“Invitations to Play” is a buzzword I didn’t even know existed until I joined Pinterest. Now, I scroll through hundreds of blogs all linked to this idea. Basically, an “invitation to play” is a set of materials that you set out to encourage your child to play. It is usually very open-ended, but can lead towards encourage science or literacy exploration or any sort of interest or skill that your child has (this blog had a nice little explanation).
Here is my secret, I am really bad at creating these. Or, so I think when I compare myself to the stylish tables of natural materials that flash across my computer screen. These are amazing, I’m sure the kids have a blast and they certainly support open-ended, investigative play. However, they are not the ONLY types of “invitations to play” that you can do. As I looked back through pictures I realized that some of the things we do naturally can help support the spirit of this idea.
Oh! A quick note. I have a basic rule, which I noted in my process centered art post, about play…the set up should not take longer then the play. So, if I am going to put together an “invitation to play” I want the actual play to be longer lasting and more complex then putting it together!
Now! Here are a few of our “invitations to play”
* Rotating Toys: This seems simple, but it is a big one! Bring out toys they haven’t seen for a while, put away ones that have been on the shelf but not used too much. Just switching up what is around will re-energize their imaginations! Intelligent Nest has a lot of great ideas for toy rotation and display that can get you started.
* Uncommon Pairings: One of my FAVORITE ways to create new play ideas is to group together toys that don’t normally belong. One of the easiest places to do this is with blocks. Put some doll furniture in a bin nearby, add a bunch of cars and trucks, leave books or pictures to the area, even put in some play food! Anything you add can be incorporated into their play and will change things up. I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to blocks if you need more ideas!
* Change the location: Sometimes just changing where your child plays with something makes it so much more interesting! When we put a basket of blocks up in my son’s room he suddenly was spending an hour building…when before he had barely noticed it. Building a blanket fort and bringing cars inside makes it seem brand new. If you and your child “always” play in one room, try carrying materials somewhere else!
* Sensory Trays: If you have access to snow, sand or water….bring a tray of it inside! Just like with the blocks you can add art materials, cars and trucks or figurines and the play will take on a whole new dimension. Yes the clean-up can be a bit of a pain, but when my son played with a tray of snow for 45min…on his own….I considered it to be well worth it!
* Painters Tape: I go through rolls and rolls of painters tape. Not only does it lets me put up artwork without fear for my walls, there are so many other things you can do with it! Use it to create roads on rugs, couches and even walls! Tape out letters, numbers or shapes and make an indoor hopscotch/obstacle course. Mark out the boundaries for games or other gross motor “challenges”
* Crepe Paper: Trapped inside on a cold day we hung streamers all over our hallway. My son played cars and read books in it and used it like an obstacle course to try to get through without knocking them down. A friend who came over was enamored by the “Jungle” we had created and set up her own imaginative play.
* Felt: Felt sticks to felt, so you can create new play opportunities with felt shapes! When my son was little I cut out the trains from Donald Crewes “Freight Train” for him to use. Just recently he has been obsessed with letters so we got an inexpensive set of felt letters so we can sound out words. You can use it to tell stories, illustrate play or even make felt food of all descriptions! You can buy almost anything or get your own colors at a craft store. They also make felt boards that stand up on their own or, once again, you can create your own!
* Art Materials: Art can be the ultimate invitation to play. Just put out the materials but with no expectations of what they will do. To switch it up I like to change where we do our art. Sometimes I put the paint at the big counter and he gets to stand on a chair. Other times I hang paper on the wall and he can color like he is at an easel. You can also let them paint on snow, mix colored water and drag toys through paint! Just be putting together new combinations of art materials it can open up all kinds of new ideas.
* Playdough: Along with blocks, I am a HUGE fan of playdough. Not only is it a really great activity to develop hand/arm muscles (which they need for writing!) but it just stretches the imagination. Like blocks, adding things to the playdough experience can expand the play. Tools from a play kitchen, vehicles and figurines or pieces of paper with letters/numbers/shapes drawn on them that they can “trace” with their playdough. If you need a recipe I have been so happy with this one, she uses different scents in it but I tend to leave my plain. It works either way! The playdough has a great texture and lasts really well.
So there you go! Nine ideas for creating “invitations to play” that won’t keep you up until midnight trying to pull them together. Can you help me think of number ten?