Many years ago I constructed a nature loft in the corner of the playroom to maximize the play space by building a low platform with toy storage below. In the loft I used a combination of real and imitation nature items to bring the outdoors in and create a unique area for dramatic play. . The children loved to play here – they had picnics, went camping, and pretended to be animals. This nature loft was small but that didn’t prevent all the children from gathering there together and it also offered a secluded area where children could go to relax and reflect.
A few years later I relocated the playroom to a different part of the house. As I planned the renovation I knew that I wanted the new nature loft to be bigger and better than before. I designed it to have two levels – the upper level had trees, flowers and animals like the previous loft – the lower level was like a cave with an undersea theme. The children really enjoyed the new spaces but unfortunately I found it very stressful. To allow for the lower play space the deck was 18 inches high – twice the height of the original loft. The children often carried toys as they scrambled up and down the stairs and I worried that someone would fall. This concern for their safety prompted yet another renovation – yes, I do make a lot of changes.
This time I chose to make the loft area a library and I moved the nature area to the small room off the main playroom. Here there was a large window and much more space than there had been in any of the lofts. The extra space allowed me to add more items – like the old Christmas tree from our attic (a wonderful suggestion from my husband). I had originally arranged all the trees and plants around the perimeter of the room but felt this didn’t create the sheltered ‘in the forest’ type of environment that the lofts had offered. So, this weekend I made some more changes. Our new nature area looks like this;
I am pleased with the results and today I will find out how the children react to the changes.
I have far more toys than our play space could contain so I rotate the toys in and out of the room regularly. I generally don’t tell the children about the changes because the ‘Hey, look what I found’ reactions are one of the highlights of my day.
Certainly it is noticeable when I put away the blocks and put the train set in the basket instead or replace the farm animals with some from the jungle. However, some of the changes are more subtle – the square I found at the hardware store and placed in the tool belt or the empty container from yesterday’s snack that is now on the shelf in the housekeeping area.
More interesting than the children’s initial reaction is the way the new discovery can change an old game. Such was the case this week when the children found the new book. Actually, it is not that new – the weekly planner book was donated by one of the parents and has been sitting on the shelf with the cookbooks and photo album for a couple weeks already but no one had noticed it.
When they did, everything changed. It is amazing how one small item can have such a major impact on the group. Cooking and serving food is a popular dramatic play activity here and often involves packing lunches and heading off to school/work – an activity they are all familiar with.
With the addition of the new book there was no “I want it first” or “when is it my turn” like there sometimes is when a new ‘one-of-a-kind’ item is added. Instead, it was as if the entire group of eight children suddenly had the same idea. With a ten year difference between the oldest and the youngest this is an amazing occurrence.
The book was the resource that connected all the intricate details of their new restaurant. Some children quickly donned dress-up clothes and phoned to make dining reservations. Others began planning the menu and cooking meals.
Along the way there were several imaginary incidents – a broken pipe, a kitchen fire. A quick change restaurant patron was suddenly a plumber or a firefighter. They even had an organized escape plan to get everyone out of the restaurant safely!
All I did was add a book and sit back to wait and watch. The best days are the ones when they don’t really need me at all.