Creating Playful Spaces: Invitations to Engage, Discover, and Learn

Playful Learning: Invitations to Engage, Explore, and Learn child-size binoculars  | magnifying glass  |  collection jar  |  bug catcher

How Things Work In The Yard by Lisa Campbell Ernst

I am a HUGE believer that the physical environment plays a powerful role in the behavior of children. In both the Playful Learning Spaces eCourse and the Playful Learning 101 miniCourse, I go in-depth about how the presentation of simple invitations can inspire children to engage in meaningful activities.

What I love about creating these invitations is that they are easy (you don’t have to tackle that scary closet) and you can use materials and activities that you already have on hand. It helps to think of these invitations as a way to highlight your child’s underused supplies, games or toys. It is amazing how putting together a few thoughtfully selected items on/in a tray, bin, or basket can reawaken a child’s interest.

And, here comes the best part, all you have to do is leave them out for your child to discover. You don’t have to say a thing!

Here are some of our most recent invitations:

Invitation to discover a new art material…

Playful Learning: Invitations to Engage, Explore, and Learnslate chalkboard  |  blackboard chalk  |  eraser

Invitation to identify our summer collection of sea shells…

Playful Learning: Invitations to Engage, Explore, and Learnshell collection  |  magnifying glass  |  shell guide

Invitation to explore light and shadows…

Playful Learning: Invitations to Engage, Explore, and Learnlantern  |  hand shadow cards

Invitation to write a graphic novel…

Playful Learning: Invitations to Engage, Explore, and Learnblank comic book  |  comic template

Art Panels, BAM! Speech Bubbles, POW!: Writing Your Own Graphic Novel by Trisha Sue Speed Shaskan

Invitation to hunt for animal tracks…

Playful Learning: Invitations to Engage, Explore, and Learnanimal track fundana  | child-size binoculars  |  magnifying glass

Animal Tracks by Tamara Eder

Invitation to sculpt…

Playful Learning: Invitations to Engage, Explore, and Learneco-dough  |  sculpting tools

Invitation to weave…

Playful Learning: Invitations to Engage, Explore, and Learnloom  | loops

Playful Learning: Invitations to Engage, Explore, and Learn





With over 10 years of EDU experience and a growing family, Mariah started Playful Learning in 2008 as a resource for parents and teachers. In 2010 Playful Learning received the Parent’s Choice Gold Medal, and in August of 2011, Shambhala Publications released her first book, Playful Learning: Develop Your Child’s Sense of Joy and Wonder. Mariah has an M.S. Ed in Elementary Education and was that girl sitting in the back of class thinking about what she would do differently if she was the teacher. Now she is happily working with a team of gifted educators to bring life-changing lessons to children, families, and schools around the world. In her free time she can be found taking long walks, enjoying a cup of tea, or swimming in the Atlantic with her husband and two daughters.



Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Such lovely presentations, *I’m* inspired to make some of these! We try to have rotating baskets of items in our school room, but sometimes I find that since it houses all of our items (we have built in shelves under a ledge that is the length of our sunroom and is also where we eat at the table) things can get ‘lost’, even if I try to keep it clutter free. Do you put all of these little trays in areas around the house, or are these more ‘one at a time’ things in one specific spot?
    Sarah M

    1. Hi Sarah – I also use baskets for storage and creating “nooks” around the house. I agree with you, I think even with simple baskets, things can get “lost.” I love that trays confine you to only a few materials or objects. I keep all of the trays in a big shelf in the atelier. I rotate them often, and sometimes will take two out and leave them on the coffee coffee table. I would love to hear how it goes…

  2. These are wonderful ideas and just the dose of inspiration I needed this morning. I find with the crazy, back-to-school schedule of August and September, the focus shifts outside our home. It’s a great reminder to keep things fresh here and provide some inspiring activities at home that encourage my girls to engage in their passions and try some new activities. It still amazes me how a beautiful, simple presentation can be so inviting. I want to jump in and take advantage of those invitations! Thank you for sharing your ideas, Mariah.

  3. Love the inspiration here!  Such a great way of looking at learning, being ‘invited’, just right.  I’m going to try doing some tray activities for the boys, I’m sure they’d love it!

  4. I have a 2 year old who woke up from his nap and we’ve played and read and he’s a bit at loose ends this afternoon.  I saw this post while taking a little break to catch up on blogposts and was able to immediately lay my hands on two slate boards that were tied together with jute and a neat container of colored and white chalk.  I placed it in an area that would be an easy workspace for him and he saw me carrying the colorful chalk and followed right behind, said “thank you” and got right down to it.  I’m not sure he’s ever drawn on a chalkboard before.  Thank you for the inspiration and the super accessible idea!  Kelly

  5. Since graphic novels are popular in my classroom, I immediately latched on to that invitation. Unfortunately, the link you gave doesn’t work. Is it the one below? The dialog bubbles look the same, but the image doesn’t look like a stencil, nor does it explicitly say that it is. I just want to be sure before I purchase.

    I also found this one, but it’s certainly not as fun!

Sign up for Our Newsletter!