Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children. Despite the benefits derived from play for both children and parents, time for free play has been markedly reduced for some children. Play is great because it give kids the opportunity to problem solve with toys on their own. If a toy is frustrating or doesn’t work the way they want, kids still need to figure out a way to solve the problem without help. It’s also great for creativity. Kids are learning to play with a set amount of toys for up to an hour and this encourages them to play with toys in creative ways. Focusing skills also develop during independent play. Kids learn to focus on a set of toys for a given amount of time without moving from task to task.
Here’s how you can teach and encourage your child to play:
Give Them Toys
Toys are a huge part of encouraging independent play. Our children are born with not only a huge capacity to learn but to be creative as well. When we expose them to toys which entertain them at a push of a button, the creative part of their brain is not fed and nourished and as such reduces. As the novelty of the flashy toy quickly wears off, we find that children require more and more elaborate toys to achieve the same entertainment factor.
Let it continue when you see it in action.
If you notice your child playing quietly alone with a few toys during the day, let it be for a bit and see what happens. This is sometimes a nice way to allow kids the chance to play alone organically and prepare them for more structured independent play during a set time.
Start with baby steps.
You can begin by sitting at the table together and slowly, with each independent play session, move yourself to a chair further away, then over to unload the dishwasher or, better yet, take a load off for a few minutes. Stay within eyesight, but try to not engage too much. Give them space to enjoy their own time playing alone. If they’re reluctant, set a timer, but if you see them start to drift off into their own imagination, quickly turn that timer off and relish in their ability to play alone.
Ensure that your house is childproofed. You may feel uncomfortable about letting your child play out of your sight if there are dangers in your home. Take the time to babyproof your house so your toddler can explore and play without fear of getting hurt. Consider creating a designated playroom or an area where your toddler is safe to play independently. Some things you can do to keep your toddler safe include:
- Covering electrical outlets.
- Latching doors.
- Covering sharp corners with padding.
- Keeping some doors closed.
Create a fun bin.
From Legos to coloring to stickers to cars, the possibilities are endless. Get some super fun, easy-to-use items and place them in a colorful bin. Use this fun bin only for independent play, that way your little one has something to look forward to. Announce independent play time and watch their excitement grow!
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