The 'Yes' Space: 17 Inexpensive Ways to Create a Safe Play Space for kids While You Work

Hacks to creating a 'yes' space for your kids

Photo: Cindy Marie Jenkins
The first 18 months of your child's life is rife with change. As soon as you learn to time your weekly meetings so they perfectly align with naps, your baby will switch it up. Once you find a good rhythm for nursing and feeding, all of a sudden it’s time for solid foods. You can’t depend on your child for consistency, but you can create a space where they are comfortable, feel welcome, and stay safe - a “Yes” space. It won’t require remodeling your home, either; young children don't need a roomful of store-bought items to keep them stimulated and engaged. They just need a thoughtful and more minimal space than we might imagine.

What is a "Yes” Space?
Most rooms in our homes are designed around convenience for adults. Even a nursery is an adult space, where children need to be monitored or contained. Once they start crawling, everything can be a danger unless your space is one where the child moves independently without getting hurt. If you begin by designing it for their height, their convenience, and their age appropriate independent exploration, you will feel freer to focus on your computer and work through daily tasks.

But it doesn't require a full remodel either! Here are some space hacks and inexpensive toys to create a safe play space in your home office. Most of these activities require a certain time where you model the behavior: reading, for instance, or pouring. Once your child can work through the motions and intentions with you a few times, they will take that knowledge and go even deeper on their own. Just a few baskets of enriching toys could give you 5-20 minutes to work at a time.
1
Begin with the basics.

Begin with the basics.

My old home office was a pantry with some room to my side. I covered the tile floor in rugs and comfy blankets, keeping it clear. My child had around 5 specific toys that I could rotate for variety, as well as his baby mat with hanging sensory toys. A simple rocking seat sat in the corner so I had a place to lay him when he napped, and rock it with my foot while typing. Where I would normally have hung file folders, I had hooks for a wrap and extra blanket.

2
Corral your cables.

Corral your cables.

The best thing we ever did for my office was to contain all my cords in a way that I could adjust but my baby couldn't reach. It requires keeping one cord for each device stationed at the desk, but within a childproof case. I also quickly learned that if I used a headset, I needed a wireless one or else risked both of us getting tangled.

3
Clutter clear your cabinets.

Clutter clear your cabinets.

The hardest area for me to keep clear were the cabinets at ground level. My oldest didn't care about them, but my youngest was all about climbing inside and closing the door. One day, I closed the gate to the office area and unpacked a year of stuff out of those cabinets: crafts and party items, random kitchen pieces we hadn’t used in so long that we'd forgotten we even owned them. Then the real magic of organising began!

4
Turn the cabinets into areas of discovery.

Turn the cabinets into areas of discovery.

I found soft bins or baskets at a thrift store, and searched our home for safe items, specifically to sustain their interest through 18 months old. As they got older, it became easier to switch the contents of each basket with more fitting things: crayons, pom poms, building blocks, party favors, and clay, for example. Get enough backups for when our child inevitably gets bored.

5
Stock the baskets with small stuffed animals.

Stock the baskets with small stuffed animals.

This is the perfect place for stuffed animals that you don't have a place to keep but don’t want to donate for sentimental reasons. Try to find a variety of sizes, textures, and creatures. I would rotate four every week, switching them when I saw that my child had gotten bored.

6
Reuse cardboard: old boxes, cardboard tubes inside paper towels, any piece that comes through your house.

Reuse cardboard: old boxes, cardboard tubes inside paper towels, any piece that comes through your house.

Photo: Cindy Marie Jenkins
Those paper towel tubes are ideal for stacking or rolling, later turned into swordplay that won’t hurt. They also make an excellent homemade telescope. Don’t put any cardboard directly into the recycling. Boxes transform into castles and spaceships with a child’s imagination. Encourage your child to explore, colour or pack up their space! 

7
Hoard unused stacking cups.

Hoard unused stacking cups.

Here’s where the old party supplies come in handy. Keep about twelve of these stacked inside the cabinet and let your baby practice lots of hand-eye coordination. Slowly add new sizes as they grow.

8
Remember that random box of wooden blocks?

Remember that random box of wooden blocks?

Photo: Cindy Marie Jenkins
You know, the ones you bought at the secondhand store until you realised you already had more blocks than you use? Now you have a place for them!

9
Touch and feel books, musical books.

Touch and feel books, musical books.

