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Posted by Casey
In Play Spaces, Toy Rotation on April 5, 2021

There’s nothing I love more than setting up my play space with so many wonderful invitations for my little learners. BUT… choosing the right shelves for your playroom can be hard! Do you need to buy something new, or should you re-use or re-purpose something you already have? How big should it be? How do you make sure older siblings can access materials that might not be suitable for younger ones? So many questions to answer!

Choosing what shelves to use in your play space can be a daunting task so today we’ve consulted our beautiful Little Play Club community to find out how they chose the shelves they picked for their spaces.

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Choosing shelves for your play space

There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing the right shelves for your play space. You want to consider who is using them; what you want to store; and where you will put them.

Who is using the shelves?

Consider the age and number of little learners that will be accessing the shelves. Do you have a crawler that likes to chew on things? Or an older child that loves to play with LEGO? Or do you have both?! This will influence how open and accessible items will be – popping smaller pieces on a higher shelf will stop little hands from grabbing them, but give older sibling the ability to choose what they want without asking for help.

When Audrey was a baby, we used a few little crates from IKEA to create a mini toy rotation space for her. It worked beautifully and meant we could keep the bigger toy rotation shelves for her older brother and sister.

What do you want to store?

It can be hard to find the perfect shelf to store ALL. THE. THINGS!! It’s important to consider what exactly you want to put on the shelf – is it a pile of monster trucks? A small world animal barn and figurines? Your play kitchen food and crockery? Bulky items might not fit on shelves and would be better suited to another form of storage – i.e. dramatic play dress-ups hung up on hooks on the side for easier viewing/access.

We’ve found that the KALLAX shelves from IKEA are great when you have one child. I’d use baskets and trays to organise invitations and loose parts so they were easily accessible. But we found once Elliot was a little older and we needed to cater to two children, we had outgrown the 8 cubes of the shelf.

Where will you put them?

The location of the shelving can also impact the amount of room you have to work with. Do you have a dedicated playroom with oodles of space? A family living area ? Or lots of little nooks here and there that could be used to create different zones? Sometimes buying one big shelf to store everything won’t be as useful as adding 2-3 smaller shelves better suited to what you’re displaying.

As you curate your play spaces, consider how you want the space to function. For those who have followed me for a while, you know that I LOVE toy rotation. We now use one open-shelved bookshelf from Educating Kids so that we have space for multiple children and ages to have a few pieces out. If you’d like to learn more about toy rotation, you can download my FREE eBook.

Above you’ll see some of our IKEA Kallax shelves placed together. We even added some cupboards to place books inside! This was our very first dedicated playroom. When Lilly was a baby, I had a 4 cube shelf from Kmart in our office with a few bits and pieces that we’d rotate in and out for her while I worked.

There is no right or wrong way to use shelving in your play spaces, but asking yourself the questions above before looking around for your solution will help you to decide what type of shelving is right for you! We’ve personally found that our spaces evolve over time and what we started with isn’t what we use now. Below you’ll find some of the shelves we’ve used and loved over the years!

Shelf solutions from our Little Play Club members

This is a topic that comes up regularly in our Little Play Club Facebook community – our members recently shared some images of the shelving solutions they are currently using in their homes. With their permission, I’m going to share some of their setups with you today!

Kiara (@outback_learning) created this easy baby play space, using upcycled IKEA shelving to give her little one easy access to some fun things to play with to encourage tummy time and building their relationship! The shelves are filled with noise makers and chunky blocks all great for little hands go grab and a little basket of books and puppets that she could easily grab to read while sitting on the chair.

Kiara also popped a soft blanket on the floor to make it nice and comfy. It’s also easy to pop in the wash!

Claudia (@24claudia80) has used an IKEA Kallax shelf below and uses each section to display a different toy or activity. Her boys are 4 and 2 and since these shelves are at a lower height, they can both access what the want to at a quick glance.

An amazing #mumhack that she has shared with us is her puzzle storage – she has used the IKEA Kallax insert with 4 shelves in the top corner, which is perfect way to keep all of her puzzles and boards organised but still accessible! This setup also makes tidying up a breeze as everything has a ‘home’ to go back to when playtime is over.

Ashleigh (@2to.play) showed us a great example of upcycling what you have – this was originally an IKEA Kallax shelf with 8 cubes which worked well while her daughter was a baby. As he grew, Ashleigh wanted something more open so she replaced the shelves herself to create just what she needed!

Her learners are 2 years and 7 months old so the top shelf is dedicated to activities suited to her older child’s capabilities, while the bottom shelves are more suited to the baby. She has popped loose parts and pieces into baskets – helping to present items in a Montessori inspired way.

Amy (@amys310) has the IKEA TROFAST shelving system, and uses the trays as a way to organise her toys so that its super simple to grab one and pop it on the floor or table and start to play!

Each tray has a theme or individual toy set up which she just swaps out when it’s time for something new. Toy rotation at its finest!

Amy also shared a great example of re-purposing what she already had – this was a storage solution she already had and decided to turn it into a toy shelving system. The buckets are light, so her son can just grab them out himself when he wants to play with it – a great way for her to store loose parts like blocks and puzzles while still being accessible.

As you can see, there are so many ways to use shelves to help with setting up the perfect environment for your little learners! What sort of shelves do you use in your play space? Tell us below!

About the author

Casey is an early years teacher turned stay at home mum to three little learners aged 6 and under. She is passionate about supporting parents that want to use play as a vehicle to bond with their little learners and create magical memories of childhood! You can follow Casey on Instagram right here.


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