elevating child care

Play Space Inspiration

Observing our children’s self-directed play helps us to understand them, become more empathetic and attuned, and it is the key to finding more joy in day-to-day parenting. These benefits (and more) are the reason I’ve shared so many play-inspired posts and videos. Most have focused on the parent’s role in nurturing child-directed play and the invaluable learning that happens when we do. I’ve shared specific recommendations for toys (or “play objects,” as infant specialist Magda Gerber liked to call them), but only some general guidelines for play spaces.

So, I was beyond thrilled when several dozen members of a Facebook group I belong to shared their personal photos in response to a parent’s query: “Anybody care to share pictures of toddler toy shelves/organization? I’ve got too many toys out and I’m in need of inspiration! Thanks in advance.”

I love these examples because they are the real deal, rather than Pinterest perfect. They are safe, practical, “yes” spaces, and I’m hoping they will inspire ideas of your own…

Katijah “Here are a couple of pictures of our play space…Keep in mind my kids range in age from 5 months through to 11 years.”

Katijah Edris

Katijah Edris 1

Hannah: “After reading Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, I was inspired to clean up my kids’ space. They are 4 (G) and 2 (B). I threw away/gave away/put away a bunch of their toys. They also have a play kitchen on the other side of the living room, a few stuffed animals in their bedroom, and a bunch of outdoor toys that I still need to go through (it’s easy to forget what all is out there since I don’t see it all the time). They actually play with all of their things now, and it takes no time at all to clean the space up. The art supplies are on the top shelf so that my son can’t easily reach them since he likes to draw on everything if given the chance.”

Hannah Eroh

Sara S: “Here’s our organization. The drawers and blue hanging device on the right are for clothes.” 

Sara Stahlman

Sara Stahlman 1

Amanda:  “Here are our play spaces. Toys are very sparse but get played with for long periods of time. Wooden car, drum, silks, felt balls, 2 board books, and arches.”

smaller Amanda Gooch- Kenney

“My nearly 4 year old’s play table, wooden ship, and barn with animals.”

small Amanda Gooch-Kenney 2

Lauren:  “Here’s our play space for our nearly 16 month old. I have toys on the one shelf, a big basket of balls and a few key items out in the floor that are his favorites at that time – currently his box of blocks, a dump truck, a silver bowl and wooden spoon, and a push “mower.” I try to rotate every few weeks, bringing in some new things and taking the items out that he’s shown less interest in.”

Lauren Lamkin Grancio

Lauren Lamkin Granicio

Leah: “Here is the space for my daughter. I work from home two days a week, so these are photos of our shared office/play space (no photos of my desk here… it is gated off so I’m fenced in while we work/play).  My desk is just to the right of the rocking boat/steps. Perhaps I should mention that she’s 9 months, so I’m sure this space will evolve with her!”

Leah Weckworth

Sara M:  This one is in the main area for a 11 mo old and 2, 2.5yr olds.”

Sara Midwood

“…And this is the gated-off area just for the older boys. Previously, it was the baby’s play area until he got super mobile. Now they can go in there to do those things little brother shouldn’t interfere with.”

sara midwood 2

Sheena: “His bedroom.”

Sheena Starks

“I quite often just put his mattress on the floor for a roll around.”

Sheena Starks 1

Kirsten: “My son can currently reach the bottom two shelves. We keep a basket of balls and a basket of wooden blocks. He has between 6-8 books on his shelf at a time. We are a bilingual home, so half in each language. He has one wooden puzzle out at a time. Plus some stuffed animals. He likes to pull out the box on the bottom shelf and put things in and take them out. He can’t pull out the other two boxes yet. We have definitely found that less toys means more independent play.”

Kirsten Devore Barak

Sarah V:  “I love our space. It used to be a traditional lounge /dining. I live in Hong Kong so space is at a premium. So we did away with tv and dining table. Its quite cozy now. Kids are 14, 4, 3, and 1.”

best Sarah Vincent

Mellissa:  “I was inspired, too, and just packed up a TON of toys. Plus I haven’t rotated toys in at least three months, so I pulled out some others that my daughter is now obsessing over. Maybe it’s still too much, but I like it for now. The bins on top hold wooden blocks, hand puppets, dress up clothes, and diapers/wipes. And my kids are 23 months and 8 months.”

Melissa Edens

Stacey: “Spencer’s room-23 months.”

