Do you have after school fights at your house? Meltdowns? I know we do. One thing that has helped us to stop the after-school meltdowns are Invitations To Play.
How To Create The Best Invitations To Play
What is an invitation to play? Just as it sounds; Inviting your kid to play with materials that you’ve provided. You set up materials for them to start creating with and watch them get engrossed in play. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a few materials and you’re good to go.
While we still have our days, giving them downtime to relax, create and play helps so much. I know when I’ve had a stressful day or I’m feeling overwhelmed, I like to create things or read or take a bath. So I thought what if after a long day at school, my kids just need to play, create or have unstructured time where an adult isn’t guiding or telling them what to do. And you know what? It has helped so much.
Just let them play!
No need for anything complicated. Set simple things up and watch them go.
What should I set up?
There are many things that you can set up but here are a few of my favorite things to set up for my kids.
Cardboard, Tape, and Marbles.
My kids LOVE tape. Sometimes a little too much… 😉 Give them some tape, old toilet paper rolls, cardboard boxes/tissue boxes and marbles and they are thrilled! My kids like to make animal houses, barns, etc for their animals. Then they usually ask for art supplies to decorate them.
Play Dough Invitations.
The possibilities are endless here but you could set out plastic animals, sticks, bugs, googly eyes, etc. You can even create themes around the holidays. Playdough is great because kids love it and they can create so many things with it.
Make your own playdough and dye it yourself to save money. Here is one of my favorites the Best Ever No-Cook Play Dough Recipe from The Imagination Tree (by the way you should totally follow this blog, one of my favorites!)
Fabric Scraps, Yarn and Paper.
My kids love fabric and yarn. I’ll set out fabric, scraps of yarn, scissors, and clothespins and they’ll be happy for hours. They usually create something and go grab their plastic animals and start playing. Sometimes they’ll make clothes out of the fabric and yarn and use the stapler to “sew” it together.
Sometimes I just set out paper, crayons, markers and a stapler and that’s all they’ll need. My kids love making books. We got them this stapler which is great and allows them to make their own books.
Sometimes I’ll put out paper and yarn and googly eyes or buttons. They like to make silly faces and it is so fun to watch. 🙂
If I don’t have anything planned then I’ll just set out paper, crayons, markers or paint out. Simple but they love it. We use Kraft paper and roll it out on the floor and let them create. I’ve even taped this paper to the wall and had them draw only with their toes. Great for core strength and they giggled the whole time.
Slime, Moon Sand and Water Beads (Orbeez)
I don’t do these often due to time and mess but when I do get out water beads or make slime/moon sand I try to make it into a week-long activity. For instance, I’ll get out geometric solids for the moon sand and then the next day I’ll get out measuring cups and bowls. Switching it up every day gives them a new interest in playing with minimal set up for me.
Loose parts/Tinker Trays
Have you heard of loose parts? Loose parts are materials or objects that kids can play with that have no specific direction but rather allow for the child to play with them however they choose. It encourages experimenting, offers an opportunity for creativity and appeals to children’s interests.
The first time I set out loose parts, I had my doubts. Like what would they actually do with them? Would there be a huge mess for me to clean up? Would they need direction? Or could they just create something on their own?
I was pleasantly surprised though. They LOVED it. And honestly its the easiest to set up and keeps them busy for hours. Yes, it can get messy but it’s not that bad. I just find random stuff around the house and set it in a basket and watch them go. The beauty is that it takes little prep and they love it.
Here is a list of parts to get you started:
- Nuts, bolts, screws, and fasteners
- Colorful stones
- Wooden Dowels
- Paper clips
- Uncooked pasta
- Sea Shells
- Sea glass
- Recycled material
Where to find parts:
- Your house! Look around for recycled items that your child can reuse. Look for bolts and paper clips. You’ll be surprised with what you have laying around that your child would love to play with.
- Craft store. Look in the clearance section.
- Thrift store
- Dollar store
- Outside. You can find stones, twigs, acorns, etc
Outside Invitations to play
So many of the things that I’ve listed above could be brought outside! Nature has a way of calming kids and bringing out their sense of exploration. Just add loose parts and the right elements and your kids will get busy playing.
A Fairy Garden/Dinosaur Garden
All you need is dirt, plants or some type of greenery and of course fairy’s or dinosaurs. Add in pots, shells, rocks, corkscrews, and pine cones or whatever you have around the house.
Get some seeds and have your child plant flowers!
Bring your Kraft Paper and washable paint and make their masterpieces outside.
A couple of years ago I asked my parents to make my daughter a mud kitchen instead of toys for her birthday. It’s been one of the best gifts they have gotten. My parents found an old bathroom sink and pallets and made it fairly cheap. I went to thrift stores and found old kitchen utensils, pots, and pans, etc for them. I’ve found wooden bowls, a potato masher (which is one of their favorite things to use) and measuring cups.
We love our mud kitchen but you don’t need one to set up a mud invitation. Find old kitchen supplies you don’t use or check out your local thrift store and find some dirt. They’ll love it! It’s one of the favorite things my kids (and the neighborhood kids) like to do in our yard.
Loose Parts Ideas For Outside:
- Pine Cones
- PVC pipe
- Recycled Material
There are so many things you can use as loose parts/invitations to play. Give them the parts and let them play!
Do your kids need unstructured playtime after school?