I have recently begun a new series on my Facebook page where I post one or two photos each day, and it has become very popular. These are pictures of the little Invitations to Play that I have set up for our girls in various places in our home. I’m hoping through this series to inspire us all to play and create more with our children and to realise that we don’t need expensive materials or a lot of preparation in order to do that!
I have been asked lots of questions about these Invitations to Play, or play prompts, and I thought I’d address all of these in a post.
What exactly are Invitations to Play?
This term is used a lot by Early Childhood Educators and is deeply rooted in the Reggio philosophy of allowing children to direct their own play by offering open-ended, meaningful resources to explore. I believe the first person I heard the term “invitations” from was the wonderful Christie at Childhood 101, who has written on a similar subject in the past,
It simply describes a little set up of play materials for your child to come and discover and play with in any way that they choose. It can be as simple as setting out the tea set and play food on a little table with napkins, bringing out the building blocks and setting them on the grass or presenting the child with an unusual object for investigation. Most of the time, by placing toys or materials in a new location or presenting them in an original way, the child’s imagination is sparked and they can come to it with fresh eyes and new ideas!
We don’t constantly need to be buying new toys or finding the next best thing to “entertain” our children with. By keeping some toys and materials in the cupboard for rotation (great posts from Picklebums and from Dirt and Boogers here about toy rotation!) it means that they forget about some toys and are really excited to be presented with them again when they reappear! It may even be that they have developed new ways of thinking since they last saw the Lego bricks, for example, and now that they are out again they will use them differently.
|Invitation to Play: Coloured salt, pastry brush and jar of buttons|
Why give them these play prompts? Why not just leave them to do their own thing?
I haven’t actually been asked this yet, but I’m sure I will soon and it’s a good question! In our home at the moment the days are very long with a 3 year old 2 year old and 10 week old underfoot. Daddy works long hours and even though we try and get out of the house every day to go to classes, the park or see friends, it still leaves many hours to fill!
Recently the days have been so rainy and miserable, it has led to squabbling, moaning and lots of requests to watch dvds. We have a few play areas set up throughout the home, in little nooks and corners of most rooms, and there is constant access to toys, puzzles and art materials. Even so, they sometimes lose interest and need some inspiration and new ideas of ways to play to get them started again.
By setting up little invitations to play for them to discover, it has caused them to get excited and interested in playing in new ways with familiar (and sometimes completely new) objects. They have shown me that they are remarkably creative and have often used the materials in such imaginative ways!
[Side note:] I do not want to serve the “I’m bored” culture by constantly providing them with things to do. I believe it is very important for children to learn how to entertain themselves by using their imaginations and creativity in whatever situation they find themselves in. But I don’t think these counteract that desire. They are simply providing the sparks to creativity.
|Invitation to Play: Egg cartons, containers and pom poms|
How do you make Invitations to Play?
To make these play prompts, all you need to do is look around your home at the materials you already have. If you don’t have any open-ended art or recycled materials you may need to invest in some from a £1/ $1 store just to get stocked up and ready to go. (See below for a list of ideas.)
I tend to pick something that the girls haven’t seen in a while. Then I move it to a place they wouldn’t usually play with it, to add some variety and make them see it in a different way. For example, with this little tea party invitation, I moved these items from their play kitchen to our real kitchen and laid the table nicely, using paper napkins. It would be even more special with a tea pot filled with herbal tea and a plate of real cookies!
|Invitation to Play: A tea party with play cakes|
On other occasions I find a material that they may not have played with or not for a while, and something that adds a real sensory element to the play, such as dried pasta, play dough, sand or glitter.
|Invitation to Play: A green bath with mermaids and shells|
The most effective play set ups are the ones that combine materials in a new way, such as play dough with little sticks for poking into it, coloured water with droppers or bubble wrap with scissors. These encourage creative thinking and investigative, questioning skills. What can I do with this? What would happen if? What can I make this into? What does this do?
What materials do you need to create them?
Chances are you probably have most of these things lurking in your craft drawers already! This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are the things I have to hand most of the time. Bear in mind I’m a craft and recycled materials hoarder- I’m working on it!
coloured match sticks
coloured lolly sticks
felt tip pens
chunky colour pencils
dry pasta shapes
dried beans/ lentils/ couscous
paper and card
sticky tape and masking tape
cotton wool balls
and plenty more!
[Side note:] I do not advocate wasting food by playing with dried pasta, rice and beans etc. However, the food that we use I store carefully and re-use umpteen times, taking care not to throw any away. I feel there is huge sensory benefit in allowing children to handle and smell theses lovely textured materials and that they far surpass plastic and man-made materials in terms of exploratory play. As long as waste isn’t encouraged, they are a vital, readily available and cheap addition to the play store cupboard.
|Art materials stored in buckets on the art table for free access at any time|
Where do you store everything?
I am not at all good at keeping organised or systematic (apart from in my head!) Currently I store all our materials in one cupboard in the kitchen in Bonne Maman jam jars (because they look so pretty!) This is not all of it, but you can get the idea from this photo. I also have larger mason jars containing pebbles, coloured rice, play dough in different colours, cloud dough, sand and dried beans/ lentils.
I store a small range of art materials for free access at any time in some gorgeous metal buckets (plant pots from Ikea) on the girls’ art table. I change what these contain from time to time, to add some variety and they are free to make and create with these materials as they choose. See photo above.
The rest of the materials, such as blocks, puzzles, toy food and play people are all stored in baskets in various places around the home. Many of the play prompts include real items, such as colanders, baskets and other household items that simply come from around the house.
I also keep two sensory tubs stored under the art easel and they can be pulled out at any time for some distraction from the pre-dinner-moaning session! (It hits us hard in this house- you too?)
|Craft and play materials stored in jars|
But my child just destroys everything!
I’ve already had a few people say this in response to some of the activities I’ve posted on the page. Of course, not all these ideas are going to suit all ages and stages of kids. You know your own children and you know what’s safe, appropriate and suitable for your own child. If your toddler just wants to throw and destroy things, consider giving them things to throw safely and that you don’t mind being destroyed! For example, a catalogue that can be ripped or crumpled, bubble wrap to jump on or balled socks to toss in the air! Creative With Kids has a wonderful post of ideas on this topic.
Invitations to Create
As well as the Invitations to Play I have started to set out some Invitations to Create too. These are the same idea and simply involve setting out art and craft materials and allowing the children to create with them in any way that they like. It’s not a set activity with expected outcomes, just an invitation to experiment, explore and create!
|Invitation to Create: Painting with wet chalk on black paper|
If you would like to follow along with us in this daily series of play and creative prompts, then be sure to follow The Imagination Tree on Facebook and check in with us each day!