Plug-in Protection: Avoid using standing floor lamps for lighting. They tip easily and frequently have exposed bulbs that will quickly ignite paper, dress-up clothes, fabric tents, and other playroom staples. Roll up and tape down electrical cords to prevent little ones from nibbling and older kids from tripping. Remove all exercise equipment from the area. Free weights, treadmills, and stair climbers are extremely dangerous. The same goes for home office items like scissors, shredders, computer equipment, fax machines, and staplers.
Once you've made your playroom a safe haven for fun, it's time to start decorating! Paint is an inexpensive, quick way to brighten up any room. Choose a semi-gloss or washable flat paint that wipes down easily. You can liven things up with polka dots created by tracing coffee can lids, soup can bottoms, and old CDs, then filling in the circles with a small paint brush. Or use plastic stencils to add ABCs and 123s to the walls. Bombay Kids carries peel-off wall appliqués with themes like Ladybugs & Butterflies, Sports, Dinosaurs, and Princesses. They adhere to the wall like giant stickers, but peel off without harming paint!
Instead of conventional paint, try chalkboard paint on one wall. Kids adore being able to scribble on the wall, and parents love how marks come off with an eraser or wet cloth. A built-in chalkboard is lots of fun for writing cute messages to your children, drawing big pictures or murals with Mom and Dad, or even teaching shapes and letters to preschoolers.
Playing dress-up was once about trying on Grandma's old hats and shoes, not ordering brand new ballerina dresses from catalogs. Stick with tradition and fill a box with old clothes—the tackier, the better—including shoes, belts, purses, and jewelry. Ask neighbors for donations when they clean their closets. Get creative! Girls will think an old nylon slip or nightgown is an elegant gown. Give a boy an old pair of leather work gloves, a baseball cap, and a necktie, and he'll be thrilled. Goodwill and Salvation Army are a treasure trove of dress-up items. Gold lamé belts, purple suit jackets, straw hats, and linens (perfect for capes, skirts, headdresses, scarves, and so on) abound.
Children have a funny habit of growing up quickly and leaving perfectly good stuff behind for the up-and-comers. Take advantage of it! Visit your local kid's consignment store for great deals on puzzles, books, and toys. You can bring home a small plastic slide or Sit-N-Spin for under $10. Those pricey playhouses and kitchen sets go for about $15–$20. Get one and stock it with your own old pots and pans, empty boxes of pasta and cereal, and a few wooden spoons.