What is an Invitation to Play? 5 Essentials to get Started

I believe that we spend far too much time getting hung up on the idea of 'entertaining' our children. There's an awful lot of pressure on parents to provide 24/7 entertainment for their children. In reality, planned activities should only be done once or twice at the most each day.

All over Instagram, you’ll see the phrase, ‘Invitation to Play’ but what exactly does it mean? Read on to find out what invitations to play are all about and why you should be including them in your playful home.

For the majority of your child’s day, they should be engaged in free, independent play – you can find out exactly how to achieve this in your own home here.

An invitation to play is…

Invitations to play originate from the Reggio philosophy of early childhood education. Reggio philosophy focuses on following the child and allowing freedom: freedom to play and create in the way the child (rather than the adult) sees fit. Essentially, the child needs to be trusted as competent and capable to forge their own learning journey.

Invitations to play are one such way to do this. They are non-directive and have no fixed outcome – meaning that there is no wrong or right way for the child to play with the materials on offer.

Why you should do invitations to play

Invitations to play are hugely beneficial for both us as parents and our children. For parents, it relieves the pressure of having to create an activity with a fixed outcome – a craft, for example – whilst our children are able to explore freely without the added pressure of a right or wrong answer.

The main benefits include:

  • problem solving
  • creativity
  • development of fine motor skills
  • allowing your child to explore familiar materials in an unfamiliar way
  • confidence  boost – helps develop independence

How do you get started with an invitation to play?

You can get started with invitations to play by placing 2-3 materials on a tray or table for your children to explore and experiment with.  Alternatively, you can combine toys from the play space to show your child a different way of playing.

Materials can be:

  • Loose parts
  • Toys
  • Everyday materials
  • Art materials

An invitation to play really don’t have to cost you any additional money – in fact, you might even find  yourself saving money instead because you will be using toys and other materials in a variety of ways.

In many ways, invitations to play solve the problem of your child always ‘being bored’ and having ‘nothing to play with.’

Here are some examples:

  1. Small world ‘town’ using Way to Play Road, wooden houses, peg dolls, bridges and play silks
  2. Buttons and pompoms on a mirror
  3. A homemade play dough box with dried petals, stamps and costume jewels

types of invitation to play


How often should you set-up an invitation to play?

This really depends on the following:

  • The type of invitation to play
  • How interested your child is in the invitation
  • The materials used

You can set up a small invitation to play every day if you like! They needn’t take more than 5 minutes to put together, especially once you start gathering a collection of loose parts and everyday materials together to use in play.

I have three GLIS boxes on rotation that are filled with loose parts that can be used in play. I keep one for craft items and everyday materials that are great for fine motor skills, one for play dough and another for seasonal items.

This means that I can put an invitation to play together in less than a minute – because the materials are already on hand and ready to go.

invitation to play


I often opt to set up an invitation to play in the IKEA Flisat table. This is a permanent fixture in our play space and allows the children to come and go as the please throughout the week.

I am able to set these up so that they last a week by:

  • Monitoring the developmental needs of my children
  • Understanding which schema they are in
  • Including items that match their interests
  • Using open-ended toys and materials

This combination allows the materials to be explored in a multitude of ways throughout the week.

Observing your child and their interests is a skill which is built up over time – you can find out how to do this for yourself in my course, Your Playful Home. 

flisat table invitation to play


What are the age recommendations for an invitation to play?

Invitations to play work best with children who are aged two and older. Whilst you don’t necessarily need to supervise an invitation in the same way you would a planned activity, you do need to factor in the following:

  • The materials used: small pieces (beads, pompoms, pouch lids) pose a choking hazard so under three’s need to be supervised carefully
  • The age of all children in the room: the materials used need to be suitable for the youngest child in the room or alternatively, set up an invitation for an older child whilst their sibling is napping.
  • If your child is brand new to this type of play – regardless of their age – then they will need supervision.



  • Invitations to play allow your child to learn and explore through play
  • Invitations can be a combination of materials
  • Invitations do not have a fixed outcome

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Sian Thomas
an image of This Playful Home founder, Sian Thomas. The photo includes a photo of her daughter when she was around 18 months old

I’m Siân (rhymes with yarn), a play advocate, proud parent to three, and former teacher. My mission is to infuse more joy and less overwhelm into the lives of parents. Discover play-based activities with me that not only make learning FUN but also forge deep connections with your young learners, creating memories to cherish forever.