We all want our kids to get lost in play. We spend precious time, effort, and money in the toys and resources we bring into our homes so that we can facilitate open-ended play that encourages imagining, creating, and playing. One of the tools we can harness in helping our kids get started is through invitations to play. If your kids are not playing with their toys, and you want to figure out why, visit our blog “Reasons your child isn’t playing with their toys (and what to do about it)" for additional tips to jump start play at your home. 

What is an “invitation to play” exactly? 

An invitation to play is where you set up toys and create an invitation of some sort for your child to engage and explore in new kinds of play. Invitations in general are very powerful, be it an invitation to belong, be known, or be a part of something. Many times simple invitations can be the most powerful tool in life to foster connection, growth, and meaning in the lives of those around us. Invitations to play are very similar...they show that you are thinking about and care about the person you are making an invitation for and that you are welcoming them and have made a special place for them to grow and to be themselves. What a great way to show our children that we see them, know them, and love them. 

Invitations to play can be something very simple or something you put lots of thought and time into. Below are a few ideas to get you started, and before you know it, you will be getting new inspiration from your child about how you can invite them in new ways to explore the world around them:

1. Simply put on display certain toys in a beautiful way in an area they can be played with. 

This is the most simple form of an invitation to play and can also be the most powerful because you are leaving all the imagining to the child. Take a toy or grouping of toys and put it in a prime location that will highlight it, making it the focus of an area. Put some puppets neatly displayed in the center of the couch, a game in the center of a clean table, or your Waytoplay roads in the middle of an open play area with cars and trucks at the ready. Make them look enticing and display them in such a way that shows them off. 

Sometimes just noticing a toy apart from the rest is all that is needed to draw in our child and inspire curiosity. Think of a fancy boutique where they display only a few clothes in such a way that makes each one look unique and appealing. Bonus tip...this works for adults too! 

2. Start building something...but only begin and leave the rest for your child to create

Sometimes getting started is the hardest part, and if we get the toys out, display them nicely, and put a few pieces together, we’ve helped our child get past their initial hesitation to get started. When forming new habits, one of the best tips is to make whatever you are trying to do as accessible as possible. After a few times of this kind of invitation, it is much more likely that a child will gravitate towards that toy even if it is not set up at all because they have developed confidence about how to start.

Just today I asked my daughter if she wanted to play with some blocks and she said no. I then went over without saying a word, put three or four into the shape of a little house, spread out a pile of them on the carpet next to the larger supply of blocks (smiling while I did it), and silently walked away. I looked over my shoulder and saw her glace over at it...stare for a minute...and then walk over and start building. She couldn’t help it. There was just so much possibility in that little beginning. Sometimes the power of an invitation comes when instead of getting frustrated with our child when they won’t play, we instead help them change directions by showing them by example how easy and fun getting started can be.


3. Create the gift of a small world for your child to enjoy

Gifts come in all kinds of packages, and the gift of spending time to create a magical world of play that our child could not create themselves is a gift that keeps on giving. Not only does it remind our child that we care enough to take the time to build something just for their enjoyment, it reminds us as parents that we are never too old to play ourselves, and may even bring back some much needed child-like wonder and joy into our own lives. 

4. Thoughtful additions to go along with your invitation to play:

  • Write a special note to your child to go along with your invitation to play. Write how you thought about them while you were making it, why you made this specific one for them, and list different things you love about them that you were reminded of as you built it. Going the extra mile to write a note (even if it’s just a silly sticky note) can boost your invitation to play from special to unforgettable. 
  • Play themed music that goes along with your invitation to play
  • Have a read-aloud book and snack ready to share with them after they play
  • If you are going all out, consider also surprising them by inviting one of their friends or family members over to play as well
  • Maybe the most special of all...give them the gift of time and attention and Play WITH them!!! 

For more visual ideas that will help you get started, be sure to visit our Invitation to play Pinterest board full of imaginative ideas for your next invitation to play! 

Enjoy the journey,