Overview: Invitations are my secret to a child-led approach, but still keeping a little bit of structure to our day. Here’s how I use invitations in our homeschool.
*This post contains affiliate links.*
I spent 30 minutes the other night setting up a zoo small world for Sicily. We were going to the zoo in a few days, and I wanted to give her time to explore the concept of a zoo before actually going.
I used Lincoln Logs to build cages for the animals. For a few exhibits, I created an even smaller world within the zoo small world.
The next morning we went down to our learning area just like every day. Usually Sicily goes right to the calendar area without really noticing the invitations I had set up.
But on this morning, her eyes lite up and I heard “OOOOOOO, Mommy!”
We had to put off our morning meeting because she really wanted to start exploring her zoo. She had been interested in animals lately, and I knew this invitation was going to be a big hit.
I set up invitations every day. Some of them, like the zoo small world, will stay out for a few days to a few weeks depending on her interest. Other invitations only stay out for the day.
I try to have one invitation set up before our day starts, and about halfway through our free play, I will set up another one.
What Are Invitations?
Invitations are set ups that invite the child to create, explore, or both. They usually respond to a child’s question or interest. Some times I set up an invitation to introduce a new concept or gauge interest and readiness.
Invitations are always open-ended and hands-on. When setting up an invitation, I might have an idea of what I want to happen there, but ultimately it’s up to Sicily how she reacts and uses the invitation.
Many times I have set up an invitation to explore a skill and she has decided to use the materials in a different way. For our Halloween Toddler Theme, I set up a sorting invitation. She decided to use the erasers as juice for her restaurant instead.
She wasn’t learning what I had intended, but she was still learning. That’s all that matters.
I split invitations up into two different types, invitations to create and invitations to explore.
Invitations to Create
My favorite type of invitations are invitations to create. These are invitations set up to invite your child to create something. This can include paint, pastels, markers, clay, playdough, and even blocks.
When I set up an invitation to create, I don’t have an end product in mind. I make sure each invitation is a process art project, which means there is no right or wrong way to do the art project.
Sometimes I may lay out a sample as inspiration, but ultimately it’s up to the child what they create using the materials you provide.
Invitations to Explore
These invitations explore questions, skills, and interests. Invitations to explore are also open-ended and hands-on.
Small worlds, dramatic play set ups, and science experiments are invitations to explore. Simply setting a few materials out on the table to explore counts. Discovery baskets for babies are a simple form of an invitation to explore.
A Mix of Both
Many of our invitations are a mix of both. Sicily learns best through art and imaginative play. For some exploration of objects, I will add an art component to help entice her into the invitation.
The invitation below is a mix of both. We were exploring the butterfly life cycle. The first day, I set this up as an invitation to explore only. I had a book, the live chrysalis, and a YouTube video. She didn’t notice the invitation at all.
The next day, I added a butterfly symmetry painting and it was the first thing she wanted to do that day. While she was working on the painting, she asked to read the book and watch the video.
Setting Up an Invitation
The first thing I do before I even decided on an invitation is think about Sicily’s interests or questions she has been asking lately. Next I figure out the purpose of setting up the invitation. Is the purpose to create or explore?
Related: Invitation Mini Course
Once I figure out what the invitation will be about and the purpose of the invitation, I start to think about what will be included in the invitation. I consider Sicily’s learning style and how she loves to learn.
Sicily loves art and imaginative play, so I always try to add some aspect of one of them into each invitation. Every child is different, so your invitation will look different than mine.
Now I collect materials and set it up. When setting up the invitation you want it to be neat, organized, and inviting. What is inviting for my child may not be for your child. This step takes some practice to figure out what entices your child.
Once I get it set up, I ask myself:
-How does it look?
-Can I see everything?
-Is it inviting?
-Did I create this invitation with my child in mind?
If I answered yes to all of those questions, then I’m ready to leave it sit for her to discover on her own. Once she discovers the invitation, depending on what it is, I will either sit back and watch or sit with her to help deepen her learning if needed.
Invitations give me a sense of control that I need, but still let Sicily thrive in a child-led environment.