3 Creative Invitations to Foster Social and Emotional Learning

Sponsored by The Creativity Project, a sponsor of World Homeschooler’s Day 2023

This article was originally posted on The Intuitive Homeschooler. It contains affiliate links.

What does open-ended art and play have to do with social and emotional learning (SEL)?


First, let’s define SEL: 

Social and emotional learning, the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills to be successful academically and in life.

So, how does that connect to open-ended art and play?

When children are given the opportunity to participate in open-ended art and play, they are able to practice core tenets of SEL, such as self-management, responsible decision-making, and more. SEL also encourages children to be joyful in their play, allow their imagination to lead, and learn relationship skills like collaboration, social awareness, and empathy towards others. Additionally, children learn to express themselves and develop a positive sense of self.

Lastly, SEL-supported activities, such as process art that we’ll discuss in a second, offers adults an opportunity to shift their mindsets from making a product to focusing on the process and working like an artist, which is inventive, playful, and experimental.

What is process art?

Process art means that children focus on the experience and process of making art, not the final product. Children are free to make their own choices about what materials to use and how to use them. There is no right or wrong way to make process art. Process art fosters creativity, decision making, and mindfulness and differs from a craft in that there are no step by step directions or preconceived adult ideas about what the final piece looks like.

What is meant by open-ended play?

Open-ended play, or creative play, is play where children are free to express themselves and use their imaginations. There are no instructions from grown-ups, no rules to follow except those that the children make themselves, and no right or wrong way to play. Children engage in creative play with or without materials. When materials are involved, loose parts are supportive of choice-making and agency.

What are creative invitations?

A create invitation is a set-up that invites a child to come and explore and sparks their imagination to investigate. Materials can be anything from art supplies, loose parts, recyclables, nature, or even just a basket of fabric. The key is keeping it simple, requiring little to no instruction so that children can use materials in whatever way they choose without adult direction. Creative invitations give children agency over their choices, their movement in the space, and their pace, which builds their creative confidence over time.

Here are three mess-free, creative invitations that are easy to set up, work well to leave out over longer periods of time so that children can return to their creative work and build confidence, and help develop social emotional skills at home.

Photo by Liz at @artful_play

Community drawing table

  • Cover a table with butcher paper and set out some black sharpies or markers.
  • If you are new to open-ended art making then maybe just leave it at that – an open table to draw. You can also add some mirrors, as we did here, to spark portrait drawing.
  • Provocations also work well. You can ask, What are you feeling today? Or, Make a map of your neighborhood or town.
  • Great for multi-ages and groups of children of different stages of development as there is no wrong way to approach the materials. Everyone at their own pace.
  • Children can work together and practice relationship skills such as collaboration, taking turns, and sharing ideas, or they can work independently and work on managing their body in a shared space, expressing their thoughts and ideas, and making their own creative choices. 

Photo by Liz from @artful_play

Scrap paper sculptures

  • Cover a table with butcher paper to create a surface for exploring scrap paper with scissors and glue sticks. Or give each child their own cardboard surface to make individual sculptures.
  • Children can bend, curl, rip, fold, scrunch, and cut the paper and attach with a glue stick.
  • These are familiar materials and skills so children are free to express themselves without being intimidated whether they are doing it wrong. 
  • Great for multi ages as younger children can work on scissor and glue skills while older children can be more intricate and expressive. 
  • Adult mindset is to be ok with children not making anything (not doing things the way you would) and being ok with using lots of materials so they can keep working like an artist – playful, experimental, trying again and again. 
  • Lots of opportunities for scissor skills work, inventiveness, self-expression, problem-solving, and building creative confidence.

Message Center

  • Set out a variety of writing utensils, paper, notecards, envelopes, scissors, stickers, and tape on a table with room for at least two children to sit down. Or keep these supplies on a movable cart that they can pull up to a table.
  • You could even create a mailbox out of cardboard with a slot for sending mail, or take a walk to the post office to send real mail to friends and loved ones.
  • Keep a list of names in a visible spot of friends and family that children can use to reference and copy the spelling.
  • An opportunity for children to explore writing and literacy at their own pace, or just draw and express themselves.
  • Leave out over a longer period of time, or permanently, for children to return to again and again to stretch their creativity or as a way to communicate their thoughts.
  • Message center develops self-expression, self-management like learning routines and keeping a space neat for the next person, and empathy. 

Creative invitations can be very simple. In fact, the more basic the material, the greater the opportunity for developing social and emotional skills because children don’t need to spend any time listening to instruction or feeling anxious about how to use something. Keep in mind that collaborative experiences take practice and might be good teachable moments for adults to help children practice social skills and self-regulation. Allowing children to continue to practice these skills through art and play gives them a chance to connect with you and others, find common interests with each other, and become empowered to share their ideas and discoveries.

Are you ready to create invitations with your children?

You can get half off of your first month of The Creativity Project’s month guides for children ages 3-8.

Each guide includes:

  • A “Learning Story” that connects to every offering in the guide
  • 20 invitations (one for each weekday of the month), 10 art and 10 play, that can be cut into cards and kept in a box as a resource to build upon
  • 2 weekend family art projects
  • Master supply list
  • And so much more!

Go to our website, and use code HALFOFFCAMILLE at checkout to get yours today!

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