Play Spaces: so much more than an Instagram trend

As I scroll through Instagram and Pinterest, I can’t help but notice that the majority of play spaces I see look like they are straight out of a magazine shoot. They are perfectly curated with on-trend colour schemes and to be perfectly frank with you, it looks like a child has never set foot within the space.

At home, our play space has evolved over time. I am very happy with the way it looks right now – there has been trial and error along the way. And whilst I am happy with the way it looks, I also know that my children PLAY in the space. Then spend hours playing imaginary games and using the open-ended toys placed upon the shelves.

Can our space look messy at times? Yes absolutely.

Do all the furniture and toys match? No, not my a long shot.

So should a play space be curated or not?

I believe that there is a fine line to tread between ‘curated’ and ‘authentic’ when it comes to play spaces. When a play space is too perfectly curated with really expensive toys and matching furnishings, they almost scream, ‘look – don’t touch!’ They are aspirational for sure, but think carefully before spending thousands on a matchy-match play space.

An authentic space is one in which a child actually plays. It’s not just for show but a genuine, functioning space. Ideally, it is somewhere where a child when spend the majority of their time when inside the house.

With all that being said, I believe that ‘curated’ and ‘authentic’ can be blended together to create an appealing, engaging space for your children to play in. Here’s how:

1. Curate the play space so that it matches your child’s interests rather than a specific ‘look.’

The toys you have in your play space should directly match the interests of your child. Observe them and play, then put items on the shelves that will help them explore those interests. When in doubt, keep the space simple and minimalist!

2. Your child needs to like the play space rather than strangers on Instagram

If your child isn’t playing in the space, you need to figure out WHY. Are there too many toys crammed on the shelves ( I see this often with wooden toy hauls on IG) that make decisions too overwhelming? Does your space have flow? Are the items at eye level for your child?

3.Let your child engage with the space – it is theirs!

Here’s where you need to check your ego and the concept of perfection. In the photo below, my daughter is busily writing a sign on the reverse of the IKEA Play Kitchen (we backed it in chalkboard paper years ago). This is a perfect example of allowing children plenty of opportunities to write.

Now imagine for a second if I swooped in and printed off a perfect sign for her café or if I wiped off the sign to do a neater version? How would she feel to see her efforts erased? Not great, I imagine.

So don’t be quick to ‘hack’ every element of your space – instead provide your children with plenty of opportunities to work on new skills without your adult perception of the ‘perfect space’ getting in the way.

authentic play spaces are engaging


4. Get the kids artwork on the walls!

There are ways to do process art with kids without it turning into a giant mess. We have several canvases around the house that have been created by the kids and more recently, some mobiles made using recycled pieces. Having their work on the walls helps them to feel more connected to the play space.

bring your children's artwork into the play space to bring greater connection


5. Expensive resources aren’t a magic wand.

Only buy toys that you think your child will play with. Only buy toys that you can afford. First in was the Grimm’s rainbow, then the Pikler Triangle now it’s those play couches. Please do remember that a lot of accounts with big followings on social media are paid to promote certain brands.

Don’t be seduced into thinking any one toy is going to be a cure-all for play. Please don’t think that you need to buy all of the wooden toys in one go either.

You can see from the photos on this website that I do own expensive resources. I have built up my collection over a number of years – around 12 to be precise. I place money in a savings pot each month for Christmas and birthdays and carefully consider the resources I want to buy. You can read about some of our favourite resources here. 




Sian Thomas
an image of This Playful Home founder, Sian Thomas. The photo includes a photo of her daughter when she was around 18 months old

I’m Siân (rhymes with yarn), a play advocate, proud parent to three, and former teacher. My mission is to infuse more joy and less overwhelm into the lives of parents. Discover play-based activities with me that not only make learning FUN but also forge deep connections with your young learners, creating memories to cherish forever.