Toddlers and preschoolers have a lot in common -- especially their energy levels. But there are differences. One of the most important is that toddlers are not really able to appreciate complex visuals. If you have your heart set on elaborate wall murals or other detailed artwork, know up front that you will probably enjoy them well before your little one will. You may opt to wait until your child is a preschooler or even a bit older. On the other hand, you'll be spending a lot of time in your son or daughter's room, so if the decorating scheme makes you happy, that feeling will be communicated to your child.
If you decide to wait until your child is three or four, you can go all out with a favorite storybook theme both of you can enjoy, but you may still want to use a bit of caution. Expensive trompe l'oeil hand-painting rendered on a canvas or board and protected with polyurethane can be enjoyed for awhile and, when it's outgrown, saved for the next generation. If your youngster clamors for some cartoon image you expect will be a temporary thing, you may opt for posters and low-cost pictures. Tape up a few, or spring for colorful, inexpensive frames with clear acrylic instead of glass.
Whether you use hand-painted artworks or low-cost posters, do keep in mind that kids at this age don't know for sure what's real and what's imaginary. Stick with the happy, gentle aspects of classic nursery rhymes and fairy tales, and exercise even more caution with today's cartoon and movie characters. What may be exciting or merely interesting to a bigger child can be very frightening to a little one, especially if it's on view at bedtime.
Unless you and your child are truly smitten with some motif, you may find, as many parents do, that a design that merely suggests a theme may prove more appealing, longer. A forest, a beach, or another nature scheme is a surefire winner with both girls and boys and can serve as a background for a great variety of imaginative scenarios.
Even more versatile is a room scheme based simply on cheerful color combinations and patterns. With this approach, tomorrow's favorite toys and collectibles will fit in as easily as today's. In fact, since most kids don't make a clean break from one phase to the next, an easygoing design based on color will let several eras and enthusiasms coexist peacefully.
We're all more comfortable when a room physically fits the way we function, but when the occupant is a toddler or preschooler, the stakes are much higher. Because they're hardwired to learn about (that is, explore) their world as fast as possible, little ones can be in danger wherever their curiosity takes them, even at home. It's a good idea to accept that physical safety is up for grabs just about all the time with most toddlers, and things only get relatively easier with preschoolers.
You can hire a service to come to your home and childproof it or do a little research on your own to learn basic safety precautions. This article lists many of these precautions, but you may also want to "walk through" your space and put yourself at your child's level -- literally.
When it comes to decorating the space, a grade-schooler is old enough to have significant input. No guarantees, but the more your child is involved in helping plan the room scheme, the likelier it is he or she will take pride in the space and take care of it. Kids this age often have hobbies, interests, or talents that are already part of their self-definition, so by all means reinforce those you feel are positive.
Keep your eyes open for key items that will pull a positive room concept together for your child. It may be easier than you think. One lively boy who loved the big cats but not his pale turquoise walls changed his mind when given a dramatic quilt depicting a rare white tiger with turquoise eyes. The quilt border colors were turquoise, brown, white and green, so the rest of the room took on a jungle theme.
An artistic girl who had a hard time choosing one or two colors for her room found happiness with a rainbow motif. People began giving her rainbow-decorated accessories, so her room came together quickly. A nice plus: Just about any clear, solid color fits in. What theme can you use to knit together your child's preferences and interests with the room and furnishings you already have?
At this stage of the game, you and your child may still clash on the issue of color, but a grade-schooler is also old enough to understand (or at least accept) your explanation. If he wants vivid blue and bright orange, for example, you can satisfy that desire with small furniture items and accents in those hues and treat the walls to a pale, room-expanding tint of light blue or light orange sherbet.
Whether you and your child are inspired by a specific theme or just a color scheme, don't feel you have to create something elaborate. Keep in mind that the pictures you see in this book or in decorating magazines are settings at their "company best." In everyday life, a grade-schooler's toys, books, homework projects, and clothes tend to take over all but the most rigorously policed spaces. Even a minimally decorated room will look plenty busy most of the time, so keep it simple.
One proven, simple approach is to develop a color scheme of two or three hues and stick with it when buying or refurbishing pieces. If you have less-than-pedigreed furniture, paint pieces one color and add wood pulls and knobs in another color or design. If you're buying fabric accessories, use the more sedate color for big items such as a comforter or an upholstered computer chair. Save the brighter, lighter color for pillows and other small accents. If your child's scheme is navy and yellow, for example, you can swap the yellow for red, light green, pink, or any number of other choices when their tastes change without a big investment.
What if your child's favorite colors and preferred theme seem at odds? If that happens (it may, if you've got a particularly imaginative youngster), look beyond the prepackaged ideas out there. For example, a butterfly theme doesn't have to be delicate and pastel; the common monarch butterfly is dramatic black and orange. So, imagine a room with peach walls hung with monarch butterfly prints and black lacquer furniture with brass butterfly drawer pulls. You get the idea. Virtually any concept can be used with a little creativity