Create, Play, Learn

Smart Playrooms partners Karri Bowen-Poole and Chris Simpson are not only passionate about what they do, they’re great at it. The duo has as much fun creating play spaces as the children and grateful parents who enjoy them.

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Published October 12, 2013 5:00 AM
4 min read

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img 0897Smart Playrooms partners Karri Bowen-Poole and Chris Simpson are not only passionate about what they do, they’re great at it. The duo has as much fun creating play spaces as the children and grateful parents who enjoy them.

By Caitlin Brown

img 0897Smart Playrooms partners Karri Bowen-Poole and Chris Simpson are not only passionate about what they do, they’re great at it. The duo has as much fun creating play spaces as the children and grateful parents who enjoy them. If you’re looking to create a safe and engaging play area, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a soft play manufacturer and contractors for expert guidance on soft play shapes and equipment.

Bowen-Poole, a teacher with twenty years of experience (in her earlier days, a teacher at Buckley and Nightingale in the city, and later, Stanwich in Greenwich and then Rye Presbyterian), wanted to do more than just teach. She wanted to take the lessons she had learned in the classroom and serve as a bridge between families and education, but she wasn’t sure how. The answer came when her sister, who had just refinished her basement, called on Karri to help design a play area for her children.

The kids wanted to play all the time, and not only that … they wanted to clean up! Things snowballed from there. Soon, friends of Karri’s sister were calling. They were thrilled with the results and told their friends. The concept for Smart Playrooms was born: “to build a foundation for creativity and inspire a love of learning.”

As the mother of three, Karri has seen what works and what doesn’t. A few years ago, when her longtime friend, Chris Simpson, who also has a background in education, moved back to the area from California, she asked her to partner with her.

img 0893“We want to get kids interested in learning without knowing they’re doing it,” said Karri. They are strategic in their staging, placing things that they want kids to gravitate to —ones that encourage development — front and center.

With this goal in mind, TVs (and TV games) are always pushed to the periphery. And, believe it or not, when these two women finish a playroom, the kids don’t rush to turn on the TV. Junky toys, toys that are less stimulating in terms of development, are weeded out in this process. Karri and Chris consider it part of their job to teach parents how children can play smart with less stuff, the right stuff.

“Play takes practice,” say the partners. “Kids need to learn how to have unstructured playtime. We don’t want mom and dad to buy more, we want to help them go through the mishmash, get rid of the piles of toys, and focus on what encourages their children to have fun, engage, and learn.

“Certain toys are best in areas designated for play with family members (practicing handwriting, for example). Imaginary play areas — a kitchen area and table, a dress-up station — offer a huge array of options for children to play out real-life scenarios that encourage emotional growth, reading, and writing.

img 0914Labels go on everything and pictures are often placed next to the words to help kids make the connection. For a parent, it’s a thing of beauty to have everything organized with a designated place. For a child, it’s a way to learn where things go.

“They learn to take pride in putting things away,” say the duo. Parents are often astonished to see their children head to areas as they were intended and want to put things away. Karri and Chris say that they often encourage parents not to put things away, as projects kids are working on are often ones they want to return to. This is a great thing in terms of development.

Building areas are placed where there is ample open floor space, which encourages kids to build. Physical play gets another designated space. “Physical space is imperative,” says Karri. “It affects gross motor skills, which translates to fine motor skills.”

There is no cookie-cutter play space for this pair. Smart Playrooms does a thorough analysis of a client’s specific space, needs, children’s interests, difficulties, and skills. After the first consultation, they provide an in-depth proposal. And, when needed, Karri and Chris pay follow-up visits to maintain the spaces.

The Smart Playroom system typically includes nine learning stations, ranging from pretend play to games, music, building, and literacy centers. Though each is tailor-made to the client’s needs (and their child’s specific needs) the goal for all is the same: “to set up a place to build a foundation for creativity and inspire a love of learning.”

One mom said, “I never imagined a day spent organizing toys could change my life, but the beauty of the system is that it’s designed to be self-sufficient for the children. Even my 18-month-old can find everything and play and clean up on her own.”

Karri and Chris say, “A big piece of what we do is educate parents. We love creating spaces mom and dad want to play in too!”

For more information, visit www.smartplayrooms.com.

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