Motherhood is challenging, especially with toddlers running around wanting to sit on your lap and be side-by-side every step of the day. It’s special to have someone love you that much, but it’s also hard to get things done around the home that legitimately need to get done.
I’ve chatted before about teaching small children to play independently. Many people are surprised to know that independent play is something we actually started when my son was just a few months old. He would play with the baby gymini for 15 minutes twice per day as a two month old and by 9 months old he was playing in the playpen for up to an hour each morning.
Nearly two years later, I wanted to share a bit of an update about how we continue daily independent play still today and some easy ways that you can make it work for you too.
Why independent play is awesome.
Independent 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.
And of course, it’s a great way to foster independence. All four of these things—problem solving, creativity, focusing skills and independence—are really helpful for kids to learn in childhood and are easily applied all the way through adulthood. It’s also a great alternative to using electronic devices to entertain kids. I’m definitely not opposed to screen time and it’s something my son is exposed to everyday, but independent play is a great balance to that.
How to actually get a toddler to do this.
I’m not claiming this is the easy part. Ha. Because toddlers are often strong-willed and struggle with change, starting independent play with a 2 or 3 year old may involve challenges. I like to keep it simple.
1. Make a room in the house completely kid safe.
Dresser bolted to the wall, electrical cords and outlets covered or put away, and toys that present a choking hazard removed, etc.
2. Talk to your toddler about playing alone.
Since most toddlers don’t appreciate change, walking and talking your toddler through how independent play will actually work can help a bit. Any explanation you think will work well for your toddler is perfect.
3. Put your toddler in the room and set the timer.
Set the timer for 5 minutes. He might scream the whole time so 5 minutes for the first day is pretty realistic. I usually stay right outside the room, in the first few days of getting started, and get my toddler after 5 minutes if he is too upset. We go through the same routine each day and try to extend out by 5 minutes each day until we reach our goal of 1 hour per day in the morning.
There have been a few times where we stopped independent play in the past and had to get back into it. We started with the 5 minutes, but if he was doing great and was willing to do 15 minutes, we allowed him to take the lead with it.
Other handy tips…
For moms with multiple kids.
I am not an expert in this area, and I know for many moms having enough separate rooms to put the kids is a challenge. In talking to other moms, who do independent play with multiple kids, separate rooms are a must. Sometimes they get creative and allow an older child to play in the backyard or in the living room.
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.
Practice quiet time activities together.
Sometimes my son and I will head out to our patio with just a few cars and play quietly together for a while. I try to interfere less and less with each play session, allowing him to lead the way. This is another way to help a child feel comfortable with the idea of independent play.
Independent play isn’t something that you have to do. For us, it just works awesome for our family. We usually even do it during the weekend since my husband works from home a bit during that time each Saturday and Sunday morning.
The rest of the time?
Well…we get to really focus on family time, playing together, enjoying outings, just being around the house, or just about anything you could imagine a regular every day family would do.
Want more on toddlers?
- How to Tell Your Toddler “No” (without actually saying “No”)
- Dear Moms of Toddlers
- What Kids Secretly Want to Tell You about Roughhousing — Girls Included!
Does your toddler play independently? What works for you? Let’s chat in the comments!
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