Setting up Invitations To Play – Inspiration from Educators

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Setting up invitations to play (which of course leads to learning) can be a simple way to ‘prompt’ children to play in different ways with different materials. It can offer children the opportunity to direct their own play, follow their interests, learn more about the world around them, express themselves creatively and use their imagination to extend upon the initial invitation.

They truly offer so many possibilities for playful learning and that is why early childhood educators and parents have been using them for many years! But what are they exactly?

To simplify… invitations to play are really just a collection of materials (or props if that helps you to visualise) set up together with some thought and creativity behind the process. The aim is as the name suggests…to invite children to explore, investigate, create PLAY. They might be set up with intent of  children exploring and understanding basic learning concepts or they might be set up with no specific learning outcome in mind. They might encourage further exploration of a current interest using different mediums or they might simply be fun and interesting.

The invitation to play might be large or small, indoors or outdoors, use many props or just a few, use natural or man made materials -how you COMBINE AND SET UP those materials is the important part! The aim is  to plan for and provide an invitation that offers opportunities for multiple learning outcomes depending on how the children approach the space and materials.

No matter the intent of the setup, both perspectives ultimately allow for the child to direct the play in the way that they want to -even if it differs from the educator or parents initial concept or planning.It is for this reason that invitations to play work very well with the Reggio philosophy of allowing children to direct their own play by giving them access to open ended materials that encourage investigation, further exploration of current interests, curiosity and imagination.

The key to setting up invitations to play that engage (not just look pretty) is not a big resource budget, always using new materials or spending days getting it ‘just right’ and then freaking out when the children actually touch it and ‘mess it up’….in reality it is about being intentional in your teaching but keeping it simple, hands on, child led and above all FUN!

15 Tips for Creating & Setting Up Invitations to Play

  1. Stop using the excuse that you don’t have a big budget for natural and quality resources -look again at what you DO have and think about how you might present or use them in different ways.
  2. Begin sourcing and organising a collection of simple but meaningful materials to use together in your invitations. Op shops, markets and garage sales are a treasure trove of old items waiting to be reused in playful ways!
  3. Think differently – When your collection begins to build and you store the materials with some organisation and purpose you will find it easier to get creative and think about how the materials might work together.
  4. Try to use as many open ended resources as possible (see my previous post on loose parts here for some ideas and a free printable) but there is also nothing ‘wrong’ with incorporating favourite toys and more generic play things – just keep them the minority not the majority (it’s cheaper for you that way too!).
  5. Observe the children at play, listen to their conversations, think about the questions they are asking then bring that information to your planning and setup of invitations.
  6. Use clearly defined spaces to set up your materials – this doesn’t have to be a table, it might be simply a small tray, a few tubs together on the ground, a mat, the sandpit, the water play tub, a large rock, a shady spot under the trees….what will work best for both your invitation materials and the ages and developmental stages of the children? Remember to change around the areas you use to help keep boredom at bay.
  7. Rotate toys often to spark interest and combine those that have been left in the corner unloved for quite a while with some open ended resources from your collection to reignite engagement.
  8. Natural and sensory materials – Collect and use them whenever possible – aim to stimulate the use of senses, not just creative thinking.
  9. Keep it age appropriate! Consider the materials that you feel are safe and appropriate for the children you currently have in your care. Think about how you could modify if you are doing Family Day Care with a mixed age group. If you are concerned about using the materials inappropriately – throwing to hurt, swallowing etc make sure to model, supervise and provide other options close by that you can redirect to if needed.
  10. Be flexible – just because you set up an invitation to play doesn’t mean all the children will want to do it -ensure you still plan for other play opportunities as well and don’t force a child to participate if they are not interested.
  11. Add to the play. If you have the space try to leave the invitation out for a few days before packing away so the children have time to go back and forth adding their own elements and letting the play evolve in different ways as different children engage with the materials on different days. Remember – it’s not about perfection or snapping a great pic to get on your Instagram feed!
  12. Less is usually more – try not to go overboard with the number of props you use!
  13. Plan ahead – think about ways you can use that invitation in different ways by adding or taking away certain materials. How are the children playing? Reflect and keep notes so you can easily extend the play and save yourself some work!
  14. Decide on the intention behind your invitation to play and what you would like to see. Is there something you are extending on? An interest you want to help the children explore? A learning concept you want to help clarify? An investigation they want to lead? To explore with their senses? To problem solve? To express themselves creatively? Always be open to the children taking their learning in a different direction though!
  15. Collections & Props– consider the combinations and experiment with your invitation. Start with your basic open ended materials and interest toys (I call them the stage) then build from there with your additional ‘props’. Will you incorporate books related to the invitation, felt puppets, music, material, posters, photos, cards, drawing tools, sensory items? …and the list goes on.

In my Empowered Educator Community on Facebook we have many hard working members who share their invitations and setups with us  in our weekly share section and each month here on The Empowered Educator website we feature a collection of some of the wonderful ideas that have inspired us in the community – and I hope by sharing they also inspire you to perhaps try something different with your invitations to play or begin using them for the first time.

Please keep in mind that this collection of images is not meant to overwhelm you or make you feel as though you aren’t as good – everyone has different environments, children, resources and levels of creativity so the aim is to just take an idea here and there and modify it to suit your individual style and preferences. I warn you ….there is so much dedication and commitment to early learning in our Empowered Ed group at the moment that there are a whole lot of photos to wander through…but who doesn’t love to be inspired?

I’ve grouped them into categories to help you think about the different ways you can plan for and use your invitations to play. This is a collection of table top invitations but you can use any surface that works for you !

Enjoy and thank you to all of our talented community members for sharing their work with us each week!

Using invitations to play to invite creativity.

