Play places are something to get serious about

January 17, 1993|By Ro Logrippo and Antonio F. Torrice | Ro Logrippo and Antonio F. Torrice,Contributing Writers

Where can children play indoors when it's too cold, dark or miserable outdoors, or when they're tired of being room-bound?

It's a perplexing question year-round but especially now, when winter weather often spells school closure or sickness that translates to endless hours at home indoors.

Undoubtedly, the ideal solution is a permanent playroom. But if the place where you live doesn't permit that luxury, do the next best thing. Improvise an area for play that takes advantage of auxiliary space you do have. For ideas, visit playrooms in shopping centers, airports, hospitals or other public spaces.

A walk-in closet, an odd-shaped alcove, an enclosed porch --these are a few suitable locations for indoor play. Depending on your particular setup, the attic, basement or garage may also assume the role of play space even if only part-time.

Besides curing cabin fever when outdoors is unwelcoming, an indoor recreation area offers someplace besides the bedroom for leisure and social activities. It should therefore be a spot where a certain amount of noise can be tolerated and a project can be left in progress without parental disapproval.

There are multiple benefits to having play space separate from sleep and study space. If your children work off excess energy away from their bedroom, it saves on the wear and tear that room receives. For those sharing quarters, it also offers an arrangement whereby each has the option of seeking this space for quiet or noisy endeavors.

If there isn't a large playroom where you live, don't despair. An expansive area may be just the opposite of what a young child craves. As new research at the University of Tennessee indicates, little ones generally gravitate toward scaled-down environments.

Nooks and crannies

Generally, the more unusual the nook or cranny, the more exciting it will be to a young person. A niche like the one created by a peaked dormer of a window, for instance, is a child's ready-made retreat. Tack up some corkboard and it becomes a miniature gallery to display camp ribbons, school pennants and treasures.

Another haven for someone small is the stepped dead space under stairs, which is often enclosed as a closet. Remove the door, light the space with a portable battery-operated lantern and create a special hideaway that can be personalized with paint in your child's favorite color.

Just as children outgrow clothes, they outgrow tiny play areas. Once that happens, look elsewhere for indoor playgrounds.

If a walk-in closet can be spared, transform it into a kid's retreat by cushioning the floor with an area rug or carpet remnant and replacing clothes rods with shelves for playthings. Or turn this area into a mini exercise center with padded mats, sit-up and pull-up bars and a small round trampoline. Before undertaking this conversion, however, furnish sufficient ventilation and, if possible, soundproofing material.

In winter months, an enclosed porch or solarium devoid of regular furnishings becomes a place to play. No matter how this space is zoned for play, see that window glass is shatterproof so a tossed toy won't cause an accident. For comfort, install a window covering that keeps the room temperature controlled.

When the ground is too damp or cold, yet it's sunny enough for outdoor exposure, look to a balcony or deck as a makeshift play area. For safety's sake, be sure first that the rails are spaced no more than a few inches apart. If not, prevent a curiosity seeker from climbing through openings by stretching chicken wire in front of the rails. For practical purposes, allow only toys that weather well. An ideal place to teach gardening, a deck or balcony might easily accommodate a small planter for junior green thumbs to cultivate. .

Separate space for teens

As kids get older and spend more time by themselves, they yearn for independent play space. Teens especially prefer entertaining friends away from family, and by trying to provide such a place, you let them know their buddies are welcome.

Is attic, basement or garage space available? Convert it into a recreation room. Carve up the area according to interests with sections for reading, music, exercise, etc. Since computer games also amuse kids, devote an area to this, too.

As for rec room furnishings, take the budget route with inexpensive floor cushions, bean bags, futons and a card table with chairs. Or make large and small platforms from plywood boxes.

Stacked, carpeted and covered with pillows, they make an impromptu stage, lounge seating or, once sleeping bags are stretched across, adequate bedding for slumber parties. Finishing touches might include posters that a young adult favors.

In your rush to take advantage of attic space, don't overlook important technicalities such as extra insulation, air-conditioning, heating and self-ventilating skylights. Basements and garages should be not only insulated and heated but also water-proofed to seal off any dampness.

Both indoors and out, a good play environment for any age child is one that fosters creativity and self-expression. When that environment is located at home, it gives parents the opportunity to encourage youthful imagination and skill in safe and secure surroundings.

) Universal Press Syndicate

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