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An indoor and inclusive play-away room can be a building block for happy children.


Play is the highest form of research," noted Einstein. So let's take a look at how your little Einstein's, or Dr. Frankenstein's, as the case may be, can play safely and creatively in an interior space within your home. Let's design a Play-Away Room, designed specifically for inclusive play for your children and their playmates.

Play is learning and forms the foundation for literacy as children explore new vocabulary and exercise their imagination by storytelling. Play can take many forms from peek-a-boo, to shaking a rattle. It can give kids a chance to be spontaneous and give them choices as to what and how they want to play. Play gives the opportunity for parents to interact with their children and they can encourage their kids by knowing when to interact and when not to.

Play gives kids space to practice balance, physical movement and test their limits and it can even help parents learn how to play once again themselves. Play is helpful to parents in learning about their children and it can help them learn their child's body language while teaching them patience and understanding. Mostly kids need to learn how to control (or not) and decide their own play. And perhaps most important of all, play is and should be simply... fun. (1)

In 1958 Sigmund Freud suggested that every child at play, "Behaves like a creative writer, in that he creates a world of his own, or, rather, rearranges the things of his world in a new way which pleases him. The creative writer does the same as the child at play. He creates a world of fantasy which he takes very seriously--that is, which he invests with large amounts of emotion."

Research has also shown that the physical benefits of play can be particularly valuable for children with muscular and joint illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Play is also vital to a child's social and emotional development. So, in a nutshell, in a home with children, any and all children, perhaps the most important room or space is the place for play. (2)

I think we can all agree that play is indeed important and vital to all children. One message I have learned from a great book by Kathie Snow (see reference) is that children with disabilities do not, and should not be treated any differently than other kids. This is perhaps the most important message of this article. Although the parents' involvement in play is prized by the child and is necessary for the child's development, we need to let all kids struggle along, learn and grow through it all, just like any other child. Kids are kids and I'll try not to mess this up with too much adult-like thinking, but I probably will, so bear with me.

Since this is the issue that highlights home improvement, let's look at how and where we can encourage inside home play in a Play-Away Room so toys are not haphazardly tossed around the house floor and the kids can have a space of their own that they can grow in and with. Toys thrown all-about can pose a real safety hazard for anyone, especially the kids' Grandparents who come to visit and may not see little matchbox cars all over the floor freeway. The very little toddlers are going to do that anyway, and that's their nature, but as they grow they will cherish a specific play space, and even a place to clean up after themselves! Yes this is indeed a lofty goal but it's a good worthwhile and noble one.


I have a hopeful solution. A new room in the 21st Century Universal Design (UD) Home has become known as the main floor Flex-Room or Away-Room as it can change over time. In this case, let's call it a "Play-Away Room." If you live in an existing home and there is an old living room, this is the perfect location to turn a rarely used space into the Play-Away Room. Whether it's a new or existing home, it is preferred that the room be near the main living areas. Get rid of the old adult stuff and invite the paradigm shift to a new children's paradise.

An existing living room, or new home space, may have an open passage way or door opening that can easily be sealed with glass French doors. The idea is to create a private space that is still visible from the common areas so you can keep an eye on the kids, yet create somewhat of an acoustic barrier and a private space where they can explore, and even make a mess, all by them selves, all the while, providing quick intervention should you wish. If you do wish to hear what's going on in there, without noise blaring throughout the home, sound and video devices are an option.


Without such a designated space, when the kids grow up, the house may very well sound like a video arcade. To that end, I'd like to discuss acoustic wall and ceiling treatments now so that when the kids use it for a video game room or better yet, homework area, the room is well suited for those uses by protecting both sides of the room from unwanted noise. The room is designed to be flexible so it will serve you well into the future.

Consider remodeling by removing the inside dry wall at shared walls and installing thick, recycled cotton denim, sound absorbing in-wall insulation. Thicker insulation absorbs more sound. Then attach metal sound resilient clips 24 inches on center, horizontally, between studs. These will act as spring-like sound absorbers. Install a "Quiet Board" dry wall to these clips. It's expensive but very effective, available at Home Depot. If you are really serious about blocking noise, build another 2x4 wall on the inside, adjacent to the wall facing the common rooms. Maintain a 1/2" space between the walls, sound batt insulate both and use gyp. bd. on all 4 sides of the two adjacent walls.

On the ceiling, remove the gypsum board and install sound batt insulation. Install 2 layers of gyp bd. The trick here is to stop the ceiling bd. 1/4 inch short of the side walls and caulk with sound sealant. This will stop vibrations from transferring to the walls and then through them. The French door should be double pane glass and install a bottom door sweep and side gaskets around the door. Sound is sneakier than your peek-a-boo children, and it to loves to explore open space.


For this and all Play-Away Rooms, safety, flexibility and equitable use are imperative. We are seeking a soft floor finish that is rollable, yet slightly cushioned so kids can fall gently when rough housing a bit. Rubber inter-connecting floor tiles made from recycled tires are a good choice here. They provide a little give and can be washed so the artist in your child may be expressive without you worrying about destroying the carpet. Water-based tempura and acrylic paint, as well as watercolors, will wash away. When the kids get older, replace it with thin cushioned and low tight looped carpet similar so a wheelchair can still rock and roll on it.


Color has a powerful impact when used with intent and can really fire your kids with imagination and creativity. The introduction of light, nature and color can all have a positive impact on everyone's sense of well-being, especially a child's. Perhaps the easiest and most affordable way to make a colorful impact in your play-away room is with paint.

