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GUIDE TO Creating Invitations to Play

Author: Malaysia Toys
You've bought a bunch of toys but your child isn't playing with them. It's a common question we get from parents - how do I get my child interested in playing with X?

The answer may come down to setting up invitations to play!

Our environment dictates a lot of things in our lives. Similarly, children need an open-ended environment to help them learn cognitive skills. Setting up an open play invitation can prompt your child to play with different materials, in different ways.

What is an Invitation to Play?

"Invitation to Play" is a term commonly used in Reggio-Emilia environments. It is a method used in early childhood education to encourage children to learn through exploration, usually by setting up items in a manner that "invites" the child to play. 

In simpler words, a play invitation is the arrangement of certain props (or toys) into a collection that elicits some creativity behind the playing process. The invitation to play can be small or big, with few toys or many toys, indoors or outdoors – the essential part is how you combine the elements to create a bigger picture.

How do I Create an invitation to play?

1. Begin with a Theme

For ease, begin with selecting a theme or topic that might interest your child. Is your child drawn to animals? Vehicles? Princesses or superheroes?

Or is there a topic that you want to introduce your child to? Planets and the galaxy? The Arctic region?

For the purposes of illustration, we will use a Bee Theme to set up a simple invitation to play.
Invitation to Play: Bee Theme by Malaysia Toys

2. Brainstorm Prompts

Think about prompts for your theme. For our bee example, some prompts would be such as:
  • Bees
  • Colour theme of yellow and black
  • Flowers
  • Wax - candles and crayons
  • Hexagons
  • Honey

3. Organize and Source

It's time to plan out your invitation to play! These are a few categories of items that are great for invitations to play:

Books

Books are a great place to start with. There are lots of information that can be gleamed from books. Choose books that are in theme and make reading part of your play, or read your selection of books to your child for the duration that you have your invitation to play set up.

For our Bee theme, we've selected this book:

Toys

Look for toys that would be suitable for your theme. This can be anything from wooden toys, figurines, play scenes, building blocks or any educational toys.

For our bee theme, we've selected these items:

Sensory Materials

Sensory play allows your child to explore textures, tastes and smells in a stress-free environment. This helps the development of their brain as the brain develops sensory related synapses and functions. These connections in the brain supports cognitive growth and allows your child to complete more complex learning tasks.

If you would like to keep your play indoors and have less mess, choose larger sensory fillers such as chickpeas, beans and playdough. If your play is outdoors or you don't mind the mess, you can use coloured rice, sand, salt and more!

If time is an issue, you can always customize your own sensory fillers (and colours) in our store!
For our bee theme, we went with yellow and black chickpeas.
Honey Bee Busy Box by Malaysia Toys

Things around the House

Next, look for things around your house that you may be able to repurpose. Egg cartons are great for transferring activities; craft materials such as pom poms, stickers, old wrapping paper, colour pencils and markers can be great as a creative outlet.

We found some of these things in our house for our bee theme:
Bee Themed Invitation to Play by Malaysia Toys
Egg Carton and Pom Poms
Bee Themed Invitation to Play by Malaysia Toys
Cookie Tray
Bee Themed Invitation to Play by Malaysia Toys
Silicon Pot Holder with Hexagons

Printables

Find some printables online in your chosen theme! Sites such as Teachers Pay Teachers, or even just Pinterest offer free printables.

4. Plan out your activities

Now that you have your materials, it's time to plan! We usually aim to have an activity under these few categories. Some categories tend to overlap!

Arts & Crafts

This can range from painting, crafting or creating using loose parts and craft materials. Arts and crafts fosters creativity in your child, which promotes mental growth. Your child will be able to try our new ideas and new ways of thinking and problem solving. Creativity also helps you child express themselves.

For our bee theme, we selected these arts and crafts activities:
  • Honey bee painting
  • Candle rolling
  • Yellow and black playdough with our honey bee rollers

Sensory

Sensory play helps your child explore touch, smells and play in a stress-free environment. This helps build your child's trust in different textures and smells and helps their brain develop functions related to senses.

For our bee theme, we planned on:
  • Yellow and black chickpeas
  • Yellow and black playdough with our honey bee playdough rollers
Honey Bee Busy Box by Malaysia Toys

Fine Motor

Fine motor activities are those that require fine finger and hand control. These skills are important for your child to have a happy and productive life. It is a skill required in all our daily life functions, from buttoning to holding a pencil and using the scissors. Imagine being unable to button up your own shirt!

We worked on fine motor skills in our bee theme with the following activities:
  • Transferring pom poms to an egg carton using a tool
  • Transferring and sorting chickpeas
  • Scissor skills using printables

Gross Motor

Moving around and understanding our bodies are part of life. Children love and need to move to learn about their bodies, even if just to understand their strengths and limitations. Gross motor skills are activities requiring the use of larger muscle groups, such as their whole arm or leg, or even their whole body!

For our bee theme, we planned on:
  • Making a maze with magnetic tiles and a cookie tray

Cognitive Skills

Parents always want their child to be learning and trust us, children love learning in a stress-free environment! Incorporating cognitive activities into your invitations to play will benefit both parent and child as you child explores and learns whilst having fun. Activities can include matching, sorting, alphabets, numbers, counting and so on.

For our bee theme, we planned on working on:
  • Learning about the hexagon shape
  • Understanding the different castes of bees
  • Learning the lifecycle of bees
  • Working on the "b" phonetic sound
  • Recognition of the "b" alphabet

6. Putting it Together

Find a space in your house, on a shelf or a low table, and decorate the space with the items and activities you have prepared. Stand the books at the back, with a sensory bin in the front. Place each activity on a tray to separate the activities if necessary. Take a photo, post it to Instagram (we know you love shelfies!) and watch as your child engages with your invitation to play in the morning. 

Here are some videos of our set ups:

Malaysia Toys - Helping you create engaging invitations to play

We know most parents lack the time to prepare invitations to play so we've made it easy to pair books and activities together. Begin with choosing a book from our book collection, in a theme that interests you or your child. Our suggestions for paired activities are in the description for the book, so take a browse and make learning fun for your child with the best educational toys from Malaysia Toys!
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