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

September 11, 2012

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 Learn

slate chalkboard  |  blackboard chalk  |  eraser

Invitation to identify our summer collection of sea shells…

Playful Learning: Invitations to Engage, Explore, and Learn

 shell collection  |  magnifying glass  |  shell guide

Invitation to explore light and shadows…

Playful Learning: Invitations to Engage, Explore, and Learn

 lantern  |  hand shadow cards

Invitation to write a graphic novel…

Playful Learning: Invitations to Engage, Explore, and Learn

blank 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 Learn

animal 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 Learn

loom  | loops

Playful Learning: Invitations to Engage, Explore, and Learn



Mariah Bruehl is a parent, educator, and author of the book Playful Learning: Develop Your Child’s Sense of Joy and Wonder (Shambhala Publications, 2011). In 2008 Mariah brought her expertise online, creating the Parents’ Choice Gold Medal award-winning Web site Playful Learning. In 2011 she launched the Playful Learning Ecademy, which takes virtual-learning experiences to a new level by incorporating the best practices in education with engaging hands-on lessons, bringing parents and children together from all over the world into a unique, creative, community environment.


  1. ~ joey ~ said on September 11, 2012 #

    Drawing graphic novels is BIG in our home right now as well. I think I’m going to have to get some of those supplies!?!
    Thanks for your wonderful ideas Mariah!
    ~ joey ~

    • mariah said on September 11, 2012 #

      Hi Joey – I agree, creating a graphic novel is such a fun way to nurture a love of writing!

  2. Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources said on September 11, 2012 #

    Awesome ideas! I’m putting some of these together for my homeschoolers this week, for sure. Thank you!

  3. Sarah M said on September 11, 2012 #

    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

    • mariah said on September 11, 2012 #

      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…

  4. Laura said on September 11, 2012 #

    I love the presentation – so simple, uncluttered & inviting. Can you tell us where you found the trays?

  5. Sarah said on September 12, 2012 #

    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.

  6. Emmalina said on September 12, 2012 #

    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!

  7. The Sleepy Time Gal said on September 12, 2012 #

    Love, love, love these ideas!  Thanks for sharing.

    • mariah said on September 12, 2012 #

      Thanks Nicole! I hope all is well with you and your lovely family…

  8. Kelly said on September 15, 2012 #

    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

    • mariah said on September 16, 2012 #

      Hi Kelly, thank you so much for sharing your lovely story—it made my day!

  9. [...] post: invitations for your children to engage, discover and learn through play (Playful [...]

  10. Rachel said on September 17, 2012 #

    Brilliant post. I’m always inspired and in awe at each of your posts.

  11. [...] of course I had to leave out a little invitation for the girls, to explore the names of the leaves they displayed at their own [...]

  12. [...] 4. Set out supplies and toys for discovery. Provide a 4-5 items for play and creating on a table for your child to explore. It could be things to sort, things to build with play-dough, things to paint, or things from nature. See an example of tabletop loose parts on No Time for Flashcards and invitations to engage at Playful Learning. [...]

  13. [...] Invitations to Engage, Discover, and Learn [...]

Leave a Comment