An Invitation to Play



I’ve read about parents trying to encourage their children to play on their own more frequently, but have found a child (or children) struggling to find their groove and instead keep checking back with the parent, complaining of being bored, or constantly asking the parent to play with them. While I have not experienced this too often, I can sympathize with how frustrating it can be when it does happen. Once a child finds his groove in an activity, he can become completely immersed in it and have such fun, be so engaged, it is such a delight for everyone!

Getting there is easy! If you want to encourage this kind of engagement, consider creating an “invitation to play.” The term, used often by early childhood educators, is most widely known in the Reggio Emilia circles, but is also found in the way Montessori materials are set up in a classroom. The idea is that a small, inviting set up of materials or toys will draw a child in and inspire him to play independently and imaginatively.


You do not need to go buy new toys or materials to do this; on the contrary, it’s best to use what you have around the house in creative ways. This can mean simply moving blocks from a different location into a new room and placing them in a new spot. It can also mean combining toys or materials that weren’t previously used together, such as animal figures with natural wooden blocks in a little scene. You can pile a bunch of wooden blocks in a pile next to the animals, or you can create an inviting scene (maybe half done) for your child to stumble upon. Half the fun for me is to hear the squeals of joy when they find the little surprise, or to notice the long silence that accompanies complete immersion in play (which used to send chills up my spine, as I dreaded what toddler silence meant – often trouble!).


The idea here is not to avoid boredom at all costs, but to spark creativity. I do not stand by, watching my children play. I have things to do! I also do not set up invitations to play every day. It’s more of a treat reserved for long days inside when the weather is cold, wet, and windy.



It is spring break here, and we’re not having the glorious hiking weather we had in February. So this week, along with some planned outings with my boys, I’m setting up invitations to play. There is so much joy and peace in this! I also find it fun for me – it’s a moment to reminisce about my own preferred childhood activities (which were mostly drawing, painting, working with clay found in the creek down the street from my house, climbing trees, playing with my cherished toy horses, and exploring the woods for hours on my own).

It is fun to think up new little scenes I can create for them: setting out all the stones they have collected over the years next to a bunch of differently-sized containers (for sorting), putting marbles next to a pegboard (they end up balancing the marbles in as many holes as possible), placing different lengths and colors of yarn on the floor (they make an obstacle course with booby traps!).


It doesn’t take long to set up an invitation to play, but the resulting quiet, creative play that occurs is amazing.

3 thoughts on “An Invitation to Play”
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  1. I frequently do this in our living room. I’m home in the mornings with the girls, but my husband picks them up from school and spends the afternoon with them. I love to leave out something on the marble table that they can see immediately when they walk in the door. Sometimes it’s just a couple of books that I’ve pulled from the shelves that relate to something we’re currently interested in. Or it might be a game we haven’t played in awhile, or I open up a puzzle and work a few starter pieces. It’s never failed to grab their attention, and I love seeing them playing in the room right when I walk in from work.

    Come to think of it, I should probably do this more often with their violins! 😉 (Although they are currently obsessed with the ukulele!)

  2. Hi Lauren! I saw your instagram pic of you working on dancer’s pose with a strap. I don’t have an instagram account, so I couldn’t leave a comment there. I’m a longtime yogi and have been working on this with a strap as well and have recently learned to reach my foot. I saw a lot of people recommending pigeon and hip openers in general to you, but this is primarily a backbend and I would suggest working on other backbending poses. Also, it takes a lot of strength to lift that back thigh. A good pose to practice that in is dhanurasana (google this: you’ll see plenty of people who are actively working to lift up their thighs and plenty who are not). I also think a different strap strategy might help you. Create a loop in one end of the strap to go around the ball of your foot. This way you will be holding onto just one length of strap instead of two as you are in the pic. I think it will then be easier for you to walk your hands along the strap towards your feet. I actually made myself my own little strap that was just the right length for me and put knots along it so that I could walk my hands from one knot to the next. This helped prevent my hands from slipping and also enabled my to keep track of how far I was from my foot. Some other poses to look into: salabhasana, camel, urdhva dhanurasana. Hope this helps! Looking good!

    1. Ah! Thank you so much, Leslie! I will definitely try that!

      It’s funny, after some people reacted with worry that I would hurt myself, I actually asked my ballet teacher (a former professional ballet dancer who studied in Russia) and she assured me that all the dancing and barre work we are doing, as well as the stretching we are doing during classes are all building up my strength and flexibility, and that using an exercise band in this way was completely safe! But I do think your suggestion is even better.

      I love the idea of trying with one strap so that I will be holding onto one length instead of two. It is definitely a back flexibility issue along with a hip flexer issue. I am far from having my splits (I’ve never gotten them, not even as a child) and that contributes to it as well. Thank you so much for your suggestions!

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