Let’s Play: Creative-Free Play Keeps Spaces Shifting

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Empty Rooms

Empty rooms are great catalysts for energizing creative-free play!

I live with a re-arranger. Every three to four months she requests assistance moving books and furniture to make her room “just perfect.” The bed goes up so she has a nook below. The bed goes back down. Other times the bed needs a tent over it to hide in. I indulge this. I see no good reason not to. She is making her space her own.

Six years ago we moved and I brought her tricycle into the completely empty living room so she could ride around and around while I cleaned kitchen cabinets and scrubbed bathroom tiles. I placed a large sketch pad, pencils, markers and books in the empty playroom. She rode in circles. She drew piles of pictures to decorate her new room. She flipped thru her favorite picture books over and over. I did a lot of cleaning without interruption. Preparing the house for our move-in was the beginning of her free play in empty rooms and spaces as part of the re-arranging addiction.

A few weeks ago we had a four day weekend. October has many extra school free days. She woke up on that first day and announced another room plan.

“Mom, I just turned nine. I have to make my space older.” Our weekend had an instant plan.

She carried art supplies and books out to the kitchen table while I moved shelves and broke down the bed. One half of the room became empty very quickly. Why the clear out? She requested a loft bed like the college kids. This became an extreme re-arranging exercise. After some planning and sketches and a trip to the lumber yard, I had some work to do. Yes, I like her imagination, ideas and projects, too.

The ever-changing room of your child suggests a creative mind always on the go!

While I handled the power tools, she set up her area in the empty half of the room. Books, comics on the wall and room to spread out.

This might be stretching many parents’ ideas of weekend free play. We don’t do this every weekend. Just sharing an idea for those times that you have projects at home to complete and you have a helper that needs a special project. Providing an empty space that kids can make their own (even for an hour or two) will get their imaginations flowing and jump start ideas for play.

If you don’t see an empty room in your near future, here are some other ideas that involve less heavy lifting:

  • Blankets, pillows and a string of lights can make a great hideout while you set up for the holiday season.
  • Family Fun Magazine recently ran an idea for quick and easy outdoor space for kids.
  • Place a large cardboard box in the yard. Make a door and a window. Pile leaves around it and you have an instant leaf fort. A mini outdoor room for play while the family works on gathering the fall leaves.
  • You might also try a large box in the snow to provide an automatic roof for a snow fort with no need to worry about heavy snow falling on little ones.


Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie continues to do freelance work for clients here and in Chicago.

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