Sunday, 17 January 2016

Spare An Extra Table for Play

The internet world makes it look easy, but as a working mom I can't just whip out play ideas all the time.  I've had to test a lot of working mom hacks for the awesome play ideas thought of by moms who could supervise their kids themselves.  

Usually they are kept in self-contained individual play trays in her room.  But I've found that setting up a showcase table in the home can work wonders to spark more interest.  Go big or be ignored.

Here are ten of the big play invitations around our home in the last two years that formed my "spare table play theory".  Totally made that up but it works.

The spare table play theory actually works best on toddlers and young preschoolers where a 'prepared environment' really sparks new interest, but these ideas here are mostly when she was five to six.

My first experiment when she was almost four : she was heavily interested in art appreciation and I planned a sponge shape painting activity to do together after work.  We didn't get the chance, so rather than clear everything and set it up again the next night, I left it out on her main work table.  

We created this big artwork for two nights:

This was a large tray-sized packaging lid from a set of placemats, repurposed as a large art canvas.  Set out sponges cut into shapes and trays of poster paint to create a Paul Klee-inspired landscape.

It was so convenient that I started setting up more spare table ideas since then.

A table can also hold very large trays to catch messy art projects like these: 

Liquid watercolors on salt.  The salt sits in a plastic shoebox lid, and a Trofast Ikea drawer holds everything in nicely.

Blowing liquid watercolor art on large watercolor paper contained in her sandpuff bin (which is the size of a movie poster)

I can tell she's a lot more excited about art when it's big projects like these!

How about puzzles?  
Using a spare table to set up large-sized puzzles is a great way to get it noticed or out of storage:

I cut up the grid and pattern samples in this Plan Toys set and left behind this tray with the color tiles next to it.
Another leave-behind geography invitation, this one on Thailand after a family trip there.
This spare table was set up in our "library" spare room during its many overhauls in the last few years.
Our latest "spare table" space in another reincarnation of our spare "library" room makeover (coming soon).
The world puzzle map inspired book-making about places and things she knows about, like Madagascar penguins

Obviously we don't really do "unit studies" which homeschoolers do as lesson plans for topics.  But a spare table lets me spark an interest by grouping together books and toys as a nice little showcase inviting her to explore on her own or together after I get home:

She became interested in the human body sometime last year, so I put our toys on a table together : a book on skeletons, a skeleton model, and this wooden puzzle from Muji which she did on her own

Here's the rest of that human body showcase.  I know it's way over a preschooler's level but the book sparked an interest and she asked to buy the internal organs model one toy store trip.  We don't do anything but read the book and match the parts.

And then the spare table becomes a holiday card station:

Valentines Card Making
Christmas Gift Decorating (finished work)

Lastly, a spare table can be used to leave behind big tinkering projects:

Hammering and building table with scrap styrofoam pieces and real nails

Or simple classic ones:

Leave paper and art materials out

A spare table can be anywhere in the house - I've done one in almost every room.  A  little overboard but as much as I dream for a minimal home, let's face it.  It's really not me as a parent.  I get too excited by all the ideas I can do.  

I see it as maximising our home for what really matters : quality play within easy reach for much more quality time together.   

Got table?  Have play!

post signature
*going into the leave-behind play archive!  see more here*


  1. a table in every room! wow! sounds good. usually toys and puzzles get ignored after the first week, unless you bring it out. I've seen mamas do diligent toy rotations every week, with a plan and all. I wish I could rotate toys even once a month...! I'm like I fed him, took him to swim class, one playdate, one random painting, and everyone should clap and thank me for it ;)

    1. That made me laugh! Holy cow, toy rotations every week sounds exhausting. We go months hahahaha.


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