The Cheapskate's Guide to Children's Rooms

by Jo Stewart Wray

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Decorating children's rooms will require more planning than any other room in your home. Your decorating plan will need to take into account the growth stages of your children in the future. There are four phases of childhood to consider: infancy (birth to two years), the preschool years (two to four), the elementary school years (four to twelve), and the teen years (thirteen to eighteen). Your child's stages may vary, but the idea is still the same.

Your children's room decoration will need to change as they age. You must think ahead and plan for modifications and alterations over the years to keep up with their progress through the stages of development. If your children are in the infancy or preschool stage, look into the research about how their environment affects their learning. You will want your children to be stimulated during their waking hours, and then calm and quiet for sleeping. The most important thing to remember is that decorating for children is never permanent. When you are decorating for people who will be changing drastically over the next few years, adaptability is what you want to consider most.

Infants' rooms must have a place to store clothes and, of course, a crib. Clothes can be stored in a simple set of drawers and a wardrobe. You will also want a place to store baby accessories. Organized storage can be accomplished with wooden boxes, covered baskets and crates, large cardboard containers, fruit or wicker basket, or pull-out wire covered kitchen shelves. Easy-to-clean flooring that is resilient will keep noise down. A lamp, in addition to overhead lighting or dimmer switches will allow you to turn down the lights for naptime. Since dimmer switches are built into the wall, you don't have to worry about wires or cords for later-stage toddlers to tamper with or trip on. The room will need at least two electrical outlets on each wall. You will want blinds to block or filter light during the daytime and at night. Some blinds come with total light-blocking material.

For toddlers and preschool children, safety is vital. They will need a low bed or one with a bed rail. Electrical outlets will need to be covered, and the windows need to be secure so children can't climb out and hurt themselves. It isn't a good idea to use long curtains in children's rooms. Try a double row of café curtains or blinds to be pulled down for privacy. Blinds are safe and easier to clean. Blackout blinds give you the opportunity to let children sleep later in the morning rather than waking up at first light. Vinyl-coated shades are very practical and can be wiped clean with a damp sponge. Mini blinds allow you to control the light coming into the room. Blinds can also be used instead of expensive doors on the front of closets. Be sure to keep the cords out of the reach of young children.

Large toy chests and baskets to hold children's toys and encourage neatness will be a big help. Baskets can also be used for carrying toys to other rooms in the house. Chairs for children should be strong and sturdy. Folding chairs are not a good idea for children's rooms because they can trap a child or mash small fingers. An area for creative playing will be needed. Since toddlers and preschool children don't concentrate for long on any one thing, they need a large number of toys.

As they become toddlers, young children spend a lot of time on the floor, crawling, sitting, and playing, so the floor covering could be changed to carpet or cushioned vinyl. Be sure to purchase something easy to keep clean.

This is the time to create a room full of fantasy and fun, but remember that furniture purchased now may carry over into the teenage years. You can add the fantasy element with color. You can change the environment of the room with paint, paper, or bed and window treatments. Large posters can be used for art and as wallpaper. Groups of dozens of contact-paper cutouts of shapes or animals can be applied to the wall to encourage counting. These can easily be applies and pulled off to be changed later on. Painting large graphics like clouds, cartoon characters, murals of fairy tales, circuses, or other characters is a colorful way to stimulate children. If you want to add fantasy to your kids' rooms, don't forget the ceiling. It can be painted with clouds, birds, or airplanes. The whole ceiling could sport a glued-on map or the night sky with stars and planets. Color can always brighten old furniture.

For their elementary school years, children need an older theme than they did in infancy and preschool days. At this stage, they may want to be involved in the decorating or redecorating of their bedrooms. Children who are aware of the cost of the decorating are more likely to take better care of the furnishings. Use their hobbies or collections as a place to start. The murals you painted for your preschoolers can now be redone for your elementary school children; and the painted furniture can be repainted to match the new theme. Stenciling is a great painting technique to use in children's rooms if you can't paint murals. Don't fret too much about the colors your children choose. They are the ones who have to live with the color. The low bed can still be used, or you might want to add bunk beds for friends who sleep over. A comforter and new curtains will be needed to match the new colors and theme. Duvets are great for children's beds. They are light enough to allow movement and warmth in the winter. They are easy for children to pull up to make their own beds. Kids also need room to study, perhaps a computer table or desk, and space to do projects for school. Bookshelves make a nice addition at this time; children will begin collecting books and other things now. Carpet will encourage them to sit on the floor and still be easy to clean.

Teenagers want privacy more often than anything else. They also want to arrange their rooms the way they would like. They will need good lighting for studying and computer work. Their bookshelves may need to be expanded to accommodate more books and CD's. Music is important to teenagers, and they will adjust their rooms to accommodate stereos if you do not. Teens also need more seating area for friends. If you purchased the correct furniture when your children were in preschool or elementary school, it might still be appropriate.

Like the other rooms of your home, children's rooms can be decorated in a specific style, with colors chosen to fit. The traditional look will use pine or painted furniture. Bold colors and white can be used in a modern room. If you use white in a younger child's room, it needs to be white gloss - which looks clean and can be kept clean simply by wiping it with a damp sponge or cloth. It's durable and makes a good background. You can also use white below the chair rail, papering the upper walls.

Exerpted from The Cheapskate's Guide to Home Decorating by Jo Wray. You'll find it at your local bookstore and online at Barnes & Noble and

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