Photo: Cindy Marie Jenkins
These are always a hit and older kids love rediscovering them. Store 3-4 small bins with an assortment of these tactile books, rotating every couple of days. Touch and Feel Books are perfect for this age and developmental stage because they encourage interaction. I suggest keeping to a theme and having 3 books from one series available at any time. Remember that when a baby is learning about books, there is no right or wrong way to use it. If they want to read it upside down on their own, why not? Let them explore and develop a love of books on their own terms and use the time that you read to them as a way to model how to use a book.

10
A small basket of wooden vehicles.

A small basket of wooden vehicles.

These can be any kinds of cars, but I like wood because it keeps shapes and colors simple for the littles. Learning the mechanics of rolling a wheeled vehicle takes a lot longer than we think, and it’s one of those toys that bring kids great fun no matter their age.

11
Floor mat with hanging sensory toys.

Floor mat with hanging sensory toys.

I prefer the kind where you can change out the hanging items to adjust as they develop. There are some that have an upright keyboard at one end so that the children learn cause and effect with their feet. Watch out though: once Pirate Dude figured that one out, we had to set the volume permanently to the lower level.

12
Baby Bead Maze.

Baby Bead Maze.

There is something ridiculously satisfying about moving one bead through its twists and turns in the maze. I always loved them at the doctor’s office and only remember seeing them there when I was young. Now they’re everywhere, including in my home office! Fine motor control skills are key to this age, and they will work and work and work on them until they can grasp a bead just right, or move it just a couple more inches further than before. Once they get the hang of it, you can get up to 15 minutes to work at a time. Bonus: these are fantastic ways to give yourself some zen playtime when you need a break.

13
Self Made Music: Drum & Egg Shakers.

Self Made Music: Drum & Egg Shakers.

Here’s a time when strategic playlists come in handy. Create one that has steady beats and repetitive sounds you both can enjoy. Get your child a cool, sturdy drum and some egg shakers. We have a large drum we bought from our music teacher five years ago, and it has been danced upon, hit by no fewer than ten hands at once, and rolled clear across our home numerous times.

14
Pack 'n Play with Soft Balls.

Pack 'n Play with Soft Balls.

As long as you keep them within view, one of my best hacks at this age was loading up the pack n play with balls and luvvies for them to explore. As their little arms and legs start to learn what they can do, a ball is the coolest thing. I’m not kidding. Until they become toddlers and get obsessed with trains, there is nothing cooler than a ball pit.

15
Slightly Empty Water Bottles.

Slightly Empty Water Bottles.

Can you believe it? Grandparents spend all this money on flashy toys with lots of batteries, bloggers try to sell us on the latest in educational toys, and our kids just think water bottles are the trippiest things since they discovered their own fist. I made them even more hallucinogenic by filling them with varying small levels of water. Teach them about volume and matter at an early age!

16
Mirrors, Soft Mirrors on the Mobile.

Mirrors, Soft Mirrors on the Mobile.

Put them everywhere. I find them in bargain bins or kept the pieces from older toys that fell apart and attach them to their little soft chairs, at the top of their pack n play, and close to the changing table. Give them opportunities to discover their own reflections while you take the important client call.

17
Homemade sandpit.

Homemade sandpit.

Find a shallow plastic container with a lid and fill it with sand. If I placed it on top of a wide beach towel and gave my child enough stimulating sand toys, they'd stay in there much longer than expected. Feed their need for pouring with various sizes of cups and buckets.   


Most importantly, have a variety of activities on hand that require little setup and even less clean up time. You have to navigate your schedule around feedings, naps, your own exhaustion, and mealtimes. Once you find the right combination of items to create the perfect play space for your child, you'll see how work can happen through your child's milestones, even if only fifteen minutes at a time.   

Next week, I’ll outline how to approach your job so that it’s easier to work within these shorter time frames.  

Have more questions? Just find me on WeChat or on Facebook!

Cindy Marie Jenkins is currently a Write-at-Home-Mom in Beijing for cool reasons that require multiple NDAs to explain. She’s been published at The Mary Sue, Theatre Communications Guild, The Clyde Fitch Report, The Mom Forum, No Proscenium, Dwarf+Giant ( a blog of The Last Bookstore) and more. You can find her on WeChat (ID: CindytheScribe) and request to join the WeChat group Make it Work as a Work-at-Home-Parent for more help.

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