teaching your toddler independent play
Guys I am a busy mom. I COUNT on Don to be able to play alone so that I can get a few things done each day. When I learned that my encouraging him to play by himself was good for him, I was thrilled. Is that not the best win win situation ever?! I wanted to tell you why its so beneficial and give you some tips on teaching your toddler independent play.
why independent play is important
Let’s start with a quote from Dr. Sheila Anderson, Assistant Professor in Early Childhood Education at Weber State University. She says that during independent play,
Children freely express feelings and ideas, exercise imagination, and feel the joy of self-discovery.” She goes on to explain that, “This fosters creativity. As they plan and carry out their own ideas, confidence emerges, as well as the ability to sustain attention, and persist in problem solving.”
So independent play (whenever a child plays on their own) builds creativity, imagination, talents, and helps a child develop a sense of who they are. It teaches self reliance and problem solving. So we can all agree this is an worthy goal! Now on to how to actually get your toddler to play on their own.
This will be a gradual process and I started a little when Don was a baby and have slowly increased the time. He loves to play while I am working on a project in the next room over. We can still see each other, but he is having fun alone.
how to encourage independent play
Provide your child with open time to play without media.
For me, the key tip in this one is without media. You can put an iPad in front of any kid and they’ll zone out (and believe me, there’s a time for that). These tips are more about getting your child to play in a way that engages all of their senses- things like legos, digging in dirt, art projects, playing with a toy kitchen, building blocks, reading books. Provide some options and let them choose what they want.
Lead them gently into play time.
When it’s time for Don to play on his own I begin by playing with him. Asking him about the toys or just playing on my own. He jumps in and I slowly pull back until he is playing alone. I start my project (dishes, laundry) and when he needs help he knows to run to me and I will assist him as needed.tree house and bench from A Perfect Playhouse
Don’t interrupt when your child is absorbed in play.
If your toddler is having the time of their life and are wrapped in their own world- you have succeeded! Now don’t interrupt :). This is when they are using their imagination and if you interrupt you will break their concentration and they might lose interest. I think a parent might be tempted to interrupt their child because they feel mom (or dad) guilt about not playing with them every second of the day. That isn’t good for either of you. Let them play and feel good about the opportunity you are giving them.
Create a safe environment.
Since Don was little I have tried to ensure that wherever he wants to play in our condo he can in a safe way. I babyproofed like crazy because I didn’t want to be yelling “NO!” at every second. The beauty of having a safe home is that you can let your child play alone and not worry as much. Knowing that your little one won’t get hurt gives you piece of mind so you let them explore freely.
Provide items that play to their interests.
I know that Don loves cars so I bought him a track to race the cars down. My husband knows that Don loves to dig, so he bought him a bin and rocks to dig in (which he spends forever playing at). Don also really loves the play kitchen I made him last year and likes to pretend to cook. These are all toys that we leave out for Don that he can engage with if he chooses to. Dr. Genan Anderson, Program Coordinator for Early Childhood Education at Utah Valley University, gives some insight into the type of play she suggests:
Often independent play is also constructive play or building something from materials. Creativity and flexibility of thinking develop in the process of making something either from natural materials, recycled materials, or commercial craft or building materials. Innovation and a sense of self-efficacy emerge as a new creation takes shape.”
Don’t have too many toys.
Go through your toys and rotate them out so that they always have a few toys that they find interesting. If you find that your child never plays with a toy, donate it and move on. Here’s a tip from child psychologist Judith Locke
I have to say the more toys you give them, the less likely they are to be creative in their play. Many parents will recognise that some of the things kids play with the most are odd things like a tape measure or a pair of tongs. When kids get everything they want, this can lead to them expecting everything they want, which can lead to future dissatisfactions.”
I’ve recently been reading the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and she gave the two goals we should have as parents:
The real questions for parents should be: “Are you engaged? Are you paying attention?”
Aren’t those awesome goals?! It’s about being present and deliberate about your choices as a parent. I am trying to raise Don to be a really great person and hope that having him play alone helps him with that. So what do you think? Do you let your child play alone? Are these tips helpful to encouraging independent play?
I wanted to tell you about the adorable tree house and benches shown in the photos of this blog post. They are from A Perfect Playhouse. Dan, the owner and craftsman sent them over for Don to try out. He LOVED them! The pieces are really cool because they interlock and assemble in seconds without the need for any tools! That treehouse is SO sturdy and Don loves climbing up and down it. He read in the top of it while he ate snacks. He held his “babies” (stuffed animals) on the bench and rocked them.
Pretty much, they were the perfect way to encourage independent play! It was so fun meeting Dan and hearing about how his company started because he built an indoor playhouse for his daughter years ago. Isn’t a company based in creativity and love the best?! If you are looking for a fun indoor playhouse, check out The Perfect Playhouse.
tree house and bench from A Perfect Playhouse
tree house from A Perfect Playhouse This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy. This post was sponsored by The Perfect Playhouse.