The Wonders of Invitation to Play: How Parents Can Get Their Kids Playing More Independently

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An invitation to play are one of the simplest yet most effective ways for parents to help their kids learn and grow. This strategy involves providing opportunities for children to explore, experiment, and engage in fun activities on their own.

Here we will discuss what an invitation to play is, why they are important, and how parents can use them to get their kids to play more independently.

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What is an invitation to play?

An invitation to play is an early childhood education concept. But simply put it's when an adult arranges toys in a way that is meant to spark a child’s interest. This can be done with a few simple toys or materials, and it does not have to be elaborate.

The goal is simply to give the child a starting point from which they can explore and experiment. Invitations to play can be as simple as putting out a few blocks or stacking some cups. It is up to the child what they do with the materials.

This is an amazing way to introduce new toys or get your child to expand their play by providing them with opportunities to make connections between toys they may not have seen for themselves.

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Where did the concept of invitations to play originate?

This concept has made its way from Reggio-inspired classrooms to the everyday parent who is looking to spark their child’s imagination.

There are blogs, Instagrams, and Pinterest boards solely dedicated to giving parents ideas for invitations to play. And that’s great. However, I think it’s important to note a few things.

I see moms constantly looking to get ideas for invitations to play. They seem stressed because they “can’t think of anything” or they are focused on providing their kids the perfect setup. This is NOT necessary!

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Why are invitations to play important?

There are so many benefits that come from invitations to play! For one, this type of independent play allows children to develop their own interests and skills.

Additionally, it provides them with a sense of autonomy and control as they get to choose what they do with the materials.

Invitations to play also give children a chance to practice problem-solving and critical thinking as they figure out how to use the materials in new ways.

Finally, invitations to play offer a great opportunity for parents and children to bond as you get to watch your child engage in their interests and learn new things.

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6 tips to get started with invitations to play

  • Think about how your child likes to play right now (what play schema are they focused on?) and try to offer invitations that will support their interests. If your child is really into climbing, you might put out some blocks or pillows for them to use as obstacles. If they love water play, you might set up a sensory bin with different materials to scoop and pour.
  • Start with a favorite toy as your base. If there is a toy you know your child loves and plays with often use that to get you started. Lay it out in a different way or with new materials. For example, if your child loves to play with cars you might put them on a ramp or add in some small balls for them to “rescue”.
  • Add in a few additional items that make sense. Add in some loose parts or a few other toys that go with the main toy you set out. You don’t want to overwhelm your child with too many options, but you also want to provide enough materials for them to explore.
  • Use nature to inspire you. Go on a nature walk and collect some leaves, rocks, or flowers to use in your invitations to play. You can add these items to the invitations you are already using or create new ones based on what you find.
  • Get creative with everyday materials you have at home. You don’t need to go out and buy anything special for invitations to play. Use what you have around the house! Some of our favorites are toilet paper tubes, squeeze fruit tops, 
  • It’s okay if your invitations to play are simple! The important thing is that your child is engaged and having fun. Don't overthink!
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How can I use invitations to play to promote independent play?

There are a few things you can do to encourage your child to play independently using invitations to play.

First, start by offering simple invitations that only require a few materials. As your child becomes more comfortable with this type of play, you can gradually add more complexity.

It is also important to provide invitations that are appropriate for your child’s age and development.

Another great tip is to set up invitations to play in different areas of your home so that your child can move around and explore as they please.

Finally, be sure to give your child plenty of time to play on their own without interruption. This will allow them to really get lost in their play and explore.

As a side note, know that you can also use invitations to play as a way to introduce new toys or everyday materials. If there is something you would like your child to try, set it up in an inviting way and see if they are

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The most important part of the invitation to play is observing your child

This whole idea of setting up invitations to play is really based on being able to observe your child and then offer materials that support their interests and play.

It can be helpful to take some time each day, even if it’s just for a few minutes, to really watch your child at play. Don't interrupt them, just watch (and try not to let them catch you!)

Notice the things they are drawn to and the way they like to play. Children go through very similar schemas of play. If you want to learn more about schemas of play read this. It's eye-opening and will give you a whole new understanding of why your child is doing some of the things they are doing!

Understanding the schemas and spending time observing your child will give you a good starting point for creating invitations that your child will love.

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Invitations to play for educational purposes

You can also use invitations to play for specific educational purposes.

If you are working on a certain skill with your child, you can create invitations that target that skill.

For example, if you are working on counting skills with your child you might put out a small collection of objects and a tray that gives them a place to count and sort.

Keep in mind the most important part of using an invitation to play is that it aligns with where your specific child is…and that might be different from other kids their age (and that's ok!).

Final thoughts on using invitations to play

First, you don’t NEED to be doing this on a daily basis. In fact, you don’t need to be doing it at all for that matter. Your child is perfectly capable of creating their own scenes for play if left alone with their imagination.

That said, I understand wanting to.

Maybe it brings you joy or you appreciate the way it allows your kids to play with things that might not always be top of mind for them. That’s amazing. You’re crushing it…

Again, I would encourage you to keep in mind that creating invitations to play is best done when you’re observing the schema (or schemas) that your child is really focused on at the moment and using that knowledge to create simple setups that build on their chosen focus. The idea is to follow the child.

AND…Don’t stress if this is not your thing (it’s not really mine!).

You can get TONS of activity ideas off Instagram and Pinterest, just PLEASE don’t beat yourself up over not being able to create picture-perfect invitations to play every day–you're looking to create a learning journey that is playful and not stressful.