Independent Play

voices of your village Nov 28, 2019



In this episode, I was jazzed to talk with Lizzie Asso, the mom behind the Workspace for Children. Prior to becoming a mom, Lizzie received her Masters in Education from Bank Street College of Education and taught nursery school in NYC. Fast forward a few years and she is a mom of three creative kids, ages six, nine, and eleven. She is a blogger and content creator, living in Maplewood, NJ, combining her passion for play, art, and parenting. It is her joy to provide knowledge that helps parents, teachers, and caregivers find joy in making space to be playful. At The Workspace for Children, you will find creative inspiration for living a play-based life with kids. 

We have had so many requests to talk about independent play because it can be such a hard thing to foster. Lizzie and I dove right into this topic because we both agree that it is not only an important skill for our kiddos to have, but it is important for the entire family unit that kiddos are able to play independently. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves thinking our kids can magically do it,” Lizzie said. “And I think in the world we live in today, it's not that, but a skill you can teach.”


It’s never too early and it’s never too late to start this work.


As you all are tuning in to this episode and hearing Lizzie share, if you choose to follow her on Instagram there is something you should know: she has been creating and building the Workspace for Children for 12 years, so if you are just starting out remember there is no need to compare where you are to where she is. She has been acquiring what you see for over a decade, and she notes that where she started isn’t comparable to where she is now.


“The beauty of open-ended materials is that they can meet the child where they are in their stage of development.”


I then asked Lizzie to break down this term that we hear all the time in our world: “invitation to play” and asked her to break down just how to create these play invitations. Lizzie’s answer was concise, “Invitation to play has become a buzzword and a lot of people have been doing it on their own without calling it that.” An invitation to play can be as simple as a clean playroom that’s not cluttered, or it can be as developed as a beautiful playdoh project put out with materials. 


The greatest invitations to play aren’t necessarily the most beautiful thing, they are the most available.


Lizzie continues to say that she sees so many people on Instagram and in real life going nuts to develop these beautiful, photogenic invitations to play, and then their kids don’t play and the parents and caregivers grow frustrated. Lizzie encourages you to search “invitation to play” on Pinterest and Instagram to check out these polished playrooms. “I think there is a lot of pressure, even on teachers now, to develop these beautiful invitations but then people get frustrated when kids on sit at the invitation for a few minutes,” Lizzie said.

One thing to remember is, when you’re developing an invitation to play, young kiddos are not meant to sit in one place for extended periods of time. So, invitations to play should be easy for you to set up with materials you already have (there is no need to be running to and from the craft store, you can use natural materials that are already available to you). You don’t need to be ordering the most expensive materials online, invitations to play are all about setting out materials out in a pattern and letting your children decide how and when they play with it.


“Simplicity and habit in invitation to play are key.”


Lizzie and I agree, setting up invitations to play should not be hard on parents or teachers. Pick a few basic materials and use them again and again, you do not have to reinvent the wheel. That’s the beauty of this. Our children are going to develop, so if the material you are using is something as open-ended as water or clay the children are going to reinvent the materials themselves each time they create. The main focus of teachers and parents should be creating the habit of creating. Our kiddos inherently know how to play, we just need to carve the time and space for them.

Then Lizzie dives into some questions provided by you guys, the village. These questions include: Honestly, what does an invitation to play really look like? “I am very running to the craft store or ordering art supplies because I believe so much in keeping it simple with basic materials,” Lizzie answers. Lizzie explains just how she organizes her playroom in this blog post on her site. First, there are a couple of different art cabinets. The first is hers, which the kids need permission to open, and the second is a more accessible cabinet for her kiddos that is open all the time. Lizzie reiterates that this process was formulated over a long period of time and if you are struggling at the beginning to figure out how to best organize your invitations to play, don’t worry, you are absolutely not alone.

If you follow along with Lizzie over at the Workspace For Children, in January she will be blogging more about this organization process and how to make it work for your family. Especially after the madness of the gift-giving holiday season!


Remember: you don’t need a lot of space if you are creative with the space you do have.


For example, I think we so often gate our youngest babies in one place, but our babies are trying to learn gross motor skills too. So instead we can gate off our older children so they have space to play and create without being interrupted by their curious younger siblings, while simultaneously allowing our babies the freedom to explore to their little heart's content.

I loved chatting with Lizzie and hearing her dive into our village’s questions so honestly and with such creativity. I can’t wait to keep following her journey and learning more from her as I grow.

Lizzie, thank you for spending so much time with us and exploring what it means to create invitations to play!


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