Invitation to play with tactile shells, scoops, and blue water in a Tuff Tray

What is an invitation to play?

What is an invitation to play?

Simply, an invitation to play is a collection of toys or resources that are set up and shared with a child. This encourages children to learn through play as they explore the items that have been offered to them without being directed by an adult.  There is no right or wrong way for them to engage and play with the materials or resources that have been offered, it’s up to them to use their imaginations to direct play in whichever direction they choose.  

What could I use to create an invitation to play and how do I know I have done it right?

An invitation to play doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated, in my experience the simpler the better!  I have found that using toys or resources that you child hasn’t played with in a while and mixing in common household items or recycled items works best.  For example, one of my favourite set ups for my children between 9-13 months was presenting a muffin tin with sensory balls or some magnetic tiles and loose parts.  Both of them would sit with this for a good few minutes taking the items out and then trying to put them back into the tin.  Inevitably the tin would be tipped over and the items strewn across the floor, however the point of setting this up was to encourage them to engage with the resources however they wanted to and therefore the invitation to play was a success. 

Invitation to play using a muffin tin, Grapat Rings, egg shaker and magnetic tiles
Muffin tin with Grapat rings, magnetic tiles and an egg shaker

Muffin tin with sensory balls 

 An invitation to play could also be a partially set up puzzle with the remainder of the pieces in a little bowl beside the puzzle – inviting the child to complete it.  Another example, which has worked really well in our home during the warmer months, is to set up a tray of water or sand outside with some loose parts like scoops, bowls and cups or diggers and trucks and let them play.

 invitation to play with a wooden puzzle partially completed

Partially completed wooden puzzle with loose pieces presented in a tub
Invitation to play with blue water, scoops, cups, bowls and tactile shells
 Blue water with scoops, cups and tactile shells

 There is no right or wrong way to set up an invitation to play.  They key to it is really just observing your child to see what their current interests are and then building on them.  For example, if your child is very interested in colour matching at the moment, a good invitation for them may be something that invites them to colour match. The trick to setting up an invitation to play is allowing your children to play they way they want to, which often may not be the way you had intended for them to use the toys or resources – this is ok!  Try as best as you can not to interfere or direct them.  Sometimes my children will ask for a little guidance and I try to guide them without giving too much direction – for example I may ask “how could we scoop the sand into this bowl?”  This is often enough to prompt them and I seldom need to guide any further than that. 

Invitation to play using magnetic tiles and coloured ice cubes

Magnetic tiles and coloured ice cubes

 My children not using the scoops or the shells as I had intended, but rather fly swatters they sourced themselves to splash and stir the water instead 

Where is best to set it up?

In my experience the best invitations to play have been on the floor or at a table that’s the right height for you child to easily reach.  You could use your judgement depending on what resources you are using, how big they are and how you think your child may play with them.  90% of the invitations I set up are on the floor.  They also shouldn’t take you a long time to set up – my invitations to play often take only a few minutes and are sometimes as simple as a partially completed puzzle on the lounge room floor.

invitation to play using chiffon scarves

Chiffon scarves, toilet rolls and painters tape 

Invitation to play using rainbow rice, scoops, coloured ice cubes, magnetic counters and a magnetic want

Rainbow rice,, spoons & scoops, coloured ice cubes, magnetic counters and a magnetic wand

invitation to play using magnetic tiles, a cup and dried chickpeas

Magnetic tiles, a cup and dried chickpeas

Setting up invitations to play are a great way to help your children learn to play more independently and to free up some time for you to have a hot cup of coffee or to get some stuff done.

I hope this blog post has given you some ideas of what invitations to play you could set up for your children – there are so many different options the possibilities are endless.