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Active Playrooms

Create a play space for those "stuck inside" days

Despite what you might see on Pinterest when searching “active playroom,” you do not need to hire an architect or install a full jungle gym in your basement to have a functional and fun indoor play space.

Sensory and active play are often used in occupational therapy to enhance the at-home play of children who have been diagnosed with sensory or developmental disorders, but any child benefits from sensory play and indoor active equipment, especially in the dead of winter.

It’s easy to get started. Wendy Horton-Bierema, occupational therapist and owner of Arcadia Center for OT in Portage, recommends three things to create an active playroom: a pile of softness kids can crash in, a memory foam bean bag chair and large exercise balls.

Perhaps the easiest to create is a crash pile. Horton-Bierema tells her clients to pile rolled-up sleeping bags, stuffed animals (without hard plastic parts like eyes or sound boxes), comforters, old bed and decorative pillows and large pieces of fabric together on a floor.

“Anything soft and squishy,” she says. “Kids can roll over the piles, bury under it, bulldoze through it. They just have the best time.”

If you want to get even more movement for the kids, you can:

Have a ball —
Inflatable kids’ pools, tents and playpens can be transformed into ball pits easily — just buy the plastic balls. Check Craigslist for hand-me-down options or find the balls online and in stores like Target and Walmart starting at about $20 for 100 balls and ranging up. You can also substitute cut-up pool noodles, pillows or foam bricks or use items from the crash pile.

Monkey around —
Every home has joists in the ceiling. Why not make good use of them this winter and create a small-scale jungle gym for your kids? Install hooks into the ceiling joists of your playroom or child’s bedroom that allow you to hang a ring and bars set (about $30) and to switch the rings out for swings ($25) or chairs, as well.

Most manufacturers include detailed hanging instructions (and also sell small gym mats to place on the floor). KidsDreamGym.com is a leading manufacturer of indoor play equipment and has a plethora of options available for purchase online to serve as a good jumping-off point when shopping around.

If you want to hang a swing or hammock, Horton-Bierema says to make sure you have six feet of room from each wall to the swing for safety purposes.

Reach for the top —
For about $70, you can hang a set of 10 climbing wall holds on the wall of your playroom or kid’s bedroom. The holds should be home-climbing grade and come with instructions about how to properly mount the holds so they’ll hold the weight of your child.

Some parents and caregivers attach the holds directly to the drywall, while others attach the holds to a piece of plywood and then attach the plywood to the wall. Many at-home rock climbing walls sets are traverse walls meant to be climbed horizontally rather than vertically, so having a not-so-tall wall isn’t an issue. Visit EverlastClimbing.com for a great climbing wall example.

No space? Horton-Bierema says you can still create a soothing sensory area in a small space such as a closet. Throw in a beanbag chair, drape a piece of furry fabric over it, add a battery-operated push-on light and a little music and you’ve got a cozy spot for kids to hang out inside.

Stop by our Pinterest page to get even more ideas and tutorials for sensory play and indoor at-home playgrounds at Pinterest.com/fyiswmichigan.

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No space?

Horton-Bierema says you can still create a soothing sensory area in a small space such as a closet. Throw in a beanbag chair, drape a piece of furry fabric over it, add a battery-operated push-on light and a little music and you’ve got a cozy spot for kids to hang out inside.

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