the same way bookshelves are moved.
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