Join our friends from the Boston-based Horizons for Homeless Children as they share their Playspace Program. You’ll gain ideas for simple interactions that you can use in any space to help children and their families heal from traumatic experiences. The model can be replicated on any scale and in any setting serving young children and families.

Before you begin, watch this training video  featuring staff and volunteers from Horizons for Homeless Children.

Now explore the resources in this workshop and consider ways you can use the ideas and strategies in your own work.

  1. 1

    Ideas for Setting Up Your Space


    Children experiencing homelessness often lack clean, safe play spaces—preventing them from growing and thriving. Depending on where they are staying, children may be shushed for normal child-like behavior that others consider disruptive. So the more you can enrich your site to encourage play, the better.

    Watch this video one time through as providers from Horizons for Homeless Children explain the strategies used in each play space. Notice:

    • ways in which each of the spaces helps kids develop and heal
    • what approaches providers take within that space
    • how each space builds children’s social-emotional skills
    • ways in which each space addresses children’s learning needs

    On a second viewing, write down or tell a colleague one observation, idea, or question sparked by each area presented:

    • Infant Spaces
    • Arts and Crafts
    • Manipulatives
    • Literacy Area
    • Dramatic Play

    Then consider your space and one small way you might enrich your site to invite children to engage in play—even a basket of children’s books, a beanbag, or a box of blocks or dolls go a long way.

  2. 2

    Adding Comfort to Your Space


    Now that you’ve looked at the different areas, further consider your own space and what you might add to offer comfort. Watch this video (meant to share with children) and reflect:

    • Where in your space could become a “cozy corner”?
    • What are some comfort items you might add to that area to soothe children? (pillows, stuffed animals, dolls, blankets, soft fabric, and so on)
    • Is there a way for you to distribute small comfort items to children?

    You might suggest to parents that they offer their children a piece of their clothing to hold when they are apart (even a small piece cut off from an item they no longer wear). If appropriate, they can show children the video and talk about their comfort items.

  3. 3

    Explore Strategies for Positive Adult-Child Interactions


    It’s not just the things you put into an environment that are important—a play space is made even more effective when adults interact with children in positive ways. You can build trust, give kids a sense of control, and use positive language to ensure that play time is a time of joy and healing.

    Watch this video of Horizons’ staff and volunteers talking about—and demonstrating—some strategies for fostering positive interactions at their site. As you watch, write down one question, observation, or idea sparked by the five points the staff is making:

    1. Following kids’ lead
    2. Giving kids choices
    3. Redirection
    4. Using positive language
    5. Supporting parents


  4. 4

    Ideas Into Action: Parent-Child Bonding Time

    Download printable

    Print and copy this page and leave in an area where children and parents spend time together. Through playfulness, rhyme, rhythm, and repetition, parents remind children of the most important strategies for coping with crisis.

    When adults display confidence and optimism for a better future, children naturally feel more secure. Parents and children can read this poem aloud together, using the icons to tell who reads what.

    Suggest that parents:

    • repeat some of the language and strategies throughout their day
    • think of other ideas they would add to the poem, and write them on the back (they don’t have to rhyme!)
    • read the poem together again and again
    • fold it to keep with their belongings (or to display it in their space)
  5. 5

    Ideas Into Action: Coloring Page

    Download printable

    During and after a traumatic experience, our brains may be “hijacked” by fear, anxiety, or anger. Doing a nonverbal activity, such as art, together can help us reconnect and get “unstuck.”

    Helping parents and children interact lovingly and creatively in your space can be as simple as setting out paper and crayons. Print and copy this page and invite parents and children to sit together and share a few moments of relaxation.

    This coloring page can help adults communicate important ideas to children without saying a word: We can relax together. We can have a good time together. We can concentrate. I am here with you. I am listening. I am interested in you. We can share feelings. We can make something beautiful, even when the world around us feels ugly.

    Children can use crayons or markers. Colored pencils or thin-tipped markers work well for the detailed “adult” areas, but crayons will work too! Here are some other tips:

    • If possible, parents and children should sit side by side in a quiet space with a surface.
    • Children color the large Muppet image, adults color the more detailed background.
    • There’s no right or wrong way to color; the goal is to sit and relax together. It’s okay to sit without talking, too!
    • Parents can use the tips and conversation starters at the bottom on the page and, if possible, display their work.
    • Children might also draw their own families on the back of the page. Creative self-expression can be a great way to show how you feel, using no words at all!