How Should You Encourage Independent Play?
When a winnie.com reader asked for suggestions for ways to encourage solo play, I thought of some basic things for parents and caregivers to keep in mind. Depending on the age of your child, providing time and encouraging self -directed play is an important goal. All children are different, and some are more inclined than others to entertain themselves.
My first suggestion is to pay attention to the kinds of materials and props that interest your child. Whether vehicles, art supplies or some pots and pans, do a bit of planning to have a stash of your child's favorite playthings to bring out when it's time to play alone. It is essential to keep things fresh, so remember to have three or four bins in rotation so that they remain novel. Collecting tubes, plastic containers, and other non-toys can often provide the most entertainment and interest. Also, the most irresistible activity of all - water play- should be available at least once a week. Standing at the kitchen sink with cups, spoons, and funnels will guarantee long periods of independent play.
The second thing to remember is that a child's attention span will grow as they mature. In the beginning, it may be at 5-minute intervals, but that will soon be lengthened, especially with experience and new props added.
Finally, some children do better with some examples of role-playing by their caregiver. If you suggest and participate in a picnic or tea party with their dolls or stuffed animals, they will be imitating you in no time. If you pretend that the rocks and stones from the garden are fruits and vegetable, they will begin to use their imagination to create new scenarios as well.
Children's books should be an essential part of every environment, and if children have access to them, they will typically leaf through them on their own, as well as pretending to read them to their dolls. For very young children, board books are easy to handle and especially practical.
As with any activity, children do best when they know what to expect. If you explain that you will be making a call or starting dinner in a few minutes and that they will have some time to play with play-dough or get our their toy cars, the transition will probably be a smoother one.
Routine is paramount. If independent playtime is frequently incorporated into your family's routine, children will feel less like they are being pushed away or excluded and actually look forward to their special playtime.