Setting up a playroom for toddlers or overhauling the chaos that has become your playroom is quite an art. I couldn’t wait to play with my little one and see the world through the eyes of a child again. But before I could do that, I needed to figure out toddler playroom furniture, storage, and toys.
Here I go over 11 toddler playroom ideas that not only work for multiple ages 0-5, but also work on helping your child grow and build new skills.
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Puzzles are a great way to learn new words and work on motor skills. At first, your baby will love to see all the colors, shapes and pictures. The next step is playing with the pieces, then pulling everything apart until finally they will be able to put them all back together. I like to look specifically for wood puzzles that either have handles or are very thick and can easily be taken out and put back into the puzzle.
My favorite puzzles are alphabet, number, shapes, animal, and vehicle puzzles. I would buy puzzles as a set to save money. My child also really loves hide and seek puzzles. I never knew these existed until we found one at a garage sale. Recently, she has started playing with a spelling puzzle, another great garage sale find.
Puzzle Storage Ideas
While marketed as a fabric book organizer, you can use one of these for puzzles as well. Just be sure to use some sort of zip lock bags for the puzzles. There are fabric bags that you could use as well as just plain old zip locks.
If you have any pieces of toddler playroom furniture that have space between the floor and the first shelf, try just sliding the puzzles under. When L was littler, we did this and it worked really well. We DIY-ed our playroom shelves, but if you’re not the handy type here is a similar type of shelving. You could place puzzles on a shelf or get the one with built in puzzle storage. While these are a little on the expensive side, I think it is worth the investment (and sanity). These also resell well so get good use out of them and then resell on Craigslist.
We have both stackable cups and stackable boxes. These are one of those inexpensive toys that is in continual use. You can use them for their intended purpose, which is to stack them, but most likely as your toddler grows, they will get very creative. L has used them as everything from sailboats for her Minnie Mouse doll to hats for stuffed animals and cups at a tea party. An excellent open-ended toy.
3. A toddler reading nook
Read to your baby and toddler as much as you can. Studies show that reading increases the number of words they are exposed to, giving them a head start academically. Books can make a big difference here. Just pick up any kid book and see how many words there are that you don’t use in everyday conversation. I have compiled a list of excellent all time toddler favorite books if you want suggestions.
Books allows them to learn about the world, first through the form of pictures and then through language. My favorite way to play with my baby was lying on the ground next to her reading. To foster a passion for reading and boost her language skills, I wanted to make sure she had a comfy space to read where she could reach the books herself.
We have two reading nooks for L. In her playroom, we installed bookshelves for board books so the covers show. We DIYed these shelves and installed them at her height. Once she could walk, she could pick a book and play with it.
We had added a DIY PVC fort next to her book area so she has a cozy nook to read in. A teepee is also an excellent idea for a cozy reading nook that doubles as a play fort.
Downstairs we have a second reading area in the living room. A small bookshelf with a toddler chair right next to it. Make sure to get one with adjustable shelves so you can have one shelf for big books. We got ours from a garage sale (sensing a theme here?) L will literally sit and read for hours in that chair. A lot of times, I can read her one book while she sits in her chair and then have her read a few books to a stuffed animal or doll for some independent reading time. If you are very worried about all of the books being dumped out, try a 4-piece cube organizer. That way, it’s four small book shelves instead of two big ones.
My favorite books for a really little one are a busy book and a fabric photo book. These also make great options for quiet time. When L gave up her nap, but still needed to take a break to recharge, I got her to sit quietly in her bed with the lights dimmed using photo books and her busy book while I also recharged with some afternoon coffee.
4. A Construction Site
A place where your little one can build and destroy is excellent brain food. The most simple form of play here is building towers with blocks or stackables that your moving baby can knock over. Over the years, the play will become more advanced as they discover how to build, construct and deconstruct block towers, train tracks, mega bloks and stackadoos.
This is also where your toddler’s imagination can flourish. Some favorites in our house are building L’s Minnie Mouse doll a house, chair, plane, car, bridge and tunnel. These types of toys allow them to be little scientists understanding gravity and problem solving how to make pieces fit together. I also found these toys to be excellent ways for L to work on communication and learning how to deal with her negative feelings.
When she would get frustrated, L would scream or throw the toy giving me the perfect chance to help her work on other ways to deal. I would teach her to use her words such as “I am frustrated” or “this is really tricky, I need some help.”
Construction Site Organization
For the most part, I do a toy rotation here. I like only keeping one option out since these toys have a lot of pieces. For a train set, set up a basic track with a few fun pieces and only a few trains. These sets can be complex and for toddlers just learning how to put tracks together, it can be overwhelming and too frustrating if you have to much out. L’s hot pin convertible car also likes to go on the tracks, haha.
5. Dress Up Section
Dress up is an excellent way for toddlers to practice getting dressed while also exercising their imagination.
For the littlest toddler, a few fun hats along with a mirror is perfect. I would just leave the hats on the floor next to the wall with the mirror. Toddlers love to see how their appearance changes with fun hats. As they get bigger, include socks, light jackets, off-season shoes, capes and costumes.
A lot of this can be from their wardrobe and allow them to work on their putting these items on all by themselves. Allowing them to practice in their playroom might mean getting out the door faster in the mornings when they insist on getting dressed on their own. Another awesome tip I got was to go shopping for Halloween costumes the day after Halloween to get costumes at a good discounted price.
We have also added another basket of old newborn clothing, so she can dress her teddy bears. This also allows her to practice that dexterity needed to get herself dressed. They then attend the tea party after she gets them ready.
