Most of us have said to ourselves, “I can’t wait to get home!” after experiencing a long or arduous day. Our children can feel that way, also, even if it is not expressed. Walking into our homes where family photos are displayed, art adorns the walls, favorite chairs and warm throw blankets beckon us to come read a good book, our pets peer from the door when they see us coming……all of these pictures make home a welcoming place for us. Designing the space to best meet the needs of our children can be easily accomplished as well with some thought and a little bit of elbow grease. I have visited literally hundreds of homes with young children over my teaching career. Whenever I visited, the children were exhilarated to show me their rooms and to receive such focused attention from a grownup who came just to see them. All in all, it was so much fun as the children showed me their favorite toy or book. I remember one time a 3 year old girl whose family had just moved into a new home announcing, “Let me show you where Mommy hid all the junk before you came,” and Mom said, “Sure, let’s go look at it.” And so, just for fun, we did. Poor Mom did not even get time to put everything away before she was ratted out. So funny!
Being the 8th of 12 children, I am sure that the children’s bedrooms in my home growing up were not showplaces. I remember, though, my parents feeling that by grade school, it was imperative for each of us to have study space and my Dad creating desks for each room by bolting countertop material to the walls and adding table legs. My “desk” was turquoise and I loved it so much. My Dad was very creative about making our home work for us, building on rooms as new children came along to join the family. His example ignited my dormant organizing/decorating gene and I began to think of ways of making my room personal to me. At around 10, my Dad said that if I wanted to paint my room that he would buy me some paint. What an exciting moment it was, to create beauty almost instantaneously, in any color I wanted! I remember painting the room peach with pink, and green pillows on my bed. My brother said it didn’t match but I really loved those colors together and I was hooked! Organizing my space to serve my needs, and having it be beautiful and reflect my personality, became a passion for me. And of course, later on as a Waldorf teacher, making the classroom practical and beautiful became a necessary art for the health and harmony of the classroom.
The children I taught were well cared for children. Their thoughtful parents usually created very nice bedroom spaces for them. Once though, a long time ago, I remember a family with two children who created a bedroom for their child that also had another purpose. It was to be a guest room. I went in and it felt like it could be a hotel room. They also had a play room but there was no sign in the bedroom of the child’s personality who resided there. In my opinion, it should have been the other way around – to create a beautiful and simple child space that could be lent to Grandma when she came. Another type of room that would show up sometimes was one filled with piles of toys in bins, and perhaps a tv set. The toys did not look inviting to play with and looked hard to care for. All those toys with all those parts! Thinking of a young child sitting alone in their room in front of a tv is a dismal thought. There truly is a way to tame the stuff and make your child’s room more useable and enjoyable for them.
On the other end of the continuum, I will never forget the time I went to visit a little girl in my class, let’s call her “Penny”, the only child of a single Mom. There was not too much money in the household but Mom was very thoughtful about her child’s space. When I came over, the little girl led me by the hand to her special place. She let go of my hand at the door and went over and climbed into her bed. She had lovely natural bedding and her single bed was covered with a white gauze canopy. She laid there in her bed, looking dreamily out the window and quietly said,”I love my bed. I love my room,” and proceeded to look out the window for quite a while. I think she forgot I was there. Her room contained some very carefully chosen items; bed, dresser, sheers and a shade at the window, a few dolls, toys, and one or two carefully chosen pictures. The little girl could play on the rug on the floor, look at books in her bed, and open her dresser herself. Mom even had most of her clothes hanging on a bar low enough for the child to reach. Her room felt like a haven. I’m sure it was not hard to get her to spend some time there napping or playing.
Recently I visited the home of parents of two young children and I could tell they put in a great deal of thought into their home. The couple had their own bedroom that they did not share with the children. The other bedroom had a double bed and right next to it a set of bunk beds. One wall was lined with wire baskets that housed all the children’s clothing. I did not discuss it with Mom, but it appeared that they could, when necessary, sleep close together. I know that Dad had some nighttime and overnight shifts at his job, so this arrangement seemed to serve their family. There were no toys in this room other than a few stuffed animals. In the kitchen there was a lovely, small alcove where child sized wooden kitchen appliances and small pots/pans/bowls/utensils were placed so that the children be “preparing their food” while the parents made the family meals. Downstairs had to be my favorite however. There was a family room with good storage for books, games, and art supplies. Right next to that was a storage area with boxes around the walls. But Mom had draped some sheer silky fabric from the ceiling, all around the edges of this room in front of the boxes, and the effect was that this area was like a lovely castle where the children could play with their dress up clothes nearby. Simple, yet effective.
All of our children don’t want or need a bedroom of their own, but there are ways to organize each bedroom space in a way that will mean as much to the children as Penny’s room did to her. Older children usually WILL want their own room, but if there is not enough space, attention needs to be placed on creating areas that are specific to each child, when the child is old enough to desire this. While I was raising my children, we lived in a 2 bedroom bungalow, with a partially finished basement, for 5 of us. We had to become very creative. When my son was about to be born I decorated his room with a some jungle themed wallpaper on one wall (yellow, green, orange). Shortly thereafter I learned that a child’s bedroom needs to be calming, where they can be easily soothed to sleep. Some people learn things the hard way! Children cannot filter out all the chaos going on around them in the world, so we need to do it for them.
When my girls came along a while later, one year apart in age, I was more prepared and we actually lazured their room (a process of painting on and wiping away water colors in layers) and it was beautiful. I must admit that I won’t be doing that again unless I have a whole crew as it is quite the undertaking. After the baby stage, we put bunk beds in their room and then we laid down on each bed to see what each girl would be envisioning as she tried to go to sleep. We placed a beautiful postcard picture for each girl to look at which showed beautiful images. We hung some nice fabric that looked like sky and clouds on the ceiling over the top bunk and on the underside of the top bunk to soften. I must say my girls LOVED their room when they were young but they only used the upper bunk for their stuffed animals and both claimed the bottom bunk for years, even holding hands while they slept. (Future blog about the young teenage years!)
