Do you feel like it’s your job to entertain your children all the time? Do you believe that you should constantly engage with your kid? Or, do you have a super clingy toddler who seems incapable of doing anything without you by his side? Ah, you are in the parental entertainment trap. I have found myself in this trap many a times.
It is time you start encouraging your kid ‘independent play’. Kids need extended periods of self-directed, uninterrupted play.
Why should you teach your kids to play independently?
Children learn the best when they are given time to explore and experiment on their own. With independent play time children become more creative, learn to solve problems and cope with new situations. These benefits are critical to a child’s development. When you(adults) play with your children, you end up using your ideas and the child will end up following and responding.
Unknowingly, you almost direct and dominate them giving them very less scope to learn for themselves or be creative.
Being a play supporter rather than a ‘playmate’ will encourage independent play amongst children and help discover their own likes.
- Helps your kid be creative and confident
- Enhances problem solving and decision making skills
- Their attention span gradually improves over a period of time
- And above all, allows them to be more independent
How to encourage ‘independent play’?
Cultivating the independent play in young children take a lot of time and patience. It becomes more difficult with kids who have been entertained frequently in their early stages of life. To encourage independent play in kids we must- value it, observe and not interrupt.
1. Start young and go slow
Young babies need not be entertained all the time as everything is new and exciting to them. Give them opportunities and time to explore things their way. By around 6 months, they will love playing with their hands and toes. Infant seats, cribs are some of the ways to encourage independent plays in babies and pre-toddlers.
No matter how old your kid is, it is always a great time to start.
2. Get your child started
When a child is one to two year old, they need help to start any activity. Spend few minutes and help your kid to get involved with an activity. Model and show them how to do an activity(like building blocks) by quietly playing next to them. When they watch you they will copy the ways you play. Now, allow your kid to do it by himself while you are passive yet receptive to your child. Once he starts playing by himself do not interrupt him. When they ask for help, assist them but as minimally as possible.
3. Provide them open-ended and creative toys
Stock up on toys that can be played with differently every time. For example, building blocks, pretend play, art supplies, play houses. A white sheet of paper and few crayons will enhance their creativity unlike flash cards that will load them with information.
4. One toy at a time
Surrounding your kid with too many toys at a time will be overwhelming for them. Always present them with one toy at a time. Present the toys on rotation - Use one set of toys while the other set stored away from their reach. When they get bored, bring the other set into play. Different toys and new things will always excite them. Have few activities that kids can only use during independent plays.
5. Be consistent and set boundaries
Independent play always works best with consistency and never force it on your kid. Try doing it once everyday. Choose a time that is best for your kid- when they are not sleepy or hungry. Provide your kid a safe play area. Start with few minutes a day and then work up to 45 mins to as long as the child is able to play.
6. ‘Independent play’ doesn’t mean abandoning
While your child is playing independently, stay available nearby. Become an observer and do not be directly involved in what they are doing. Observing and appreciating what your kid does will let them know they are valued and you are interested in them. By observing you will get to know your child’s interests and intelligences.
Screen time can never be a substitute for independent play. TV or a computer game does all the thinking for your kid and they become a passive observer. They never aid in the cognitive and emotional development of child unlike independent play. Here are a few interesting indoor games which would make your child filled with fun and excitement.
Teach your child this basic skill of ‘playing independently’. The benefits that you and your kid reap from it are immense. And, you can cut down on screen time, but still be able to have a cup of coffee or run some household errand! Encourage your child to play all by himself!