You can buy a coat rack to hang up these items or just a few hooks for the wall. Place these hooks at toddler level and they can actually get the items off the wall themselves. We keep the hats and other items in a basket below. We tried using storage with hangers and she couldn’t get any of the items off by herself.
6. Let’s make food
A classic to any playroom is a kitchen set. Toddlers love to practice every day tasks. It’s part of learning. They learn phrases or watch adults do things and want to practice it. A kitchen set gives them the opportunity to wash their hands, wash dishes, scramble an egg, put groceries away, go grocery shopping, cut vegetables, etc.
However, a kitchen set is a big investment. If you can find the budget for it or find one used, then I would go for it. If not, consider just getting a few food sets. I don’t mean a giant pile of plastic food.
Instead get a pizza making set, a food cutting set, a birthday cake set, a cookie making set, sandwich making set or an ice cream making set. These kits are all wood and have Velcro to allow you to construct the item and then cut and serve it. L will make a pizza for us to share or a birthday cake and we will sing Happy Birthday and blow out the pretend candles.
Other options that allow for lots of imaginative open-ended play is their own tea set or their own set of small pots and pans. If you do decide on the kitchen set, all of these sets fit in the KidCraft kitchen so it’s all organized.
We recently just got a used shopping cart and L loves to go grocery shopping at her kitchen. She pays with my old credit and ID cards. It’s quite adorable.
7. The Doll House/Farm
Other options for open ended imaginative play are getting a doll house or farm. While these aren’t the best for the 1 year old. At 2 and older, this type of toy can keep your kid entertained for hours. I like the wooden doll house and wooden toys. I think they last longer and are more durable. We found a HAPE wooden doll house on Craigslist along with furniture and dolls and it is amazing. Now knowing how much L likes it, if I hadn’t have found one used, I would have still bought one.
L also has a farm set which she loves. She got it for her first birthday. While I would have preferred a wooden set, this barn makes animal noises when the different doors open. She also loves to fill the tractor with the animals and take them on a ride.
Doll House Organization Tip
Since these items have little pieces, I made sure to put them in a section of the playroom that could be boxed off. We placed some shelving pieces perpendicular to walls in order to create dividers. To make play easier, clean up faster and to try to “contain the mess”, I always keep a basket right next to the house. The basket contains all of the pieces. Usually the mess doesn’t travel far so I just pick it all up and dump it into the basket. I really love these baskets that come in a set of three.
I am always amazed at how much energy is bottled up inside someone so tiny. I wish I woke up with as much energy as my toddler. Instead, I drink coffee while she bounces all over the house. Therefore, I have made sure to include toys that encourage movement and get those wiggles out.
My favorites include a simple basket of balls, pull-along toys, dinos on wheels, shopping cart, and the learning farm. We also have a broom from a witch set which she likes to fly around the house but also loves to sweep the kitchen with me. Her version of sweeping is to unsweep my piles, but it keeps her occupied. I can also ask her to sweep the kitchen so she can be included while I unstack the dishes. A much better option than trying to climb into the dishwasher. You can also get the broom as part of a kid set.
We keep these also out of her toy room. We keep them near the living room/kitchen so that she can really move with them without running into toys on the floor. I really love using cube organizers and use a 4-piece cube organizer for these items also.
Toddlers learn through play and that includes music. Melissa and Doug (probably my favorite kid brand ever) sells an awesome music set that we have. L will either play an instrument while singing songs or ask me to sing while she makes the music.
The other musical instrument we have is a ukulele. We stole this idea from storytime at our local library. They do ukuleles and song for half of the time and then books the other half. After seeing how indestructible they were, I decided it was a good investment and L loves it. It is always out of tune but she will sit in her toddler chair and sing all the songs from story time to herself.
10. Arts and crafts
Crafts are so messy but so much fun. Since they are messy, I actually keep them separate from the other toys. We have some space near our kitchen, so I set up a toddler table and easel. If I had to pick just one, I would say get the toddler table. You can do any type of craft including playdoh on a toddler table. We also use ours for snack time. By setting up near the kitchen, L can eat her snack there or she can color while I make dinner.
I use a 4-cube organization piece to store everything. In the cubes I have four baskets, one for playdoh, one for paints (and supplies), one for paper and coloring books, and one for all of the art supplies (crayons, markers, stickers, stamps and chalk), which I put in old to-go containers from ordering out.
11. Inexpensive toddler playroom ideas
My 11th and final point isn’t about a specific category but rather just a general tip. Toys can be expensive. In addition to buying toys brand new, try to find ways to get gently used toys in your area. A great place to start is Craigslist. In the for sale section, you can check for garage sales in your local area as a sub category. You can also look for items for sale in the baby and kid section. Facebook groups are also a good way to go. You can look for toy shares or buy and sell groups local to your area. You’ll find throughout this article that about half of the toys in our playroom were acquired via garage sales or Craigslist.
Go Make that Perfect Playroom
With the tips in this article, you’re now fully equipped to create that perfect toddler playroom for your little one or overhaul the chaos that your toddler’s chaos has become.
What toys are your little one’s favorites? Which tips did I miss? Let me know in the comments as I love to hear from our readers.
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Dr. Trina Fitzpatrick is a wife, mom, blogger, and a breastfeeding advocate. She is the co-author of the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook. She attributes her success at breastfeeding her own children into toddlerhood with working with lactation consultants in the hospital in the early stages and on a weekly basis afterwards. By writing at MomSmartNotHard, she educates mamas-to-be on all things pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Read more about Trina.