This post is the first in a series about using the space in your home more thoughtfully. You can read more Christopher Alexander’s ideas in his classic book on architecture, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. Alexander’s book is written specifically for amateurs like me to reshape their communities and homes into more livable spaces. You can also read more about the book on Modern Mrs. Darcy.
Kids’ space is an after-thought in most homes. There is a big temptation to either constantly fight kids to keep a perfectly clean home—and restricting their space to a playroom stacked with toys where their mess is supposed to stay—or to let kids totally take over a house and leave no corner un-messed, no quiet space un-noisied.
But according to architect Christopher Alexander well-thought-out kids’ space is vital to a happy, well-functioning home:
Fortunately, there is room in most homes for a great kids’ space by keeping three ideas in mind:
- Give kids small, “cave-like” spaces. When I taught third-grade, recess was a supervision nightmare. I would turn around and my entire class of little girls would be gone. They hadn’t wandered off—they’d taken refuge inside the tunnel of the playground, under a weeping willow, or in the hollowed out space in a bush. Kids spend all day in open, tall, “adult” spaces. They like to play in small, almost secret spaces that seem made just for them. Your house almost certainly has leftover spaces that would make perfect caves for kids. Use leftover space under the stairs or an extra kitchen cabinet to make a cave for your child.
- Make kids a path. My mother-in-law still jokes about the trail of stuff that appeared on her floor every afternoon leading from the garage door, up the stairs, and into Adam’s bedroom. Kids have a difficult time perceiving boundaries—any space they are in is their space and they feel free to leave a mess, play, and make noise as they please. Rather than fight your kids for a bit of cleanliness and quiet, make them a “continuous geometric swath” of space they can feel ownership over. Think of your kids’ space as a series of interconnected spaces that touch on common areas. Mentally trace a path linking your kids’ bedrooms and play area to the common spaces they share—such as the kitchen and bathroom—and ultimately leads outside. Make that space fun to play in by adding little shelves of toys or cave-like spaces. Accept that things in that path are fair game to get damaged or cluttered. Common areas that touch the path aren’t.
- Meet kids’ needs for both privacy and companionship. Like all people, kids need time and space to be alone. But they also crave attention and company, even while they’re sleeping. Most kids sleep either in a shared bedroom with beds pushed up against the wall, or, if their parents can afford it, in separate bedrooms. Instead, a shared bedroom with a cluster of alcoves provides both privacy and companionship. You don’t have to build a home yourself to have a bedroom with alcoves. Use shelves or room dividers to create a separate space around kids’ beds to give them room to be alone. Leave space in the middle of the room for shared play.