When I originally set out to write a post on on creating kid-friendly spaces, I reached out to seven different creative friends/family members who have kids and are intentional about their spaces. Little did I know just how much awesome feedback I would receive! And so, to both make up for lost time on this very important subject AND to take advantage of the great tips we've received, we're doing a bit of a series on child-focused design.
Today, I'm chatting with my long-time friend, Jess Roberts. Together with her husband, Nate, Jess own's an amazing small business called the Michigan Academy of Folk Music (MAFM). Jess and Nate went to college with Larry and I, and are two of the most creative and intentional humans we know. Jess majored in dance, went on to earn a doctorate in physical therapy, and now runs the behind the scenes of MAFM. Nate was a fellow music major with Larry and I and has a masters of music in jazz studies. Through MAFM, Nate is currently developing some amazing folk music curriculum, and teaches people of all ages the art of folk music.
Jess and Nate are parents of three young children with one on the way. Their home philosophies were especially interesting to be because, while they live in a smaller space, they have excelled in making that a positive and intentional experience for their family of five, almost six. When I reached out for input on this post, I shot her a handful of questions and essentially said to answer as many or as few as she wanted. Needless to say, what she sent me was GOLD. I told her it was too good to cut it short, and so, without further adieu, here's my conversation with Jess:
Do you have a philosophy or process around creating a space that is comfortable for both adults and kids?
I live in a small home—900 square feet for 5 (soon to be 6, Lord willing)! Because of this, we've developed a process that I think goes something like this: is this item necessary, helpful and/or beautiful. The more criteria it meets, the more likely we are to add it to our space.
Necessary: I lean towards the simplicity/minimalist aesthetic. With decisions about everything from children's clothes to toys to books, I want to ensure that I am not piling on unnecessary items, crowding space in our home and heads. It's amazing how simplifying a wardrobe makes dressing time in the morning easier, and how much children are able to do with a few open-ended toys.
Children are naturally resilient and adaptable. They really don't need much aside from love and connection with the natural world, and this can be done in even the most simple of spaces (if only we can just be patient with the process!).
Helpful: is this really helpful for their growth/development/imagination, for making our day or life run smoother, for anything? Our consumer-driven culture tries to sell parents ALL THE THINGS (they know we want the best and greatest for our children!), but I think if we slow down and think deeply about it many of the products are more likely to harm vs. help family and home life (think: clutter, chaos, discontented children).
Beautiful: Since I am sharing my space very intimately with my children, I am very particular about what we keep around. Toys will spread out, that's just reality. Even if you do have a "toy room", it's a known fact that young children (what I have), for the most part want to be near their parents even when they are playing.
When I look at my kitchen floor while I'm cooking or at my feet when I'm sitting at the couch, I want what my eyes fall upon to be (at best) pleasant (at worst) not revolting. I am really affected by my environment, and I find the more aesthetically pleasing my children's toys are (i.e. wooden vs. plastic, muted or pleasant colors vs. gaudy), the more joyful and peaceful I am as a mother and homemaker.
Aside from space-issues and personal preference, I don't think it's ever too early to cultivate a taste for beauty and goodness in children, either. I like to think even if we had three times the space we have now, this same process of deciding what physical item to fill our home with would hold true in our life.
There is a wonderful chapter on "Environment" in the book Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne if anyone wants to dive deeper into the topic. This was very helpful for me when my oldest child was about two years old and I started to think more about my goals for our home and family life.
How do you facilitate play while also maintaining an organized space?
Have set times throughout the day to tidy the space (usually before nap time and bed time). Make sure everything has a home and your children know where that home is and can access it—even at 18 months old, they are capable of putting things back in their "home"!
Having said this, and as someone who absolutely LOVES organization, it's also important for me on some (or many) days, to realize my ideals are not always going to come to fruition, that my living room floor may be strewn with toys from breakfast until bedtime, but I still need to choose to find joy as a mother in that moment.
I try to remember that play really is the "work of a child", and that I can delight in their creativity and fun, in the blessing of having nice play-things, in their physical well-being, or something! Real life sometimes gets in the way (family sickness, children's behavior difficulties, etc.) of our goals for a tidy home and it's good to acknowledge that regularly, for everyone's sanity! Thankfully, there's always next time to try again :)
Do you have any tips or hacks for your space that you have found particularly helpful for you or your kids?
Using vertical space! In a small home with lots of people, this has been crucial! In our bedroom, we were able to get rid of 2 dressers and 2 night stands and replace it with 1 very tall storage piece, so we were able to gain floor space AND storage space. Vertical space is the best!
How have you set up your space to function well for both you and your kids?
You (Lauren) helped me to do this! (thank you a billion, your design layout is still just pure-perfection). In my small home, creating a bit of separation in our living room between a sitting/resting/conversing/reading area and a playing area has been very helpful; however, there is still the realization that kids want to be near you and toys and clothes and books are going to spread out! I think most of all this separation of space has created a great flow for living and hosting, mostly.
What has been the single most helpful or important thing you've implemented in your space?
It's a close tie between using vertical space and getting rid of aesthetically displeasing toys in our home :)
How have you seen your space change as your family has grown and you've added more kids to the mix?
With each additional child, we get more honed into our desires and goals for our home. What values do we want to be instilling in our children? Do we want order and peace, or disorder and chaos? Do we want cartoony and kitschy, or beautiful and edifying? Do we want dutiful and responsible children, or haphazard and lazy ones? Our children model our behavior and are affected by the atmosphere we create. In short, the more children we add, the more we are forced to become slightly better at being human, and we are so grateful for this push!
Check out what Jess & Nate are doing at Michigan Academy of Folk Music:
"...Michigan Academy of Folk Music (MAFM) was born out of a desire to build community. Its creation was a movement away from a western music education system that is often built upon individualism, perfectionism and competitiveness. None of these help to foster true creativity, and they certainly don’t inspire confidence in young artists. Our firm belief is that the very highest standard of music education can be upheld while at the same time creating a welcoming and spacious atmosphere that encourages students of all levels to try, fail and continue trying.
Immersed primarily in the interactive, improvisational and accessible traditions of Bluegrass and Old-Time music, students at MAFM are gently pushed to go beyond the page and experience music as first and foremost a social activity. Through group classes, ensemble playing, community jams and events, interactive workshops, and live performances, students grow collectively, and develop together not only as technicians of their instrument, but also as musicians that are truly creative, confident and free."