5 Designs to Help Increase Social-Communication in Play

Posted by Joanne Ma on


(image courtesy of @miniwilla)


5 Designs to Help Increase Social-Communication in Play

{This blog has been updated due to the high interest in functional play ideas. Please see below.}

I’m so thrilled to be sharing some design ideas that will help increase the social-communication development in your child. MF Mind Designs is a series that will help the modern parent create a play space that encourages language development, positive play interaction and independence in their little one, without the compromise of style. Can you believe a good design space can do all that?!? Maybe that can be your excuse to shop! Ok, might be a stretch...

We all know the first five years of development is the most crucial time for developing appropriate social skills and without going into too much into the science behind it all (which I’m kind of a nerd about), let’s talk about 5 things you can do to help create opportunities to foster age-appropriate play skills with the little ones. So for the first in this series, we'll give you a glimpse of the organization of the space. 

  1. Open Shelves on Top, Play Bins on the Bottom

When thinking about storage, think open spaces for visual accessibility. This is one of THE best way to organize a space for maximum effect. I love having shelves open on top so you can place what you like (without having the kids getting all over it) and then play bins at the bottom where the mess can be kept. Sometimes our little girl will build intricate lego designs that she does not want to take apart. So we'll have a designated shelf space for her to display her creations. This allows her to go back to recreate independently without the need of our help every. single. time.

Helpful hints 

  • Keep 1-3 desired items of your child’s up on top, in plain view, so opportunities for communicating “help” are created.
  • Try to keep 3-5 items (maximum) on a shelf for discrimination. This helps your child discriminate one object from the other without becoming overwhelmed. This will also help with labelling when learning new words.
  • Adding to the number of items on the shelf, stick to odd numbers. Our brain works in ways that odd numbers become more aesthetically pleasing. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean only 3 items on the shelf. Sometimes you can have 3 piles or stacks of something to break up the space. Nonetheless, space them appropriately so the whole shelf is being used with odd number components.

We love this open shelf from Union Wood Company. The clean lines and multiple open shelves allows room for both children and home decor. The best part is the amazing wooden bottom drawers that can seamlessly house all the kids toys. The perfect built-in in my opinion. 

  1. Categorize/Label Lower Bins into Play Categories

Whenever possible, categorize or label play bins to increase the organization of things. The ability to plan and organize is SO important in development that the earlier we can teach this skill, the better. Creating designated play bins for each “category” or play activity will not only help with clean up, but it actually will promote independence in play skills too. If your child knows exactly where to get his play items, then the more likely he can set up, engage, and transition in play all on his own. This means more time for you! Yes, you! I like to keep things in these particular boxes:

  • Arts/Crafts
  • Figurine Play (playmobile, dolls…)
  • Dress Up
  • Lego
  • Marbles
  • House (pretend food, tea sets…)

Helpful Hint:

  • When you have these organized, you can also easily see which bin(s) your child(ren) gravitates more towards. Whichever bin they are playing more of is generally a key that they are quite confident and successful playing it on their own. This means if you need to do a quick email, phone call, or just a small break – pull this bin out and have them play on their own. Likewise, for the bins they do not gravitate towards, this is an indication that perhaps they’re not familiar with the activity or do not know how to start. This is the bin you’d least likely pull out for them for independent play as they’ll need someone to play with and learn from.
  1. Keep Things Low to the Ground

The idea of order and independence is so important and is one of the key factors in creating a meaningful play space for your child. Keep some independent play activities low to the ground and accessible. After you’ve figured out what play activities are considered “independent play” be sure to have them stored where your kids can easily access them. This will increase the likelihood of them going for it on their own, setting it up without your help, and engaging in independent play for a longer period of time. One of the most important things I like to place low to the ground are books. I still like to display a few classics and favourites up on the shelf, but most of our books are near the ground so that she can access it. Doing this has created an opportunity for my daughter to grab a book whenever she pleases and has actually increased her interest in books simply because they’re available.

(image courtesy of

(image courtesy of @choleuberkid

  1. Use the space

We live in an urban area. We’re city dwellers and LOVE IT. I’m talking 1100sqft condo. But this doesn’t deter us from creating a play area for the kids right in the middle of our living room. The key is to really use the space. Consider designating a play area somewhere in your home as this helps children create a space of their own. Where they know it’s OK to play. Think about using the walls, windows, different level tables and even the floor as spaces and surfaces to play and explore. If you provide a space for them and let them know where it’s OK to play, then there will be less arguing of where NOT to play.

We love the idea of using a chalkboard wall over an easel for drawing. Having a child draw standing up increases gross motor control and fine motor coordination.

Fun fact: Research shows that the best way to stimulate a baby's vision is using high contrasting colours such as black and white. The high contrast of black and white increases visual stimulation and cerebral development, especially in newborns. A lot of literature actually goes into proving black and white contrasts register powerfully on baby’s retina and send the strongest visual signals to baby’s brain rather than light pastel colours. Although pastel colours are calm and pleasing, they actually do not provide anything visually for babies. This is one reason why we love monochrome prints, decor, and apparel and use a lot of it in our home and designs.



  1. Functional toys

Imitation starts at a VERY young age. It is the building blocks of learning. Bring in toys that imitate real life. The more realistic the toys, the more functional play can be. This is very different than pretend play. Pretend play is using an object that has no relation to the actual object. For example, pretending a fork is a brush. For little ones, this can be quite a stretch. Functional play means using a toy phone as a phone. If your child sees you cook and clean all the time, chances are they will gravitate towards a toy stove and mop. This is because they’ve seen it done and are curious. Carving time to engage in functional play can really increase your child's play and language repertoire. It is also one of the easiest play for adults simply because it's what you would normally be doing, "adulting." The language that you as a family would normal engage in should be the language you use during the play activity as well. Keep it simple and repeat it often.

My daughter sees us make coffee every morning. She hears me ask my husband if he wants milk and how many spoons of sugar. Now I know how he likes his coffee, but because she likes to help in the kitchen, I strategically will repeat these steps because repeating the language and action strengthens the skill of imitation. She will now go to her toy coffee maker and make coffee for her father and I, asking the exact thing, "Would you like milk? And how many spoons of sugar?" So when we sit down to play "breakfast" she is ecstatic to be the one prepping the meal with her kitchen toys. She knows how to use the toy toaster because she's seen it. She chops up fruit for the yogurt on her board because she's seen it. She role plays the whole breakfast routine easily because she has begun to imitate what she has been seeing. Ideas for functional play will depend on what you as a family often do: baking, grocery shopping, cleaning. Again, keep the language simple and repeat the action multiple times. You'll soon see how confident your child becomes in that play activity as their language increases while yours decreases. 

Whenever possible, use natural elements, such as wood, for toys as they provide the right texture for small hands, sustainable, and is always in style.

(image courtesy of @chloeuberkid


(image courtesy of @oohnoo_official

Well, these are just a few things that I know have changed our home and how we play and interact with our children. Creating learning opportunities within your own home will allow your child to learn, fail, and grow in a supportive environment.

It is important to note that a room alone doesn’t change your child, but the meaningful interaction with an adult will. Allow your home to be both your playgrounds and enjoy looking at it with sense of love and pride.

(image courtesy of @lorena_m_f

(image courtesy of @nor_folk)

Thank you to all the small shops and design mamas for your images. We hope this provides inspiration to others to create a room that works for you and your family. xx 

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  • Happy organizing, happy playing and happy nesting!

    thefolia on
  • Ummm they look really “In Style” Adults would love it, but they all lack colour. I think kids would get bored without creative pops of colour in the design to inspire even more imagination. Kind of blah.

    MOrgan on

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