Does your child's playroom just keep them busy or promote independent play and learning? Mindful organizing is the key to optimize the latter. There's help for that in Fairfield County, where educator and organizer Alanna Gallo has a new business aptly called Play Learn Thrive.
Playrooms can be powerful teaching spaces and her company offers a range of services to help you set it up for that.
They are not just for hiding away toy clutter. "Play is how kids learn," Gallo explained. "Cognitive, social and emotional skills can be best developed in these spaces when they have "a more intentional play place design."
Gallo teaches parents how to reorganize for learning through play. Her company's services guide parents and educators in reorganizing their play areas to provide a more "independent and unstructured" place for children. The services are provided through in-person or virtual (all currently) home visits and include individualized plans for decluttering, personalized recommendations for more engaging toys based on specific ages and needs and follow-up visits.
Gallo's playroom design philosophy includes four pillars: Be intentional about selecting open-ended toys that promote active play and include proper elements to engage child-led learning; be a minimalist and actively minimize the number of toys in a child play space; provide a variety of play spaces that promote optimal growth and development; and Incorporate more natural and sustainable materials.
"The main reason families contact me is because they are feeling completely overwhelmed by the amount of toys in their space. Sometimes they are frustrated because they feel like they have toys in every corner of their home and don’t know how to get organized," Gallo told Daily Voice Plus via email, "or maybe they have a designated space for toys, but their kids won’t play for more than a few minutes at a time or constantly complain that they are bored."
When Gallo begins working on a project, she first speaks with the family to get to know them, their needs and their space.
"It’s important to know what the family values — if the children have any special needs or interests — and how they have their current space set up. We look at what’s working and what’s not. Often time parents will want me to guide them through a toy purge so they can begin to incorporate more open ended toys to their place space," said Gallo.
Her work involves walking clients through that process and includes discussions on the organization and how the environment impacts the child. "We talk about what types of toys their kids gravitate towards and how they typically engage in play. Then we work together to identify the toys or types of play spaces that would be most beneficial for their family," Gallo explained.
Though she works virtually on playroom designs, it's been somewhat of a challenge working over solely virtually the past few months while in quarantine. That is mainly because she loves going into a home to see how a family interacts with their space.
"It’s much easier to read people when you are physically with them—and understanding and building a relationship with the parents is important to the success of the project," Gallo said.
Among rewards is hearing how their children’s play has drastically changed.
"It’s really incredible to watch parents have that 'aha!' moment, when they suddenly realize how important it is to step back and let their kids play. And seeing them come to the realization that the space and types of toys they provide do have an impact on their kids," she related.
These playroom principles boil down to one main idea. “Think about free time in terms of ‘how can I encourage independent play or learning?’ and not ‘How can I keep my kids busy and entertained?’” Gallo said.
“This shift in mindset will allow your kids to develop important skills, while also keeping them engaged for longer stretches of time.”
Gallo is an experienced teacher in secondary education. She is a parenting blogger and the author of "Simply Play: Everything You Need to Know about the Most Important Part of Childhood." She has three children.