Don’t overcomplicate invitations to play | 5 ways to keep your child engaged

For a moment it all looked so nice.

There was coloured rice and soil, sticks and stones and straw. You bought a beautiful toy wolf and three little pigs. You built charming houses. It was a lovingly-constructed scene.

What fun your child would have recreating the story of The Three Little Pigs!

Cue the big reveal.

She was delighted.

For about a minute.

And then she saw the chance for some sensory play.

And then it was time to explore the posting schema. How many pigs can fit into the house of bricks? How about the wolf? And the ladder? And what about all that coloured rice… Interesting!

What went wrong?

It wasn’t your child’s idea. She loves fairytales but in that moment her interests lay elsewhere.

All that hard work down the drain.

If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. We’ve all done it. We imagine the pleasure our creation will give and we forget that the best fun is the fun you make for yourself.

With that in mind, here are five tips for cutting the prep whilst keeping the joy:

Tip #1: Only build part of it. Three empty yoghurt pots works just fine to house the pigs. It doesn’t have to be pretty. All you need is a way to enclose space. Pigs inside, wolf outside. Job done. Your child doesn’t care.

Tip #2. Vary materials. Use a variety of sensory-rich materials that invite touch, movement and experimentation.

Tip #3. Find a quiet spot. It’s no fun to find a rampaging toddler has destroyed your scene. Set up in an out-of-the way corner, away from human wrecking balls. If your child believes her work is safe, she feels confident to play for longer, to take more risks and make deeper investigations.

Tip #4. Allow for open-ended outcomes. You imagined the Kingdom of Sweets; your child prefers a construction site. Go with the flow. The learning happens in the exploration.

Tip #5. Keep it fresh. New materials spark new lines of inquiry. But that doesn’t mean you have to get out the credit card. The kitchen cupboard and the recycling bin are your friends. Pots, pans, egg cartons, dried beans; cocktail sticks, pasta and sweets. Build castles with bread, make a witch from a cork.


You now have an independent self-starter who makes her own fun.