Elements for Creating Play Scenes & Invitations to Play

One way to immerse a child in exploring an interest is to create an interesting play scene as an invitation to play, perfect for playful learning.

I have posted before about how and why invitations to play work and you can read more in these posts;

Some of the elements I consider for use when creating a play scene include;

Natural elements

  • Stones
  • Shells
  • Interesting seedpods
  • Gumnuts
  • Leaves
  • Branches
  • Sticks
  • Bark
  • Driftwood
  • Wooden cookies or tree blocks
  • Herbs or other small plants
  • Grass, sprouts or plant birdseed
  • Sand
  • Clay

A Water Feature

  • A small, tabletop fountain
  • A tray of water

A Hint of Sparkle

  • Alfoil or sparkly giftwrap or scrapbooking paper
  • Foil trays (also great for holding water)
  • CDs
  • Coloured fairy stones
  • Cellophane
  • Sequinned fabric


  • Pieces of colourful fabric or silky scarves
  • Wooden blocks
  • Fake turf
  • Popsticks and matchsticks
  • Small found materials like lids, buttons, small cardboard tubes, small boxes
  • Plus, figurines or other toys or tools which support their interest.

Do you create play scenes for your child? What would you add to my list of playful elements?


  1. Two Chicks and a Hen says:

    Hmm. I haven’t done too much in the way of “scenes” per se, but I have done some amount of strewing–sometimes with something very open-ended like a bowl of feathers or rocks, and sometimes with a lesser-used toy or game. I really like this idea though. I think I’ll add it to my to-do-soon list.

  2. Mariah M. says:

    This is flawless. Love it love it love it. You can do this with make-believe scenes too. You can also model scences from your child’s favorite books 🙂

    1. Thank you, Mariah. My daughter loves imaginative play and play scenes and invitations to play are part of our daily lives. Your comment about favourite books reminds me of the time we recreated “Who Sank the Boat” by Pamela Allen and also the story of Goldilocks – there certainly is a natural connection between invitations to play and books

  3. Francesca says:

    Great ideas, thank you! I have my 5yo home this week for school holidays so I’m going to implement a whole lot of these ideas. He’ll love it.

  4. Reggio Emilia speaks a lot about provocations but I like your term ‘invitations to play’, and small world play really is just the beginning. If you make an area inviting enough children will be naturally drawn to it and want to explore. This is what I love about Reggio, ‘the third teacher’. The idea that the environment can be the teacher. All we have to do is create the ‘invitation to play’ and then allow the child freedom to explore, imagine, manipulate, create and play without disruption or play parameters. Perfect.

    Thanks Christie.

  5. You know, I really admire parents who can organize these small play areas for their children. I am not that great with it – the closest would probably be our Lego worlds. Great ideas in this post!

    1. Mariah M. says:

      Nothing wrong with lego worlds. Kids love legos! My 3 yr olds are always building walls and dying to show them to me lol. Nothing special. Just walls. hahahaha! Simplicity is the key to happiness 🙂

  6. We have a similar thing that we have made and we gift it to all our friends children. We put together a “Ocean box” its a collection of stones/pebbles, shells & glass beads (the kind you put in the bottom of vases) a large circle cut from blue fabric (we have some blue velvet) and most importantly plastic sea creatures whales, fish, mermaids, (like your lizards) Hours of mermaid fish adventures for little people

  7. I like the barks. My little one has been wanting to make slide for her animals. The barks would work great. This looks so much fun and inviting! The best part is sky is the limit.

  8. I recently did something similiar. I have 2 girls aged 8 & 6. I put a foil tray on the floor of their room and in it some coloured stones, feathers, tiny butterflies, some sticks, string and little fairies. They found it and immediatley spent the next 2 hours engrossed in fairy/animal play BUT they took it outside which I hadn’t thought of doing! So there is the invitation to play! They decided were and how to use the little surprise. It’s such fun watching them use ‘stuff’ in their own way.

  9. We have our Summer stuff (stones, sand, shells, mussels…) and now it’s time to empty the jars and set them free for Autumn things. I’m thinking it would be better to keep all the summer stuff in a special box so we can create some scenes for our playmobil toys! Thanks for such a good advice!

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