Independent play isn’t something that will happen overnight or when they reach a certain age, it takes a bit of time!
Here’s a few of my top tips if you’d like to get your children playing independently.
Let them be bored... sometimes!
There is no need to entertain your children all the time with toys, invitations to play or screen time. Once they start to feel bored they will get creative and create their own fun! Over time this will develop their imagination, creativity and problem solving meaning they won't come to you for ideas as often.
Create a YES space for your children to play in
Where are you asking your children to play? Is it set up in an inviting way?
It doesn’t have to have a separate space but just an area that they can play in on their own. This could be a small shelf in the lounge room or a spare room you’re not using. Pop away any choking hazards or toys that you don’t want them using alone and bring them out when you are with them.
The area that you are expecting your children to play in should be set up to encourage freedom for them to choose their own activities.
When your children are in this space you shouldn’t be telling them ‘no don’t take that out,’ or ‘lets play with that later.’ Whatever is available to them in this space, they can have.
Rotate your toys
Keep it simple. You don’t need alot of toys for a rotation. Having a tidy space that children can clearly see everything available to them will feel less overwhelming and is sure to inspire new play.
Not sure how?
The toys that you offer your children will also have an impact on how they play.
Open ended play is our favourite as it has no set or fixed way that a toy should be used and therefore no 'right' or 'wrong.'
When children are offered these toys they can use them to follow their imagination and use their creativity so these toys can get a lot of love in a variety of ways and by children of many different ages.
Stay close by
For younger children or families starting to build independent play I recommend having a play space that is in or close by to your main living area as that’s where you will spend the most time. This means children will be able to see you whilst playing, helping them to feel secure knowing you are close by to help if they need you.
Independent play doesn't always mean that you're always in a different space to your children when it happens. You could be sitting close by having a cup of tea or cooking dinner but the difference is that your child is not expecting you to play WITH them at that time.
Give them your undivided attention before you go
Before you step away for the kids to play independently, give them all your attention for at least 10 mintues. Put your phone in another room and sit down with them and interact with them however THEY want.
I know there might be dishes to do, washing to fold or dinner to cook but if you give your kids your undivided attention for at least 10 minutes (more is always better!) before you ask them to play independently, you’ll have a lot more success!
If you are struggling to focus on them, put a timer on your phone and don’t get up from playing with them until it goes off. You can even tell the kids “I am going to play with you for 10 minutes but when the timer finishes I need to go and fold the washing.”
Children are very visual and I find that sand timers work best for us as they can visually see how much time they have left to play on their own. We have a 30 minute timer and a 10 minute timer and I use them almost daily for the girls to understand my expectation of time.
By taking all or just some of these steps you will hopefully start to see an improvement in how your children play independently
How long should they play independently for?
Lastly I just wanted to finish off with a quick overview of how long a child may focus on one activity/task. As a guide this is about 2-5 mintues for each year of age!
For example a child of:
1 Year Old is 2-5 mintues.
2 Years Old is 4-10 mintues.
3 Years Old is 6-10 mintues.
4 Years Old is 8-20 minutes.
5 Years Old is 10-25 minutes