Invitations for Learning: Setting the stage with imagination

by | Nov 10, 2023 | Invitations

Children need time to play with ideas, to imagine within and beyond their capabilities. Imagination takes us from what we already know to what we might know.

– Suzanne Axelsson

In Suzanne Axelsson’s book “The Original Learning Approach – Weaving Together Playing, Learning, and Teaching in Early Childhood”, Suzanne identifies imagination as an essential thread in the tapestry of learning.

She reflects on how we value imagination as a core component of creativity, often assessing it through a final product of art or invention that impresses us in some way. Yet imagination really lives in the process of creating – a process that may result in products adults view as messy, problematic, or nothing at all.

As educators and parents many of us have embraced learning experiences that invite children to imagine and play with open-ended materials or loose parts.


This post is the first in a series about learning invitations for young children.

My hope is that this series will inspire you to experience the excitement of children’s learning when we as educators, caregivers, and parents imagine and play with ideas alongside the children in our lives.

Each invitation was developed in response to an observation of a child or group of children. These observations were stirred together with my own curiosity and desire for children to relate to their world with a sense of possibility, appreciation, and respect.

In striving to create meaningful invitations for children, I want to:

  • Observe children’s interests first (expressed through their play, actions, words, or body language)
  • Be curious about what children are wondering about through their play. What ideas, concepts, or relationships are they wanting to understand better or explore?
  • Imagine possible invitations that are rooted in the interests and curiosities I think I see.
  • Anticipate how these children might engage with these invitations, and prepare for the learning conditions this child or group of children may need.
  • Be judicious with my comments, questions, and body language so that I nurture children’s intrinsically-driven explorations, rather than derail them from the ideas they are considering. Of course there are times when children need us to share our knowledge, but if we are impatient to tell children what we think they need to know, we can easily rob them of using their imagination, and of being problem-solvers.
  • Reflect on how and why the children engaged or didn’t engage with the invitation; then use these reflections as my guide  to adapt or change the learning invitation to become more attuned to their imaginings.


If we want to engage our children in ways that resonate with their innate desire to understand their world we must engage our imaginations too – being open to seeing things through a child’s eyes with their sense of wonder; giving them space to experience the thrill of discovering something for themselves and imagining possibilities.