What is an Invitation to Play?

What is an Invitation to Play?

What is an Invitation to Play?

Our latest guest blog post has been written by the wonderful Jennifer from Mama's Den.


Why do we always want what others have?

We spend endless hours scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest and daydream about what we could achieve if we... only had more money… only had one child… only had a bigger house....

In truth, much of what we see set up on social media is for a nice photo and isn't the reality of how people are day-to-day.

I work as a registered childminder in Manchester, England. My setting and my practices have evolved over time.... and my way of sharing ideas has also expanded. In January 2018, I decided to include my early year's ideas onto my Instagram feed Mama's Den as well as start a blog of the same namesake.

One of the main areas I have been asked about on my Instagram relates to the play scenes I provide for children, and how I organise and structure them.


I don't claim to be an expert. I can only base my ideas on my own experience of working with Early Years children, however, I thought it might be useful to share with you some of these activity ideas.

What exactly is an Invitation to Play?

Yes, I am sure you have heard the phrase used a lot on Instagram and Pinterest but what exactly does it mean…

An Invitation to Play is just as it sounds. Inviting your child to play with certain materials or resources which you provide and your child investigates.

It should be about exploration, discovery and above all, play.

But do you have to have all of these beautiful <insert> ‘expensive’ toys that you often see in these popular settings?

Certainly, you may be fortunate to own some of them but probably not all of them, so you work with what you have and with the resources you own.

Everything can be substituted.


Looking at the above photo closely, on the left is a budget play scene and on the right is a luxury play scene.

Both are a road play set up, both have bridges, people, and cars but each one makes the most of the resources at hand... Grapat Nins, Grimm’s tunnel and wooden cars can be swapped for Happyland people, Lego Duplo and other cars in your toy box. Even the playmat can be created with washi/ masking tape.

An Invitation to Play should encourage your child to get involved. Either of the above play scenes would fire the imagination and allow the child to develop their own ideas.

You can also apply this budget vs luxe setups to creative stations.


The above activity was based around "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" story. Think about different ways you can enhance your child's learning experience. Sensory, textures, colours, they all offer a rich variety of ideas, which help to fire up a child's imagination.

I subscribed to Kids Knead Play activity boxes to add variety to my activity, they are so easy to set up though, if you like the idea. If you have some Playdoh, buttons, ribbon and a few toys to link to a favourite book, then you have the perfect creative station ready to go!

I add sensory experiences with paint... but you don't always need paintbrushes, pegs with tissue paper or cotton buds can work really well and allow for the development of fine motor skills.

But remember you are facilitating the activity by providing the tools, your child has the ability to develop their own ideas and if given the chance will explore at their own pace and quiet often will surprise you with their creativity.


So you see we can do lots of creative things with relatively little cost.

When you first start to think about an invitation to play it can seem a little daunting. We are used to just getting toys out and not really thinking about their benefits. We need to think about 'setting the scene' but still leaving room for imagination and play.

Pick up little ideas from here and there but do your best to create a learning environment which reflects your child's own interests.

We love natural, wooden, open-ended toys and learning environments.


I think about how toys and activities benefit the children as individuals. 

In the UK we use the early year’s tracker in our settings to look at a child's development. If this would be of interest you can google search 'ages and stages questionnaires' so you can see where your child is up to developmentally but more importantly so that you can encourage their next steps.

You can also create interesting spaces for babies. High contrast is useful and I like to keep baby areas neutral with different textures.

Here is a recent invitation to play I set up for an 8-month-old.


Whilst this may look like an expensive setup, many of these resources can be found without too much expense.

Sensory exploration baskets are fantastic to fire a baby’s brain and by including spoons, shakers and things you find around the house, your little one can easily practice fine and gross motor skills.


A paper towel holder with some old bangles makes a wonderful ring sorter.

And empty jewellery boxes filled with sensory items are a great way of adding exploration.


We all have our strengths and it would be so easy to be overwhelmed with the wealth of knowledge that others have in this field. Step back and look at what you could use in your home or setting.  

What are your strengths? What is within your means? What interests your child? What do they like to play with? You can find an Invitation to Play setups achievable in your home by focusing on one area at a time.

We can only start with the basics and improve and enhance them as time passes, as our practice gets more effective and our knowledge of early years learning improves.... we evolve as parents and practitioners.

Jennifer x


Thank you so much Jennifer on such a fabulous blog post, we have loved having you write for us this month.  

Please say hi to Jennifer over on her blog or follow her on her social channels listed below.




  • Thanks for the ideas! What is that canvas with the roads on it?

    Miranda on

  • Funny kids toys.

    Toys Online Australia on

  • Great playing kids toys.

    Sports Toys For Kids on

Leave a comment

* Required fields

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published