Children love to go on nature walks and collect their bounty – acorns, leaves, sticks, rocks – and it is nice to have a small area for them, in their rooms, or in the house, to display their findings. A dresser top or small table is a lovely place for them to assemble and admire their “nature table” treasures. In the Waldorf schools in the ECE program, we use colored silks (gold/orange/red for Fall, blue/white for Winter, greens for Spring, bright sunny yellow for Summer) and little nature table dolls and animals to create scenes along with the natural items. Some of the parents in my classes have created beautiful nature tables at home as well. One parent told me that she and her children light a candle and tell a little story about what is on the table each day. Your children can learn how to care for “Mother Nature” on your walks and they innately love the creatures they encounter. If they go the Waldorf School, Squirrel Nutkin, Little Tommy Tittlemouse and other friends will come in their first stories. If you try, you will be able to create all sorts of simple nature tales for your child based on what you see while you are out walking. Try not to be in too much of a hurry, take note of the weather, the signs of the seasons, what little creatures you see (the children will notice every ant they see crawling by) and soon you will have created a foundation for appreciating the beauty of nature in your heart and in the heart of your child. Personally, for me, this time at home and in the preschool, taking nature walks has provided me with a foundation for further meditative practice. For the children, it also becomes the foundation for further science study later on.
I have seen many wonderful and creative ways that parents in my classes have used at home to display their child’s artwork. One friend has used an old window frame to house her children’s’ current artwork behind the glass. The artwork is changed from time to time. I have seen string strategically swagged on walls with lovely pictures attached by clothes-pins. Too much on the walls is only a distraction, but a few carefully chosen items enhance the space. A family picture can be nice. As a child, my parents told me about angels watching over me and an angel picture close by was always a comfort. In one cutting edge Waldorf child care center and teaching institution in New Hampshire, Sophia’s Hearth, they have nice rosey colored walls to create warmth and NOTHING is hung on the walls in the baby and toddler rooms. Their furnishings are very simple and the effect is warmth and complete calm in the midst of a very busy world.
Too many toys cheapen the value of each one. My older child acquired some toys that we didn’t feel were amenable for good daily use and we put them up in a box in the closet called the “rainy day” box, and we really did bring them down on rainy days if he asked. When he first arrived, my son only needed a rattle and a few little animals to play with. The couch eventually became his climbing apparatus and the tupperware became his building tools. As children grow they need and acquire more things, but everything they acquire is not a keeper. My son had his staples – balls, stuffed animals, cars, blocks, art supplies, and picture books when he was little and and as he got older he had bigger balls, games, legos, and longer books. It took years for my son to realize that by devising the “rainy day box” we effectively and painlessly removed the items that did not warrant a proper spot in his repertoire of toys. A very few items never even made it to the rainy day box but took a swan dive into the dumpster. Unless Grandma knitted it herself, some of the things that come into the house are not that important. Don’t be afraid to decide what items make it into the final pick since you are responsible for raising your child. Sometimes well meaning family and friends buy a toy the child “wants” based on the child having seen it at a friend’s house, on a tv ad, or in the store. Toys that cannot be used creatively, flash lights or sounds, are ugly or display values that one can’t stand behind, do not belong in the child’s room.
It is very fun to have some special dishes, cups and placemats for children, and even flowers on the table for meals, especially for birthday meals. We always decorated the birthday child/parent’s spot at the table. It is fun to have a present sitting on the table in the morning to start a birthday. In addition to religious and cultural festivals, each family creates special times that become traditions that make living in your family fun and living in your house a special place to be. You might make a tradition out of morning cuddle time, tea time with Nana, family dance time, or other times that just organically evolve at your house. As you are participating in this journey of Family Time, I encourage you to look at your child’s bedroom space, clean it out by at least half, store or donate some of the toys, make sure that it is a calming place to sleep and play and that aesthetically it is pleasing. Make sure the bedding is comfortable, warm, and heavy enough to create some weight on them while they sleep to ensure this protection. Keep only the seasonal clothes in the drawers that fit, hang the clothes low if possible, and organize the items left in the room (books, art supplies, etc.) in practical spots. If you have a small house, look around the house for other nooks and crannies where children can play. Our bedrooms are tiny, so we had a small table and chairs for art work and tea parties in the dining room and a kitchen set (stove, refrig.) in our foyer next to the living room. Ideas will come to you when you set aside time to really look. If organizing is not your thing, and you live in Denver, I am available to help you set up a plan, for a fee*
I am at a different stage of life than you are. With my children grown, I have recently created a room for myself to read, write, sew, or watch a video with my husband. My kids created a “man cave” for my husband in the basement, primarily for watching sports with my son. TImes change, and at each stage of growth one needs to look around and tweak your home to meet the needs of the inhabitants. I keep a few toys and books around for small visitors, and when grandchildren come along, I am sure I will be creating little spaces for them. I am one who truly enjoys spending time in my home. Spending good time at home creates energy that feeds the soul. This kind of nourishment allows one to go out and share good energy with others. A home that is loved is fun to share with our friends too. One of my favorite places to visit when my children were young was to a friend’s house with four children. I always had to shove over a book or a sweater in order to sit down on the couch to visit. It was a well-cared-for but well-lived-in house. There were always good smells coming from the kitchen (soup or a cake baking) and good conversation going on. Children were always playing nearby or dancing across the room. I always felt it a privilege to spend time there. It is a sacred process to create your home space and your family’s ways of being in it – best of luck and much love sent to you as you set about to do this. Greeny