Studies conclude that cool colors have a tendency to calm, and warm colors excite. Excessive use of reds, oranges and yellows induce excitement and increase blood pressure. Along with patterns, when used in excess, can cause frustration and anxiety for those with autism. At the same time, orange is a great stimulator and encourages new ideas and yellow can be uplifting and encourage spontaneity. Balance is key.

Blue is opposite on the color wheel with red and thus counterbalances it. Blue has been shown to slow our metabolism and heart rates and thus has a calming effect. It can reduce hyperactivity in children but is a poor choice for discussion and sharing as it can suppress conversation. Green expresses firmness, order and balance and is known as the master color. It stands for harmony and soothes the nervous system. It brings about a sense of renewal and it can calm your child's nerves and heart, and yours too.

For children, soothing and interesting colors may communicate a warm, safe and secure place as well as act as stress relievers. They can brighten dispositions for both them and the parents. Take a little time and research the qualities of other colors, purples, indigo's and lavenders are a few favorites and your children will have their own too as color is specific and personal to everyone. Let your kids explore their favorite color with crayons and watercolors.


Now let's look at some seating and table ideas within the room and at a very special spot where the inside and the outside of the house magically melt together, at the window. There should be a window or other source of natural light in the Play-Away Room for it to be successful and enjoyable as a play space. Consider building a timeless window seat that has recently been revived. A cozy window play seat can be a fun space for a child and for a young adult as well.

Build a seat 22" minimum, wide seat with a height matching your child's wheelchair height if they use one or roughly 18" above the floor if they don't. A step stool will suffice until they can jump up alone. The bottom of the window is preferably no higher than 30" above the finish floor. Slightly slope the sides to make a comfortable back rest. Above both sides, maybe build in bookshelves. On each room side of the window seat build in open shelves, only 14" deep, so kids can reach all the way in.

Build the shelves for the universal reach range of from 18" to 48" above the floor. Label one side "cuddle- zoo" (for example) and the other label with block shapes, or whatever you like. This will encourage your children to pick up after themselves. Decorate the walls above with cork pin boards to display your child's artwork. Also, under the seat, build open shelves for those big toys that can be easily shoved underneath. The side shelves adjacent the seat will serve the children as they age-here, meaningful books and even homework can be stored.

Remember, place a waterproof and covered GFI outlet, high enough near the seat for teenage computer use. Drop the ceiling over the window seat to slightly above the window casing, and include overhead lighting within the overhead window seat soffit and you will have a gem of a space to sit or read with your toddler. Include blinds there and it may even serve as a nap space that your child may happily use without fuss. Glass can be changed to translucent if the idea of your child sitting openly in the window concerns you. Mom knows what's best here and depending on your location.


For the art and block or doll play-away table, consider building a series of three or four tables that telescope under, inside each other. In this manner the tables will serve kids of various sizes and as they age they can move up to the next size. These can be on castors that roll and lock with a push of a wheel lever so you can roll them about freely.

A clever chair idea may be a block of steps where little kids can sit on the first step and they can move up a step as they get bigger, matching the bigger tables. Remember to always keep an open 5 foot turning circle in the room so any child who uses a wheelchair can freely move about. This is another reason to encourage the kids to pick up after themselves, keeping the space roll-able. I just arrived at the idea of the table and step chairs, so you won't find them in any stores. Make the time, build them, let your kids watch and then select their own colors.


We all know kids love shelter and like to make cubbie forts most anywhere. If for example you don't have a spare room for a play-away space, perhaps open up the underside of a stairway and carve out a space for two children and a play-away table. They will love playing under the steps, just as me and my brother did where we had our model room under there, heck it's still there, and so are those neat model dioramas.

If you prefer not to create a window seat but want a fun and simple space for your kids, picking up on the cubbie fort idea, maybe make a inside tree house out of cardboard with the sitting space actually within the trunk itself and the tree limbs and leaves as cover overhead but under the room ceiling. Be careful as your kids may want to climb, so perhaps it may be best made of plywood. Consult an interior designer or carpenter.

Perhaps build a cardboard "subway" with the freedom tower and other skyscrapers as cover and above at street level. Photos or cardboard drawings of trains could be behind the "subway," against the wall, with benches and a table where the kids can sit and play inside the "subway" while they're waiting for the "train."

Those are just a few ideas for a Play-Away room. You may have noticed that I did not mention a TV in this room. I believe real play should be interactive, involved and immersive, as opposed to static and numbing.

My research has revealed to me, and I wish I had more space here to discuss, that even simple building blocks can be the most effective play toy for engineering and math development skills, as well as understanding cause and effect and relationships between materials etc. The point is, the more open-ended and the more diverse the play materials are, the brighter you children will be.

When the time for computers does come, remove the cardboard play structures and build desks perpendicular to the window to avert glare. The Play-Away Room can evolve into a responsible homework and study area, where you can still keep an eye, through the French glass door, on what the kids are viewing on the internet. And when they are at the age where they start to play video games, you'll be happy you planned ahead and made the play-away room acoustically safe and sound. And, remember, the only thing special about this Play-Away Space is that which is created from your own child's imagination.

So play away, be messy and have fun in your safe and quiet play-away room.

For more information and to receive a $5 discount on the UD plan book visit and use coupon code UD-HOMES


The author's bio:


(1.) 10reasons why play is important


(3.) Universal Design Smart Homes for the 21st Century, Charles M. Schwab Author, Pgs 98-122

(4.) Disability is Natural. Revolutionary Common Sense for Raising Children with Disabilities., Kathie Snow
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Author:Schwab, Charles M.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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