What is an invitation to play?
An invitation to play is simply a collection of resources/materials set up together which encourages children to learn through play and explore the resources that are offered to them.
The process of laying out an invitation allows children to be creative and the play that comes from it is not directed by an adult.
Try to think of an invitation as a prompt for children to play in a different way that they may not have tried before. They can use their imagination to extend on the invitation however they please.
There is no right or wrong way for the child to engage with the materials offered and they are an easy, simple way to get children playing creatively and independently.
Where should I set it up?
They are best set up at a table at your child’s height or on the floor depending on the size of the resources and how you think they might use them.
Invitations are a great way to get children to play with resources that they may not have taken off their shelf in a while!
What can I create an invitation to play with?
You can offer an invitation to your child with anything you already own using existing resources, recycled or bought. I find that open ended toys and loose parts always seem to lead to the most play with my kids!
If you would like to read more about open ended play have a read of another one of my blogs, ‘Engaging in Open Ended Play.’
Where to start?
Now the most daunting part is getting started and worrying if you’ve done it right but I’ll tell you that it's not hard!
Start by observing your children and creating an invitation around their interests. For example, if your child is enjoying pushing vehicles around the house a great invitation would be laying out something to push the cars on such as Waytoplay roads, Building Boards or Connetix. Place the cars in a basket beside them or join just a few pieces together and put a car on top.
If you need a bit more help in observing your child’s play, have a read of another blog, ‘Schemas, how to spot and support them.’
When creating an invitation remember these tips!
- Observe your child’s interests and extend on them
- Gather resources from around your home (toys and household items)
- Keep it simple
- Leave room for your child's imagination
- Place resources together at your child’s level
Photo by @ulipekstyle
How to create an Invitation to play
Start by selecting a few resources that work well together or by taking an activity apart such as a puzzle. Take all the pieces out of the puzzle and put them in a basket or wrap the pieces up to make the activity a bit harder.
Take the resources off the shelf and put them on a low table or on the floor together.
Let your children play with the invitation however they would like, try not to tell them what to do or how to do it and let them enjoy the resources by exploring and using them however they please!
I try not to tell my children what to do or how it could be used unless they ask me. I try to get them to lead them and get them to use their own imagination and curiosity.
Some children need a bit of help when engaging in invitations to play and open ended play at first and they may want or need you to give them some ideas or guidance and that’s okay! Sit with them and play beside or with them to try and encourage some different ways to play.
If they do ask for some ideas I would say "Could these be flowers in a garden? Maybe you could line them all up? Have a play and let’s see what you can create!" Another great way is to prompt them to say “I’m trying to make the sea, can you find me some water?” They are then more likely to use their imagination to find a solution.
As children become more experienced with open ended play you may find that they will start to combine their play with other resources around them past the invitation and extend the time that they are playing.
How long should it take to set up
The simplest invitations always lead to the most play as they leave a lot of room for the child's imagination. Mine usually take under a minute to set up and any play that is enjoyed past the set up time is a winner!
Depending on the age of your child their attention span will vary but on average a child will engage in an activity for 2-4 minutes for each year of their age. For example a 2 year old would be 4-8 minutes.
Of course every child is different and some may play for longer or shorter.
How often can you create an invitation?
I first began creating invitations when my eldest was about 9/10 months old with simple items such as a posting box or bowls to transfer objects between.
I used them most when my eldest was about 18 months old when I was heavily pregnant with my second. This was great for her to learn how to engage in them before the birth of her sister and then I used them when I was breastfeeding or busy settling the baby!
At this stage I would use them about 3 times a day but as she grew older and was more patient with me and her sister I didn’t need them as much. I would often still create one in the morning for her to wake up to which always bought me a bit of time to get myself and the baby dressed before we got on with the day.
You can also use invitations to assist children in building their independent play to engage them at an activity whilst you step away for a few minutes to cook dinner or do the dishes.
My children are now 3 and 4 and we would be lucky to do one or two a week as they thoroughly enjoy free play but that’s the beauty of it - you can use them when it suits you and your family.
Sometimes my girls ask for something after rest time to ease back into the day and I will always provide that for them.
I should stress that an invitation to play should never be something you make a child do, it is still their choice as to whether they engage with it or not.
Invitation to play ideas and inspiration
Ideas for siblings that are similar but different levels in learning.
Muffin tins with Grapat coins. Older siblings can make or copy patterns and younger child can move the coins around the tray.
Connetix Tiles with numbers and dots to match for older child and shapes to match for younger child.
Invitation examples for children at different ages.
Please note: These ages are just a guide and could be used for children both younger and older. Remember to always follow your child's interests and use supervision where necessary.
9-12 months old
Recycled tissue box with Grapat coins and rings for posting (could also remove plastic to make it easier).
Playsilks in recycled bottle.
12-18 months old
Recycled bottles and tins for posting and transferring.
Grapat Rings with an egg carton for stacking.
Connetix Tiles invitation to build.
18 months old - 2 years old
Grapat coins in egg carton to colour match.
Grapat Nins and Mates for colour matching.
2-3 years old
Egg carton painted with metal rimmed counting chips to post and colour sort
Invitation to sort shades with Grapat Mandala pieces.
3-4 years old
Invitation to create a patterns with Grapat Mandalas.
4-5 years old
Invitation to match uppercase and lowercase letters with Connetix.
Number sequencing with Connetix.
Invitation to match an object to letter by sounding.
Invitation to create a mandala.