Invitations to Play

Guest blog by Ruth Carson

I set up a play account on Instagram with the sole purpose to enter the Babipur Challenge just over a year ago. I quickly fell down the play rabbit hole as I began to follow such beautiful accounts. Gorgeous wooden toys, colourful feeds and invitations to play were all par for the course. The photos being shared were beautiful and inspiring, but also a little daunting. 

Grapat mandala pieces invitation to play
A bath mat, some tweezers and some Grapat loose parts.
Image credit: Ruth Carson

Now that I have a toddler and do invitations to play more regularly, I realise  subconsciously that I did it when teaching little ones too, I just didn’t know there was a specific name for it then. 

So what exactly is an ‘Invitation to Play’?

Put very simply, an invitation to play is arranging a child’s space in a way that invites or encourages them to touch, explore, study, investigate and get involved with as much independent play as possible. It gives them opportunities to play with various materials and objects in whatever way they choose.

An invitation to play should…

• Capture a child’s curiosity and be interesting

• Be colourful and fun

• Be appropriate for the age of the child

• Be tempting

• Be child-led

• Be ready to play with

• Be open-ended 

If you home school, or teach in a classroom, your invitations to play should have some sort of purpose. For example, what are you hoping the children achieve at the end? Fine Motor Development? Colour words? Counting? 1 to 1 correspondence?

At home, of course your invitation to play can have questions that need answered, or an educational drive, but don’t worry about formally setting learning objectives ahead of time – children very often create their own in the moment! Invitations to play in our home are open-ended, and very often, my little one takes it in the direction she wants, and we end up addressing things I hadn’t even thought of! 

Just invite them to have fun, and watch the magic of their little imaginations taking over. Much more satisfying than putting them in front of a screen, even if it does require a little more effort on our part. 

Tegu invitation to play
I made some inspiration cards for her Tegu magnetic blocks.  Then I simply laid them out beside the big basket of blocks and let her create whatever she desired!
Image credit: Ruth Carson

Some mistakes I’ve made 

I’ve set up invitations to play that I was totally enthused by, but my daughter much less so. I’ve made the mistake of putting out too few items which limits the possibilities of what she can do, but I’ve also put out far too much which can become overwhelming for little minds and that leads to poor play results too. 

Space can also be a factor. I’ve expected my daughter to play as I would with her toys, but very often children need space to develop their play. Now when setting out an invitation to play, I ensure all other toys are packed away, and where possible, out of sight to avoid over stimulating her. 

We are very fortunate to have a dedicated play room, so toys are all in one place. This can help if your little one decides they need additional toys or resources to enhance their play. This also taught me the necessity of being involved in the play session and at least being present. That way I can meet her needs as they arise. 

Campfire invitation to play
Here the entire playroom was set up as a campsite.
Image credit: Ruth Carson

Please don’t get me wrong. We are a home that has more screen time than I would like, I often find myself sitting on the sofa quite passively as she plays and sometimes I’m off making dinner during play. This is normal parenting! I do try to make sure we have a few good play sessions together each week, but don’t be hard on yourself if a week goes by and you haven’t achieved it – life happens! 

Our Invitations to Play

Some of my invitations go beyond just the area of play itself. Sometimes they are invitations to create, cook, or mark-make. Ultimately, there are times I want to invite Isabella to participate in lots of different areas in our home to help her learn about many things in a variety of ways. 

Invitations to play do not have to be made up of expensive resources.  You can use anything from age-appropriate, common household items to homemade play dough. Research has shown that clearing clutter and reducing the amount of toys available at any given time (also known as a toy rotation) can be really beneficial and encourage children’s play to be much better. 

Snow tray invitation to play
Here I set up a tray of snow and added some water colour paint. She cooked up a storm!
Image credit: Ruth Carson

It’s a process of discovery, so simply throwing some containers into a basin of rice could be an invitation to play. It’s amazing what children can create, more than you’d possibly think of yourself!

We have had some amazing play from a few good quality open-ended toys purchased from Babipur. It’s important to remember that if you are enthused by the activity and resources, you are more likely to join in with your child, and they in turn will be motivated and enjoy the fact that you are doing something together.  However, there are times I have to resist the urge to have a play myself and interfere with Isabella’s experience. I’m aware that there are times when it really is important to just take a step back and watch the magic happen. 

Grimms ball run invitation to play
A simple ball run using our Grimm’s to stimulate the senses!
Image credit: Ruth Carson

We have had some incredible play sessions using our Grimms large 12 piece rainbow, our Grapat loose parts and even our little Plan toys kaleidoscope. When mixed with items from around the house, or even just being used in the great outdoors, you can give your children endless possibilities and an afternoon of fun. 

My advice is to simply give it a go. The likelihood is you will learn as you go what works best for your situation. Be sure to share what you get up to with us all on the Babipur Hangout Facebook page, or using the #lovebabipur tag on Instagram. Feel free to ask as many questions as you need to, we are here to support.  

#lovebabipur rainbow
Image credit: Ruth Carson

Huge thanks to Ruth for sharing her ideas on invitations to play with us xx

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