Have you ever seen that TikTok with a woman sitting and sipping wine in her gorgeous living room saying- I’ll never be one of those parents who have their ugly kid toys all over the house? Then it flashes to that living room full of toys with the mom still sitting in the same spot sipping her wine? I can totally relate! Somehow… our space seems to be slowly eaten up by all of this stuff….cars, stuffed animals, legos, pipe cleaners, instruments, the Paw Patrol people, trains and train tracks and on and on and on. Talking to Karri was a game changer for how I think about our play spaces at home. She gives amazing, practical tips like how to organize those unruly activity kits and how to create long lasting spaces that will still work as your kids get older. I hope you get as much out of this episode as I did and if you need me…. I’ll be busy reorganizing for the next month.
Watch + Listen to the whole conversation:
Karri carved out a niche using her expertise as an educator and a parent to customize playroom designs to meet families’ needs. She put an ad in a local paper and started receiving phone calls from parents desperate to get their kids off technology and engaged in other forms of entertainment. Smart Playrooms aims to design playrooms that will engage children in open-ended creative thinking to promote independence, creativity, problem-solving and cooperation.
How did you start Smart Playrooms?
I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I taught for 12 years and absolutely loved it. But I had younger children at home, and was trying to think of something that I could do with my experience and expertise, but have more flexibility than I had in the classroom. My initial idea was to take everything I know about setting up a classroom- what’s age appropriate, organization, layout, and bring it into people’s homes. I quit my teaching job and gave it a try. I started off by organizing people’s homes. The design piece organically grew from the organization and the projects kept getting bigger and bigger. At this point I realized I was starting something that never existed before. My expertise as a teacher and also as a mom was so valuable to families.
When families have children of different ages, what do you recommend for a playspace?
I always gear my designs to towards the oldest child. And that really is helpful because younger kids can grow into the activities and spaces. Tweens like their space a little bit hipper and cooler. So we generally leave a design super simple using the walls as part of the activities like a Lego wall or a huge dry erase magnetic wall.
When I look at a playspace I ask- What are the staples? What are the zones? The materials are going to change over the years. Your art station for three year olds is going to be very different than what you may have for an eight year old. I give you the bones of the playroom even though your kids interests are going to change over time.
So many parents face the challenge of how to get their kids off screens and engage them in other types of play. What advice do you have?
Screens have been a problem long before COVID. But what I say to parents is to set up a playroom that’s going to compete with technology. However, we have to model it. You can’t be on your phone all day and then tell them not to be on the phone. So I think it’s partly that we have to role model it ourselves. As parents, once we set up this space that is going to guarantee that they’re going to be off their screens, then you have to encourage the kids to use the space. Sometimes when we start new routines with kids, we have to be there with them, especially if they’re really young. If you set up this cool art, or puzzle area, or whatever it is, then you need to get over there with them, show them how to use the materials and what your expectations are.
The idea is that you can slowly step away, because the goal is that the kids are independently doing all the things that we want them to do in our play rooms, by themselves, with their friends and with their siblings. To be honest, the more experience and time they have in the playroom, the better they will get at being independent.
Co-founder & COO
Bridget is mom to two little boys, Hudson and Brooks, and a champion of working moms everywhere. NeighborSchools itself was borne out of Bridget’s challenge to find high-quality yet affordable child care, and the realization that so many parents struggle with these same issues every day.