Solo play is the go-to phrase right now, especially with more parents at home with kids – learn how to start independent play, and why.
If you’ve read any of my posts about thriving in motherhood, such as How to balance mom life with working at home you’ll know that I’m an avid fan of independent play. But why exactly?
Why use independent play
There are so many reasons I promote the idea of young toddlers and children to play by themselves, but here are a few:
Builds confidence in child’s abilities
As a child learns that he can do things on his own or with little supervisation, he’ll learn that he is a person of his own.
This separtion of identity from the mother is fundamental in the development of young children – it forms part of them emerging from the cocoon we raised them in when they were babies.
Confidence is much more solid when created by the child himself, rather than imposed by an adult from constant praise.
A little praise is great, but allow space for the child to discover and marvel in his own talent!
Sets them up for real life
I’m not saying you should push them into adulthood as soon as they can start to walk – but rather that even children can do real life tasks for themselves, it’s part of being a family and on the wider spectrum of things – part of a community.
Building a sense of community in your child from a young age will help them to socialize better with other kids, learn basic manners of sharing and waiting their turn – most of the time without having to ‘teach’ it.
Gives you a break
If you’re like me and working from home, goodness knows you need at least half an hour of time to concentrate and having your child play by themself is such a relief!
Just set them up with an activity and away they go!
This also comes in super handy if you’re with adult friends – they won’t be bothering you the entire time to play with you!
Please note, I’m not saying DON’T play with your kids, but DO get them used to not always having you to occupy them.
Builds fine motor & cognitive skills
There is a reason play is called ‘work’ in Montessori language.
This is because playtime actually involves a lot of character building such as problem solving, developing ideas, imagination and confidence.
In reality, kids need really little to let their imagination run wild – and we’ll touch upon this further in the post.
So, let’s get started!
If this is the first time you’re initiating solo play, be patient. If your little one is used to having you to help them, it’s you they’ll turn to when they don’t know how to solve a problem like tower building or puzzles.
Start with short play sessions – even as little as 5-10 minutes, to help them build confidence in that they can do it on their own.
Little by little, increase the time you’re not by their side and as long as their attention is captured playing a game, they won’t even notice you’re not there!
Don’t expect miracles.
It may take up to 5 times of repeating the routine of setting them up and leaving them to get the hang of it, but stick with it!
Resist the urge to intervene
To succeed with solo play, you need to let go of the need to control a little and allow your kids to play their way – they will get it ‘wrong’, they will make mess!
It’s all part of the learning experience!
When you feel yourself wanting to help them figure it out or ease their frustration, just remember how much more they’ll learn if they persist.
Of course if they’re really strugling, you can get down with them, demonstrate the activity again – and then leave them on their own.
Have the right toys
Ah, where the fun begins!
I mentioned earlier in the post that the key is to have simple activities that spark their imagination, rather than toys that do it all for them.
One gret toy that can keep babies and toddlers entertained for hours, is busy board.
What is a busy board?
It’s as simple as it sounds – you put some favourite activities together on a board, and they get busy!
You see, sometimes there’s really no need for elaborate toys when they LOVE playing with everyday items!
If you fancy doing it on your own, below is a DIY tutorial. Some things you could include are:
- Door bolt
- Shoe laces
- Door knobs that turn
Another favourite of mine is music! Babies are naturally musical, make the most of it and get them a box of musical toys they can play with.
YES it will make noise, but it will also give you some much needed peace!
Trust me, as a singer I’ve had to do rehearsals with my now 18mo old. The only way I could get through the whole hour was with a box of musical toys!
Watch out for an upcoming post where I’ll go through my favourite toys and acitivities for independent play.
Set up the right environment
For a toddler or child to really get into independent play, you need to have the right environment in place.
Usually this looks like:
- Removing hazards and risks from reach
- Make toys easily accessible
- Don’t overcrowd the space
- Reduce noise wherever possible
- No distractions (i.e. television)
Let’s go through these a little:
Okay this one is pretty simple and something you’re probably already putting into practice with table corner protectors, cupboard closers etc.
What I also mean however, is that you take away things that you don’t want to be touched – even if they’re not breakable or dangerous.
That might be your glasses, your journal, computer…whatever is valuable to you.
The reason I say you should do this first is because 1) they become a distraction from playtime and 2) you’ll have to interrupt to tell them no and this takes them away from the mood they were in.
Make life easier and at least during playtime, take these objects away. This is not a time for teaching what and what not to touch.
Make toys easily accessible
Again, these are habits you need to get into to make things easier for everyone.
You will avoid being interrupted if you’re working or doing homework with an older child, and your youngest will feel grown up because they can reach themselves.
Get yourself a toy organiser at toddler height, then you can also teach them how to put things away afterwards!
Don’t overcrowd the space
This is where your organizer comes in handy, take things out as they play with them!
Another trick of mine is toy rotation. If having all the toys on display is too much for your little ones, you might want to get these simple boxes I have, and rotate! More about toy rotation, but these are the boxes I mean:
Just take out one box at a time. When they get bored, move on to the next.
Reduce noise wherever possible
I know that a lot of families will have older brothers and sisters (or younger) singing, shouting and making noise.
Just watch for the signs that they’re becoming over-stimulated and if you see it happening, lower your voice, get down on their level, or take them away from the noisy environment if possible.
Some music sometimes is great – but your toddler will let you know when it’s too much!
Be picky with your choice of music, something like this is ideal:
If they can see the television, they will automatically be drawn towards it.
Personally at home we don’t own a TV, but I don’t condone anyone who does! It just didn’t fit in our environment and we’re usually too busy to watch things – we’ll just use the computer instead.
If you have older children, perhaps they can draw or read somewhere else if fighting could happen? The last thing you want is to break up a fight when you’re trying to squeeze in some work.
Every day tasks can be fun too
As parents, I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to entertain, to get it right with the toys, to make sure they’re learning…
Young children learn best by imitating, so get them involved with the housework if they’re naturally drawn to it!
They will learn useful life skills and be happy to be helping mommy, trust me.
They might not be great at sweeping at first, but give them time and it will come. Another thing my daughter likes is ‘cooking’. I’ll give her real pots and pans and set her up on a mat on the floor.
You can also use plastic salad bowls if it’s too much noise – tell them to stir the cake or ask them what they’re putting in the recipe, let their imagination run wild.
Scheduled time with you
Finally, make sure that your little ones know the difference between independent play and time with you.
They will come to learn that you both are more focused together after having a little time ‘apart’ and will look forward to mommy time.
Perhaps set a time of the day so you can explain to them that ‘after nap is mommy time’ or whenever suits you best.