How to Design a Sensory-Friendly Playroom on a Budget
One designer (and mother) shares her tips.
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When building a playroom for a child with special needs, such as autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, developmental delays, or sensory processing disorder, each design choice should accommodate learning, therapy, comfort, and play. Often, a family raising a child with special needs also needs their home to act as a therapy center, as they have a host of professionals coming in to provide specialty services.
Karri Bowen-Poole is a mom, educator, and interior designer who specializes in creating specialized playrooms through her company Smart Playrooms. She also recently launched Smart D2, a new business that she co-founded with award-winning interior designer Denise Davies of D2 Interieurs. Bowen-Poole designs these educational playrooms for clients by selecting furnishings, materials, and equipment that are developmentally appropriate, functional, and beautiful.
"About a year ago, I gut-renovated my garage and turned it into a multi functional space for my family," Bowen-Poole says. "My 11-year-old daughter uses it as a ninja warrior course, a place to [record] TikToks, a sleepover haven for her friends, and a space to decompress and relax in the various swings that we can switch out on the ceiling hooks."
If you are looking to create a safe and comforting space for your children, while keeping budget in mind, Bowen-Poole recommends these items to get you started.
"We love including challenging climbing equipment in our playrooms because, in addition to helping children practice their motor planning and coordination skills, climbing also increases flexibility, strength, and fine and gross motor skills, and boosts children’s self-esteem and confidence."
"[While] providing a safe landing for climbing and swinging, gym and floor mats encourage a variety of gymnastic/yoga movements which can increase flexibility, strength, balance, and coordination. We love to add soothing colors of white and gray mats in our playrooms, as these colors do not overwhelm or overstimulate children."
"We always include a comfortable and calming seating area. We look for seating that is age-appropriate and versatile, meaning the couch cushions can be used for reading books, build forts, become a landing mat for climbing a rope. We look for soothing colors to help kids stay focused and not distracted, like greens and blues, whites and grays."
“A swing is fun, increases spatial awareness, and helps a child to focus, balance and control their muscles.
"Play tables and chairs that are sized appropriately for children make them feel secure in their bodies so they have better focus for art projects, lego creations, puzzles, and games."
"Organization areas, art caddies, toy storage, and labels support executive function skills. Defining your spaces teaches your child that each toy, game, and lovie has its place. It will also make it easier for them to find and clean-up their toys—independently."
"A reading nook that is cozy and comfortable helps your child to unwind and focus on reading their books. I recommend these bookshelves because it helps children to see the book covers, which makes it easier for children to independently select which book to read. We love the Mo Williams books and almost always add a book ledge or book shelves in playroom projects. They are funny, have beautiful covers, and tend to appeal to kids of all ages and genders."
"A playroom also needs great toys. Here are some we love that promote speech and language skills, and social and emotional development."