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The Often Misunderstood Concept of “Invitations to Play”

Building off the concept of schemas is the idea of creating invitations to play. Simply put, an invitation to play is when an adult arranges toys in a way that is meant to spark a child’s interest. 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.

But there seems to be a fairly common misunderstanding about the purpose of invitations to play. This concept is directly derived from the Reggio Emilia philosophy of early childhood education. Reggio Emilia really focuses on following the child’s interest and using the environment as a third teacher. The materials provided in the child’s environment are meant to encourage exploration and spark interest without needing direction from adults.

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 moms 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. Sometimes they seem stressed because they “can’t think of anything” or they are focused on providing their kids the perfect setup. I think that the concept behind creating invitations to play has gotten a little lost. 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. You 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…

If you want to stay true to the Reggio philosophy, 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 in 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 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. I promise your little one will survive.

If you’re looking for more information about the importance of play and tips to reorganize your playroom check out my e-book:

 Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood which you can buy here for only $4.99.

If you like this post and want to read more like it then check out these articles:

Understanding Schema Play

The Power of Play

The Ever Growing Importance of Outdoor Play.

Toy for Toddlers: Encouraging Active Play

100 Simple Things to do Outside with Your Kids

What is Montessori–Understanding this Early Childhood Education Philosophy

Reggio Emilia — A Child Centered Learning Approach

What is Waldorf — A Spotlight on Waldorf Education