Creating “Invitations To Play” At Home

After the Second World War, in a region of Italy called Reggio Emilia, a psychologist called Loris Malaguzzi developed a new approach to learning for primary and preschool learners. Malaguzzi believed that children would benefit from a new way of learning which was less teacher-intrusive and more self-directed and experiential.

Regarding children as willing and curious with a natural urge to understand and relate to their world, he thought they would be capable of building their own learning skills and following their own paths of inquiry and discovery, by using their environment as a catalyst. The supervising adult would simply offer a variety of age-appropriate interesting resources and then stand by as a guide and observer, perhaps documenting behaviour, conversations and questions.

Since then, the Reggio Emilia philosophy, more commonly known as ‘Invitations to Play’ has since been widely used by child counsellors, educators and parents, as a wonderful way for children to learn through exploring.


art room


By setting up a selection of play things and materials for children to come and enjoy in any way they choose, we inspire imagination, longer playtime, self-direction, following their own interests,  learning about the world around them, and expressing creativity.

The key is not big spending with expensive materials and new toys, but rather to present simple objects in an original way and in unusual locations in order to spark imagination. Indoors or out, make a collection of  open-ended objects, sensory materials and props, salvaged and recycled items, and anything that would encourage exploration and fun, all set up and combined in a way that offers many opportunities to learn. The aim is to intentionally keep it simple, hands on and led by the child.

Here are some ideas that are sure to invite play in your home environment:

  • Anything from nature such as pebbles, feathers, shells, water and sand.
  • Sensory buckets with cotton wool balls, pasta, rice, beans, coloured salt.
  • Art caddies readily available with art and craft materials including cardboard, chalk, chunky pencils and glue.
  • P.S. Our Tool Box Kit works great as a caddy! 
  • Household items such as colanders, baskets and utensils.
  • Other bits: candles, toilet rolls, play dough, pompoms, droppers, bubble wrap, cupcake cases, buttons, egg boxes, sequins.
  • Rotate toys often – spark excitement with forgotten toys that have ‘reappeared ‘.
  • Add combination extras to your play set up like related books, puppets, photos, music, etc.
toddler painting


An invitation to play always leads to a learning occasion, whether that be role play, problem solving, teamwork, trial and error or creative thinking. With no specific directions to follow, expected outcomes and right or wrong way,  children can take risks, feel like they have control over their surroundings, and be challenged to become the investigator, inventor, engineer, artist, explorer, scientist. 

Remember to be flexible and open to children taking their learning on another path and exploring with their senses and individual creativity. Don’t fuss about a little mess and leave space for them to add to their play for a few days before packing away.

Children are remarkably creative, resourceful and imaginative and should never be heard saying “I’m bored!”

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