If you’ve spent any time looking at preschool schooling ideas online, you’ve likely heard of creating “invitations to play”. An invitation to play is a really straight-forward idea, but there are some misconceptions regarding the concept.
In this post, I just want to clear up what an invitation to play is, what it is not, and what it could be.
An Invitation to Play: What It Is
An “invitation to play” involves providing interesting materials for a child to discover with no particular activity or goal in mind. These set-ups encourage curious exploration and open-ended learning. In its simplest terms, an invitation to play is merely items left out invitingly to spark imagination and discovery. They can be sensory bins full of tactile materials or a low table scattered with interesting bits of nature and construction paper. (See our Pinterest page for a collection of ideas to get you started)
An invitation to play should…
Capture a child’s curiosity
Be intentional in design and purpose
Be appropriate for the age of children you teach
Include materials that the children can freely touch, manipulate, and exploreteachpreschool.org
An Invitation to Play: What It Is Not
True invitations to play are not, as many think, a Montessori activity, but rather are derived from the Reggio Emilia school of thought. [I am planning to do a post and/or series about Reggio so keep a look out for that if you’d like to learn more!] Montessori activities are practical, life-based skills while Reggio has a much stronger emphasis on open-ended child-led learning and expression. While Montessori is child-led in that the child may sometimes chose which activity to complete, the activities themselves are everyday, useful tasks to be completed a particular way. Most are demonstrated by a teacher and are then practiced by the child. In this sense, an open-ended invitation to play is not Montessori.
A quick word about sensory bins: Since we’re on the topic, most sensory bins are an invitation to play, but not all invitations to play are sensory bins. As such, most sensory bins are not Montessori because they are simply inviting play rather than teaching the child a practical skill or independent task.
A sensory bin wonderfully invites the child to play and discover, but do feel free to create invitations to play beyond the imaginings of rice, sand, or water beads in a plastic bin. Variety is the spice of life and an excellent way to provide some summertime stimulation for your child’s curious mind.
An Invitation to Play: What It Could Be
An invitation to play could be as simple as sitting down yourself (another Reggio concept is the teachers as co-learners with the child) with a lump of play-doh and twigs and poking the twigs into the dough. You are almost guaranteed a quick audience as the child investigates what has you so interested. As they join you, the activity may branch in new and unexpected ways. Part of the beauty of invitations to play are that they are an invitation to imagine. As the caregiver, you provide curious materials and allow the child to explore. You are merely the facilitator for this powerful lesson of play. These may develop into a goal-oriented activity for the child if they want to play in a certain way (maybe sorting pinecones and pebbles by size or constructing a play doh snowman with twig arms) or continue as simply a sensory activity of allowing water beads to tumble in glorious fountains of color from their overturned cup back into the bin.
An invitation to play could simply be “old toys in new ways. It doesn’t always have to be something new, maybe a well-loved toy but set in the grass. A small change to spark imagination”theimaginationtree.com
As we head into summer with less group activities available thanks to Coronavirus, consider setting up “invitations to play” around your home and yard. (Head over to the wildandfreechildhood Pinterest page for some easy ideas!) They can be as simple or complex; designed to highlight a certain skill (perhaps picking up pompoms with tongs) or simply funny-feeling materials for small hands to explore. Invitations to play are an excellent Reggio-inspired way to let your child’s curiosity direct their learning and spark memorable moments of summer fun.