The "Invitation"


An invitation is simply and extension of our children’s play.   Its a way to either build upon existing knowledge and delve deeper into the interests and curiosities of our children, or a way to inspire engaged exploration – to inspire an outpouring of ideas, questions, and emotions.    An invitation can be anything.  It can as simple as a bowl of strawberries sitting on a table or as complex as something like THIS: 

Ornament Invitation
We usually set up invitations when our children are sleeping (or even when they are engaged in independent play).  Most of our days are spent outside playing and exploring nature, but when our children show a deep interest in something (or if its a rainy day), we use those times to extend their play (through invitations).  There are also times where our children take an active role in setting up an invitation (I guess it wouldn’t really be considered an “invitation” in that case, would it?  At any rate, there is value to the child playing an active role.  There can be a lot of great opportunities to learn during the setting up process.).
Invitations can be accepted, denied, played with and then cleaned up, or left out for days to revisit.  Its all about free play so we never force our children to engage in anything we set up for them.  Is it worth the mess?  The time?  The energy?  In our opinion – absolutely.  Everything we do for our children is “worth it” – even the invitations that flop.  We may find a sense of disappointment in the flops, but when an invitation is a hit, that makes up for all of the flops. 
Invitations can be
snow sensory bin

glow painting

 Invitations can be
(though exploration is not limited to that goal)
Invitation to Cook

Some invitations require more guidance than others.  The important thing to remember is to offer guidance and join in without taking over.

(These are just a few of our invitations.  Want to see more?  Let me know.)


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23 Responses to The "Invitation"

  1. Lise says:

    I love seeing all your invitations. I’d talked with a friend a couple of years ago (after a visit to her house, in which she’d set up a lovely birds-nests-feathers invitation on her coffee table for my bird-loving daughter) about doing a blog about invitations, but never got around to it. I’m glad you did!

  2. gemma says:

    Great post. As a teacher I have to say I loved the end of day setting up new “invitations” to play for the next day. Now as a Mum I think I enjoy it even more, I am weird this I know :)

  3. Becky says:

    Oh I so love the idea of invitations! I’ve never heard of it before. Also, I’d really like to see more (and more and more!) of your invitations :)

  4. bree johnson says:

    thank you so much for yoru blog – I have 3 kids under 3- one who is autistic and i feel like this blog saves my life….wonderful amazing ideas! thank you so much for gving me hope and putting the fun back into being a mother

  5. I LOVE this site…stumbled on it thanks to a friend sharing a link to you on Facebook. We do these type of activities quite a lot but you have ideas I hadn’t thought of. One my boys’ favorites is when I give them cups of washable paint, paintbrushes and the water hose. they paint everything (including themselves), mix colors, explore with tubes and tubs making Purple colored waterfalls and when they are finished they have fun cleaning up by spraying the water hose on everything. Clearly a summer activity. :)

  6. ASBowen says:

    I am contemplating building a light box and I guess what I am wondering is the “why” use one for so many of the activities? Is it somehow better than not using it? Can you explain the reason behind using it (other than when it is obvious?)

  7. Neptune says:

    Thanks for this post.

    I do have a question though. How far in advance do you plan your invitations? Do you sit down once a week to plan everything for the week after, or it is just made upon seeing the child having a particular interest into something which sparks an idea?

    Thank you. I know you are swamp with emails and such, but I was hoping you’d share with us your planificational strategies towards this (if there is any)

  8. Neptune – We are pretty spontaneous and our invitations are usually inspired by our children or an idea that just pops into our head. Some take a little more planning than others (sometimes we have to get certain materials for them). Other than that, there is really no in-depth planning to it.

  9. Stacy –

    Learning to be patient is not actually “learning” so much as it is “reconceptualizing.” Once we change the way we view messes we feel less stressed and more patient. We can’t control how we feel, we can only work to change the way we think about any given topic or situation.

    Personally I like the example of receiving a 90% on an exam. One person is elated by the grade, while another person is disappointed. It’s the same grade, the difference is how the individual thinks about it. One person is elated bc she typically scores 85%, the other person is disappointed bc she typically gets a 95%.

    Still, parenting is slightly different than this example, even though it’s the basic concept. We want our children to grow and thrive and learn so they can be happy, self-sufficient & successful adults (however individually success may be defined). So when I watch my child open the bird seed and put her hands in it, spilling it and getting it in her hair and on her clothes, I try to focus on the process rather than the problem. She is learning about cause and effect, she is gaining sensory stimulation that promotes neuron & synapse development, & she sees that I care more about her experience and our relationship than I do about a clean house. After her experiment we have the opportunity to bond as we discuss what we learn and clean up. If she doesn’t want to clean up this time I remember that I am modeling the behavior I want to see in her one day – that of willingly helping someone regardless of their participation, modeling compassion, sensitivity, and the importance of respect and cooperation versus power and control.


  10. jgm says:

    Thanks for this post – it’s like you read my mind when I was wondering about your invitations the other day. My question is how much verbal explanation you give. Do you tell them anything about the intended activity, like, “I thought we could try to do this….” or do you leave it open ended, like, “I thought we could play with these things – how do you want to use them?”

  11. jgm – It really depends on the activity and the child. There are times when we just see where they take it from the get go, and times where we guide a little more. There is never really a “right” or “wrong” way and we let the children lead. We guide without taking over.

    • That’s ok. I offered invitations to my son when he was that age, but most of the day was spent holding his hands as he walked….and walked….and walked….and went up stairs….and down stairs….and walked….and walked. That child started walking while holding my hands when he was 5 months old. You would think he would walk on his own early – nope – not until he was 12 months. LOL

  12. Sue G says:

    Love this and your entire blog! I want to hear more
    Play “invitations” for my 32 month old! My son
    Loved the Christmas lights poked through the card-
    Board box as he played with a sensory box of
    Couscous, leaves, rocks and farm animals. Can you email
    Me some more ideas?

  13. firefly84ca says:

    Where do you guys get these ideas? Wow, i could never be this created, so i will rely heavily on this blog and borrow all of your ideas for my son. Keep them coming. I see I am going to need to go shopping for quite a few supplies though. My son’s only 16 months so we are just starting to really be interested in these sorts of activities and I am so excited to try them out! Thank you

  14. brandy says:

    I am happy to read the part about messes. Right now I am struggling bc I am an artist myself and i know how important it is to leave the things out where i can see them in order to have a chance to make connections and do creative things with them – but my husband, and engineer, thinks the house is supposed to be cleaned up and look tidy all the time. In addition to this pressure, my best friend is super tidy former montessori teacher and her whole house is like a magazine spread and especially the kids stuff. Everything in special natural tones bins etc.. So I am really struggling here. My nature is messy. Is it really important to have this ultra clean and organized space for the kids to do their work in? I am trying so hard to change myself bc I fear that I cause them stress by being a chaotic person – but the added stress is making everything a bit less fun. In particular my 3.75 yr old is very iffy about picking up anything and the little one – 16 mo – is like a pack rat picking up everything and moving it and spilling everything and putting everything in her mouth. And now I have the added problem of the girls fighting. Every time the big one sees her sister pick something up she snatches it away and then there is chaos. Sigh. I really meant to just say thanks for your blog! But seriously – any advice on getting kids to help pick up, stop fighting, how to do invitations with kids at different abilities and lastly is it important to be spic and span? Should I pitch all my art and photography stuff and make the studio their studio? It isn’t getting any use from me anyway! Isn’t it important to see that mom has an inner self that she nurtures and that mom gets to have a special space to herself?

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