Stacey Lee Stanley

“…Other side-book nook/quiet space.”

Stacey Lee Stanley 2

Brittney: “These are the shelves in our small living room play area. Like others, I recently read Simplicity Parenting and cut down on the number of toys we have out.”

Brittney Bush Bollay

Danielle: (Teepee in corner folded up.)


Rebecca:  “Here’s our space for a 38 month old and 19 month old. It is spread over two open play rooms. Definitely agree less is more.”

Rebecca Shivley Liddell 2

“… We use the 4 cube shelving (it’s very sturdy) with only one object in each square or a basket for loose parts. We also use baskets on the floor and a small book case for the ‘kitchen’ items and in the kids’ rooms. We rotate every 6 weeks or so.”

Rebecca Shivley LIddell 3

Rebecca Shivley LIddell

Jennifer: “Our space is for my 4 year old daughter and 22 month old son. The bins contain balls, bristle blocks, dress up items, and cars. Both kids love to create “obstacle courses” with the bricks and foam blocks.”

Jennifer Motil Tejada

Emma:  ‘Yes’ room

Emma Nation

Lynda: “I try to use bookshelf storage, but for some reason the kids prefer it empty.”

Lynda Raina

Amy (from Midwest Montessori): “Here is our daughter Charlotte’s bedroom and play area at 13 months. We adopted the RIE philosophy soon after her first birthday. While we already followed Montessori principles, RIE gave us the answers we needed to accommodate her entry into toddlerhood and the limit setting that goes along with it. The more we implement RIE the more free we feel in our interactions with Charlotte and the more confident we feel in our limit setting. We are so happy to have found a gentle and respectful parenting philosophy that so wonderfully coincides with Montessori. We are excited to implement RIE principles from birth with our future children as well.”

Amy Dorsch“Here is the reading nook. It’s inside a closet.”

Amy Dorsch 2

Tiffany: “My son is 2.5.”

Tiffany Gough

Sarah S: “Here is our basement family room. I’ve always wanted to paint it a nice bright white. The train table drawers hold the trains and the duplos. The shelf and baskets were a Craigslist find. There is another shelf in the right corner and parking for all the big trucks. We spend more time upstairs in our living room but only have one open toy shelf. I try to rotate. We also have an Art corner in our kitchen.”

sarah shabaan

Belle:  “Just had a declutter, and our 16 month old is loving rediscovering her space.”

Belle Clark

Thanks so much to all of you for allowing me to share your lovely play spaces!


Since so many of you have asked, HERE‘s a link to the arched steps in several of these photos.

(Parents have also built their own.)

I share more about cultivating the joyful habit of child-directed play in my book: 

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting

More recommended reading:

The Best Toys for Babies Don’t Do Anything by Magda Gerber

Our Thoughts on Open-Ended Toys by Mamas in the Making (and all of their other posts on play)

What is Play? by Lisa Sunbury, regardingbaby.org

Child’s Play: The Art of Toy Rotation by Adrienn Csoknyay, playfullearning.net

The many “untoys” I’ve listed in Unexpected Toy Find! and the Play section on this blog





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46 Responses to “Play Space Inspiration”

  1. avatar holly says:

    love this! where is the wooden stepping arch in several of the photos from?

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Holly! HERE‘s one place to find the wooden steps (which become a “rocking boat” when turned over…great for older toddlers).

    • avatar april says:

      love the calm places. we just got a small trapolin in for in the livingroom while its whinter, for some large moter skils and i use it too, its a greate workout.

  2. avatar Barbaea says:

    Seconding the question about the climbing frame/steps!

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Barbaea – The wooden steps can be found on Amazon HERE. These are a RIE staple.

      • avatar Cindy says:

        $200? Better to put that money in a savings account and use stairs for free.

        • avatar janet says:

          Good point, Cindy! I’ve just changed the link at the end of my post…because the steps/boat are now available for $171.00 from a different company. The price must have gone up on the link I had there…

          If parents are interested, they should obviously check around for the best deal!

  3. avatar Sabina says:

    OK…38 month old!?!? Really?? Once they hit 24 mths…they are 2 y olds..3y olds etc …lol too funny …

    Anyways, great article and very inspiring!

    • avatar Danielle says:

      I kinda disagree- though I hate doing the math lol, it tells me it’s a just turned 3 year old rather than a kid that’s close to 4. That helps a lot in parenting discussions because as we know, a few months can make a world of difference development wise.

