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Advocates For Play: Invitations to Play

Updated: Jan 3

"Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.

Play is really the work of childhood".

Fred Rogers

Hello, and welcome to my new blog series: Advocates for Play. This idea has been in the pipeline for well over a year, but for one reason or another, it has had to take a back seat while I work on other projects. I'm so excited to finally launch with an interview with... well, me!

Please introduce yourself, and your family.

Hello! I'm Rowan, the face behind Invitations to Play, and this is Elsie Bean, my love and inspiration!

We live in Bristol, in the South West of England, with our sweet and vocal cat, Lily. I work part-time, running Invitations to Play alongside my childminding business, and very much full-time, mothering and home educating Elsie.

Can you share some of your own experiences of play as a child? Do you have an earliest play memory, or a story to share about play that was particularly meaningful?

I was born and raised in rural West Wales. Our family home, where my Mum still lives, is surrounded by working sheep farms, with no neighbours within a half mile. My childhood was spent mostly outdoors in our large, wild garden, playing in the hedgerows and streams, tending to our menagerie of pets and building dens out of hay bales in the neighbouring fields with my younger brother.

We did have toys, but not as many as children tend to have these days. Our dressing up box consisted of hats, scarfs, handbags and oversized shirts, and we’d spend happy hours making up elaborate plays and skits to perform.

My brother had a tin of little plastic army figurines which he’d set up across our living room floor, and I’d be doing the same on the other side of the room with my collection of random dolls house furniture and Sylvanian family characters, using a basket of homemade building blocks to build a floor plan. I’m able to see now that this specific play experience was the foundation of my love for creating beautiful and intentional spaces.

Can you tell us about how you came to be an advocate for play? In what capacity does play feature in your life?

My professional background is in early years teaching, which I think offered me a firm foundation in how to observe children at play, identify the learning that is taking place and make provision for development.

While on maternity leave after the birth of my daughter, I registered as a childminder, having anticipated that I would want to be at home with her full time, and needing an income as a newly lone parent. It was my experience of working as a childminder, with the very youngest children in my care, that taught me to trust in the child’s innate ability to learn through play. Invitations to Play was born in January 2018.

How would you describe your play philosophy?

I firmly and passionately believe in the value of child led play for all children, not just those in the early years. My daughter is almost 9, and is still learning predominantly through play.

I believe that children can learn a great deal through play, especially if they have an adult in their lives who respects and values it. The role of the adult, in my opinion, is crucial, as it is through careful observation of the child at play that the adult can provide opportunities to extend the child's learning. This may be by leaving out a provocation for the child to discover (or simply one single element that transforms their thinking), planning a lesson or project that the child finds irresistible, taking the child on a field trip, so