Throw some toys on the floor and you’ve got a playroom, right?
Three area moms and former educators have created a philosophy, system and business by designing stimulating spaces for families. “I started Smart Playrooms about six years ago,” says Karri Bowen-Poole, a mother of three in Rye, N.Y. “I was looking for a way to bring in all my knowledge and expertise as a teacher and a parent into some field.” Now, Bowen-Poole and her Connecticut partners, Chris Simpson of Darien and Jennifer Purdy from Westport, have overhauled more than 300 playrooms in the past five years, turning shelves of plastic fruit and figurines into education stations, helping kids to expand their minds while easing parents’ busy days.
“All three of us look at the room as a blank slate,” says Simpson who gravitates towards neutral colored walls and carpets to avoid overstimulating, overwhelming and confusing kids. “We always have an art area in a room because when kids are really little, it’s really important that they’re drawing and cutting because that’s how they develop their fine motor skills.” The designers set-up consultations to customize the “mini-classroom” to each family’s needs. “Our motto is ‘less is more’,” says this mom of two teens. “You could take out three-quarters of the toys that are in a room because, you will see, if kids have fewer choices…their play will get deeper and more advanced.” A kitchen-market area inspires children to re-enact the world around them. “It’s super-important because children of all ages can come together and play socially and they can play independently,” says Bowen-Poole, noting that a mock cash register encourages use of math. “An area like this can keep children engaged from eighteen months to ten years of age.”
Purdy, a former kindergarten teacher, believes kids are now pushed towards technology, discouraged from simple yet valuable acts of imagination. “There is a lot of research out there saying that the amount a child plays and pretends is actually a better indicator of later intellect.” The designers aim to improve a child’s “executive functioning skills” by allowing him to take control of the room, organizing and self-regulating with materials that are clearly marked and easily accessible.
For a minimum of $500, the three women can whip a room into shape. “So many of our families say it really dramatically changed their lives,” says Bowen-Poole. “The children are not only playing more creatively and independently but the parents are less stressed.” Best of all? Thanks to neat bins, labeled with words and pictures, clean-up is a breeze in this creative space that the child manages himself.
For more information, log onto http://www.smartplayrooms.com .