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Melling Nursery
  2. Ronnie’s Preschool
  3. Christina Nutter
  4. Carlene Cox Newton

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Jade Ken
  2. Ruth Carlson
  3. Ronnie’s Preschool
  4. Jess Lawless

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Ronnie’s Preschool
  2. Renata’s Family Day Care
  3. Carlene Cox Newton
  4. Tonia Bartels

Using invitations to play to offer intentional teaching moments.

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Christine Walker
  2. Val Hume
  3. Tonia Bartels
  4. Renee Smith – Awabakal Preschool

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Renata’s Family Day Care
  2. Christine Walker
  3. Renee Smith – Awabakal Preschool
  4. Ronnie’s Preschool

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

All 4 invitations in collages above and below shared by community member Renata’s Family Day Care.

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Renata’s Family Day Care.
  2. Renata’s Family Day Care.
  3. Vivienne Varis
  4. Jasmine Jones

Taking invitations to play to lower levels creates interest and allows younger children to more easily engage.

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Karina Dell
  2. Renata Plesa Stipanovic
  3. Christine Walker
  4. Marina

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Renata’s Family Day Care.
  2. Clare Louise – The Woodland Child
  3. Georgia Glynn
  4. Laurie Pal

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Josie Sheehan
  2. Jess Lawless
  3. Julia Jeffs
  4. Clare Louise – The Woodland Child

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Debbie Wassell
  2. Sally Mallett
  3. Abigail Brown (she removed the drawers from a low cabinet and added easily accessible baskets instead!)
  4. Robyn Jones (love the use of old bathtubs!!)

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Renee Smith – Awabakal Preschool
  2. Renata’s Family Day Care.
  3. Gail Fort (A Hairy Maclary invitation!)
  4. Renata’s Family Day Care.

Invitations to play can begin with a mud kitchen or sink!

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Heather Dickerson
  2. Kristi Cakebread
  3. Renata from Renata’s Family Day Care.
  4. Karen Thomson

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Tennille Zammit from Little Ted Family Day Care
  2. Candice Rivet
  3. Marina Healey
  4. Ronnie’s Preschool

Invite the imagination in with small world play.

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Helen Garland
  2. Tennille Zammit from Little Ted Family Day Care
  3. Ronnie’s Preschool
  4. Belinda Bryce

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Debbie Wassell (turned a spool into a pond…lots of possibilities with this as the ‘stage’)
  2. Val Hume
  3. Lisa Rielly (A lazy Susan on the table – genius!)
  4. Tonia Bartels

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Kerry Mitchell
  2. Suzanne Ross
  3. Kristina Conner (exploring Ireland!)
  4. Katrina Krogh

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Jessica Watts
  2. Kristina Conner (exploring Mexico!)
  3. Sanjeewa Gunasekera
  4. Anna Pummeroy (Raised platform using a light box)

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Tamara Miller
  2. Tennille Zammit from Little Ted Family Day Care
  3. Anna Grebenshikoff
  4. Jessica Watts

Engaging opportunities to play with open ended materials.

Shared by community member Janelle Smith

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Tamara Miller
  2. Kristina Ramsay
  3. Ronnie’s Preschool
  4. Shaun Banham

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Ronnie’s Preschool
  2. Ronnie’s Preschool
  3. Renata’s Family Day Care.
  4. Renata’s Family Day Care.

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Inspire to Tinker
  2. Jasmine Jones
  3. Renata’s Family Day Care.
  4. Renata’s Family Day Care.

Invitations to play that ignite the senses!

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Tonia Bartels
  2. Ronnie’s Preschool
  3. Heather Rolls
  4. Ronnie’s Preschool

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Renee Smith – Awabakal Preschool
  2. Ronnie’s Preschool
  3. Belinda Bryce (fossil digging fun)
  4. Renata’s Family Day Care.

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Jasmine Jones
  2. Renata’s Family Day Care.
  3. Renee Smith – Awabakal Preschool
  4. Emily Vogler (DIY Sensory Table)

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

All 4 sensory invitations in collages above shared by community member Veronica from Ronnie’s Preschool

Love those salt trays!

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

All 4 sensory invitations in collages above shared by community member Renata’s Family Day Care.

Invitations that help children explore nature, lifecycles and animals big and small.

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Ronnie’s Preschool
  2. Narieta Tinaikulabu
  3. Dolores Fitzpatrick
  4. Kelly Marie

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Christine Walker
  2. Tennille Zammit from Little Ted Family Day Care
  3. Leesa Maree
  4. Kelly Marie

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Renata’s Family Day Care.
  2. Joanne Wooding
  3. Ronnie’s Preschool
  4. Tonia Bartels

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Christine Walker
  2. Frosyni Magkafaki
  3. Renata’s Family Day Care.
  4. Karina Dell

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

Shared by community members (working clockwise from top left corner)

  1. Fiona Power
  2. Divina Guerrera
  3. Renata’s Family Day Care.
  4. Renata’s Family Day Care.

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

A fantastic nature based invitation to play and create shared by community member Renata from Renata’s Family Day Care.

Whew! That was a lot of photos! I certainly hope you have been inspired to begin collecting those materials, reusing what you already have and thinking about how you could set up your next invitation to play…and how the children might take the lead in their own learning.

Why not stop by and share your own invitation to play ideas and photos with other educators from around the world in The Empowered Ed Community!

Pin for later…

Setting up invitations to play doesn't need to be complicated, time consuming or use expensive resources. Find out how to create your own using simple materials and the reason why we use invitations for early learning. Includes a huge photo gallery of real ideas from educators.

 

Deciding whether to transition from working as a centre based early childhood educator to setting up a family day care as a home childcare instead is a big decision! Use this guide to explore the pros and cons and help you make up your mind! Includes access to free checklist.

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