3 Design Tips from a Teacher Who Runs a Play-Based Preschool Out of Her Home

published Jun 12, 2023
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Living/kids classroom area in home. Lots of kids toys, learning materials, fun and inspirational art, muted yellow and green painted walls, a kids' play kitchen, shelves for kids' things, kids' tables with stools, shelves of books, large pale gray sectional with bright throw pillows

Whether it’s transforming a garage into a playroom or creating a crafting area out of an unused closet, parents know that kids usually need more space than just their bedrooms. Take it from Jenny Subil, head teacher and owner of Lilyposa Schoolhouse, who dedicated around 400 indoor square feet of her 1,045-square-foot Portland, Oregon, rental home to a play-based preschool. 

Their Portland space is the largest home that Subil and her husband, photographer Chris Brodell, have shared, so figuring out how to design it was a challenge. However, the outcome is stunning and functional — and the pair made all the changes. Between her experience as a preschool owner and a design enthusiast, Subil’s home is filled with inspiration for designing kid-oriented spaces and what to fill them with. 

“Our decor choices are the foundation of our preschool. We really believe in the importance of creating safe and cozy spaces,” Subil writes. “Having systems and organization helps us run our school effectively, but also allows children to start to understand how to move through and take care of a space. We are so lucky to have this opportunity to create such an important business in our home.”

1. Invest in quality over quantity. 

Whether it’s water toys or quiet-time trinkets, there’s always a new, fun gadget to buy. But in Subil’s preschool, she invests in quality products over quantity. Some of her favorites are a West Elm mid-century easel, a Crate & Kids treehouse playset, a Melissa and Doug grocery store play area, and a Crate & Barrel kitchen playset.

“Not only because we wanted to have toys that lasted and would hold up to lots of play, but also because we didn’t want our space to feel overwhelming,” Subil shares. “We are very intentional about not overcrowding the space for developmental appropriateness and also use that as a way to ensure every item has a ‘home’ to return to.”

And the kids who visit or are students at Subil’s preschool appreciate the toys. “They are usually very excited when they first step into the space,” Subil writes. “The tea set, the playhouse, and, of course, the pretend grocery store have been immediate favorites for many of the kiddos who have toured the space.”

2. Create separate zones for different activities. 

Subil and Brodell updated the space on their own within six months, and that hands-on experience allowed them to be super intentional about the preschool area. Her favorite DIY project is creating a designated reading nook near the preschool entrance that they wallpapered in a daisy pattern from Spoonflower

“We wanted to designate zones in the classroom to create pockets of different play areas, which makes our classroom more usable and also helps it to feel bigger,” Subil writes.

3. Add any of these great items to a kids’ room. 

There are some items that Subil’s included in her preschool space that are a great fit for a kids’ room in general. Some things that Subil recommended are as follows: 

  • Open-ended play areas 
  • Sensory bins (that can be easily rotated)
  • Front-facing, short bookshelves where kids can easily access and put away books
  • Dress up clothes 
  • Musical instruments (Subil adds rhythm sticks and shaky eggs)
  • Sarah’s Silks

While not everyone runs a fabulous preschool like Subil, these tips apply to any situation or space. Because of Subil’s incredible design work, kids aged 2 to 5 feel comfortable and safe in their preschool. 

“It really is hard to choose our favorite part,” Subil says. “We love our activity tables; we love our dress-up area; and we love our cozy, low, and safe couch, but having a covered patio and the ability to play outside in all weather consistently rises to the top.”

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