  4. avatar V murphy says:

    Is there a toddler standing on a window sill in the photo from HK? I hope the window locks are safe!

    • avatar janet says:

      Knowing this mom I’m sure they are.

    • avatar April says:

      Lol, I noticed that child as well, and got a good chuckle about it. My now 3 year old is an avid climber like that. She’s wanted vertical movement ever since she could crawl at 7 months. Some kids are just like that, non stop.

  5. avatar Hannah says:

    As I was looking at these I didn’t want the post to end, such a lovely collection of playroom inspiration 🙂 I really liked the green ‘grass’ looking rugs in a couple of the rooms 🙂 such lucky children to have beautiful environments like these 🙂

    • avatar janet says:

      Yes, very lucky children, Hannah. I totally agree.

  6. It is amazing how strong the Ikea thread is through all of those spaces. (I no longer have photos, but mine was four Ikea cabinets some with doors and the simple toys at my sixteen month old’s level. One of the Ikea cabinets is still in his room and he’s about to empty it as he packs for college.)

  7. Oh. One of my favorite things is sort of in the nook/quiet space. We had a little sheepskin and a really small book shelf. We had them paired in a corner of the room and called it the Book Corner. After a year of starting naps with “a couple books in the book corner,” our two year old announced he needed to “bring the book corner to the play room.” It was then that I realized we had inadvertently named a sheepskin “bookcorner,” which it would stay named until it was eventually outmoded.

  8. avatar sara says:

    so good – all of it!
    it’s inspiring me to do yet another toy purge, too!! 🙂


  9. avatar Helen says:

    Love these pictures. How do people cope with well meaning grandparents that want to splurge at Xmas and birthdays and get lots toys? Not sure how to word it so we don’t seem ungrateful for their generosity but want to direct it tactfully.

    • avatar Holly says:

      If grands ask for suggestions, we ask for experiences rather than things–museum memberships, zoo, etc. Many memberships now even have the possibility of adding grandparents to the family membership if they are close. What better than trips to the museum with grands!? For things, we offer suggestions for items we intend to purchase. If you have multiple close in age children, you can suggest a single larger item you’ve been wanting. If they still must splurge, you can always rotate.

  10. avatar Brettania says:


    Would you consider a follow-up post with photos of outdoor play spaces for young babies? I remember you have one post (not sure which one) where you show a photo of your baby outside. It looks in the photo like you had play-yard fencing, a tarp on the ground, and then 2 layers of blankets on top of the tarp. Do you know which photo I am referring to? I always think about that photo but it was a tiny thumbnail and it was hard to see the details. I have struggled to develop a safe outdoor play space that can easily be taken down and moved (e.g. when the area becomes too sunny, or when it rains, etc). I would love to see photos of safe outdoor spaces for babies. Thank you for this beautiful collection of photos of the indoor spaces!

    • avatar janet says:

      Yes, that’s a great idea, Brettania! Thank you

    • avatar Betsey says:

      I’d love to see this too!

  11. I like how many people’s comments reveal that it’s not just about organizing toys well, it’s also about owning a small number of quality toys. I wrote two blog posts this week about owning fewer toys and about making sure those few toys offer diverse experiences – small motor, big motor, art, music… See http://www.good days with kids.com

  12. avatar Jenifer says:

    I love so many of these play areas! Maybe it’s just my kids, but if I had as many parts and pieces and books available to my 23 month old and just turned 4 yr old in their play space, they would constantly be all over the floor. Is it just my kids that like to scatter and dump their toys? They pull EVERYTHING off the shelves, dump the containers, and leave the floor absolutely covered with whatever I’ve given them to explore in their area. And they do it in about 10 minutes. My 23 month old will also stack the baskets/bins/books up and then climb to reach higher objects down to add to the mess already covering the floor. Would love your thoughts on this. Currently I have minimal toys and books available because I’m so tired of constantly picking them up. I know less is more, but I feel like currently they’re a bit limited.

    • avatar Dawn Campbell says:

      I have 3 boys and all are the dump everything in sight type, so I feel your pain.
      I think your right to limit their toys so it’s less annoying to clean up. I try to limit as much as possible, and rotate toys from our storage room every month or so.
      I’m also finding that less of one thing is better. Instead of having a full basket of small blocks, I’ll just make it half full. So it’s half as much to clean up.
      Recently I went through all their car collection and put most away and only kept out 6 cars, one truck and a helicopter. Much less to dump, and they actually play with them more because they aren’t overwhelmed with choice.

