Messes bother me.

While I believe in child independence, I also believe that children cannot be independent if the environment is all wrong.

For example, if you expect your four-year-old to completely clean up a room that overwhelms you as an adult – well, good luck.

The same goes for child play environments. They need a baseline of order first so that the children can (somewhat) independently maintain them.

If you’ve been reading for the past couple of weeks, I have been diving into public play spaces. I was inspired by a coffee shop space I was at that was basically in shambles.

In this entry I will describe what I did, why, and how you can apply the principle at home.


Books - Before and After

As with anything, books that are available to children should be minimal. Yes, reading is important – but when there are too many books to manage, they become damaged. In this situation, I took as many books as I could from the floor and put them on the wall-mounted book shelf.

At Home:  It’s great to have books – but consider having just 10-15 available at a time with the rest put on a higher shelf. Children should always be welcome to ask to trade the books out or ask for specific ones – however, when they are hundreds of books out, it just gets difficult and messy.

One idea that I love – and it pains me that I can’t find a picture of it – is to take pictures of book covers and glue each picture onto a single index card. There should be a picture of each book that you have. Bind them with a large metal ring. This way, children can browse books available without actually taking them out – and remember what’s there by looking at the pictures.

Junk Drawer

Junk Drawer

At this play space, there were a lot of random toys. I categorized as many as I coul and put the ones that didn’t have a clear theme into one drawer.

At Home:  Some things just don’t have a space and end up lingering in purgatory. Give a space to the things that have no space – and then get rid of things in it regularly.



When everything was put away, there really weren’t that many toys – it was just a complete lack of consistent clean up that was dragging this space down. After just twenty minutes, it was restored and made into a place that was easy for kids to clean up independently.

At Home:  Try as hard as you can to clean up regularly. Some days you won’t get to it, but waiting too long will make it seem like an insurmountable task.