  13. avatar Deb says:

    These pics are great – though they make me envious because of all the space (we have a typical small British house with tiny rooms). But what I REALLY want to know, is what have all these parents done with the many many soft toys and coloured plastic “things” that family and friends give every birthday and Christmas. There’s only so many times I can blame the dog….

  14. avatar Emma says:

    I tried to join the facebook group you mention in this post, but I have been waiting for 2 months already for approval 🙁

  15. avatar Shannon says:

    Oh my gosh! How inspiring. I would be sooo embarrassed if I has to post a picture of my toddlers toy room. Let’s just say it would be my entire house. I am on vacation and now I know exactly what I am going to be doing over the next few days. Thank you for sharing! Can someone tell me where the green grass carpet came from? Look forward to seeing the outdoor play space?

  16. avatar Vicki Burgess says:

    All wonderful!

  17. avatar Tim Jones says:

    Did everybody have a good tidy up first. Our rooms never look as tidy as these.

  18. Thanks for this love all the photos. I needed this inspiration and looking forward to reading the article about toy rotation. I always feel like I have to many things out and feel overwhelmed by it often so the children must feel this way at times also. Thanks Kelly

  19. avatar Kristina says:

    I always love seeing other families’ play spaces. We own the same Ikea cube shelves, but what I rarely see in these photos is any sort of safety feature securing them to the wall. If you re-post others’ photos, PLEASE make a note to say that shelving should always be secured to the walls. Especially taller shelves (I’ve watched my 2 year old try to climb them – it happens!).

  20. avatar Jessica says:

    Does anyone have suggestions for living in extremely small spaces? How do you “fence off” a baby space in shared living areas. I want my baby to be safe but I also know that our living situation for the next year or maybe more won’t allow us to devote a whole room…or even a closet…to a yes space.

  21. avatar Margot says:

    Thank you for sharing! Lovely ideas for my 18 month old son who had so many toys I have no idea what to do with them. So I’m definitely going to read Simplicity Parenting and dive in the RIE principle. Greetings from The Netherlands

  22. avatar Kara says:

    My baby boy is 10.5 months old. Thought about getting the wooden steps/boat. He will be an only child, though. Can he play with the boat alone? Thanks!

    • avatar janet says:

      Yes! He is at the perfect age for using the steps can definitely enjoy and experiment with the rocking boat on his own.

  23. avatar Melanie says:

    In the 6th picture (with the fireplace)… where could I get a play table like that?

  24. avatar Kate says:

    I second the request for ideas on how to put a baby-safe yes space inside a larger room! We share a bedroom with our son and I’d love to have a dedicated play space where he can pull everything out and get it messy. My concern is that he’ll swiftly learn to climb up the shelving and over onto our bed.

  25. avatar Sarah says:

    I love this! Thanks

  26. avatar Justine MacDonald says:

    Any idea where the alphabet rug is from?

  27. avatar Minnow says:

    lovely inspiration, thank you! i’d love to know where the kidney-shaped play table in the last photo came from?

  28. avatar Michelle says:

    In the third photo down, I just keep picturing that basket of legos and bin of train track parts all over the house and me picking them up every 2 mintues. 😉

  29. avatar Stephanie says:

    Ok, here’s my dilemma. I have set up a space like this in my living room for the 14 month old I provide childcare for full time, however all he wants to do is everything I don’t want him to do. I have removed all the items I can that cause dangers, but its our living room, so I cannot remove everything. I have a small house and only one living room, so this is the space I have to work with. All he wants to do is climb on the couch and run back and forth (which I don’t allow him to do), sit and bounce on the base heater that’s attached to the wall and cannot be removed, and throw toys over the baby gate into the kitchen. I have minimal toys out so as to not overestimate him, all age appropriate, but he seems completely uninterested and frustrated. Help! I am getting really frustrated and don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I never had these issues with my son who is now 5. Do I just need to give it more time? I am consistent with my boundaries for him, but he is more interested in the things I do not want him doing than any of the things he can play with. He gets really upset when I try to redirect him and has even started to become physically violent when he doesn’t get his way.

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