Independent play is the greatest gift you can give your child.
Ok, well, maybe not greater than love, food and shelter, but's it's pretty close.
It's the gift of imagination, the gift of emotional self-regulation, the gift of never being bored.
And it's a gift to you too.
In these times, when parents are grappling with the delicate balancing act of schooling and working from home, the ability for your child to play independently is GOLD.
Photo credit to Asmund Gimre.
The Impact of COVID on Home Life
We hear that a lot, don't we?
This entire year has been unprecedented, and will no doubt influence the way we live and play long into the future. Coronavirus, or COVID-19, threw itself upon us with a force we didn't see coming. And like a toxic Mexican wave, it's barrelled around the world, leaving chaos in its wake.
There's no doubt this is unprecedented, but as I heard someone say recently, we could all do with a little more 'precedented' right now, couldn't we?
You feel me don't you, Mama? You, with the Grade 1 maths books spread across the kitchen table, wiping away the tears of a sibling argument. I know your phone's on mute while you play negotiator/peacekeeper, the team meeting going on without you.
Dad, I know you're fielding an endless stream of questions ("Daddy, how do people fit in the TV?" "But WHY can't my Lego go in my nose?" "Dad, guess where my Lego is?") while worrying about your job, your business, or your sanity.
Or the mother whose toddler playgroup has been indefinitely postponed, who just needs a quiet moment to talk to a friend on the phone, and refill her bucket.
I see you.
Balancing your work/life responsibilities with being a present and loving parent can be difficult. Especially during times of stress.
Providing a framework for your child to learn to play independently could be just what you need to hold onto your sanity.
Independent Play comes more easily to some children than others, but it's a life skill - taught and nurtured and encouraged – that will benefit your entire family.
The ability to play independently:
- fosters imagination in children,
- switches off the noise of the world around them,
- allows children to process difficult thoughts and play out scenarios that are on their mind,
- teaches patience while they 'wait' for Mum/Dad/other to be finished, and
- allows parents to have the time they need to work, make phone calls, or have a moment to themselves or with each other. Which restores a sense of balance and calm.
Tips for encouraging independent play
If independent play isn't a concept you've adopted in your home until now it may take some time to introduce. Because let's face it, kids can be super demanding little darlings, and don't always want to make changes!
To begin with, we recommend that you:
- Start by allocating an 'Independent Play' time of the day. Explain to your child how long the period will be, and what they may do during this time. If your child is very young it may only be a 10-30-minute period. An older child may start with a lesser period and extend it with practice.
- Set the expectations. "Mummy will be on a work phone call while you play, so you can't talk to Mummy during that time".
- Provide an incentive to stick to the deal. "When Mummy finishes the work call and your quiet playtime is over, I'll read you a story/give you a big cuddle/let you play with the dog".
- Set them up for success! Think about what your child loves and provide them with a place to do it! An impromptu 'Independent Play Corner' is always exciting for kids – it can be as simple as a space at the kitchen table, a spot on the lounge room floor, or even in the hallway.
- Provide them with several activities or toys that you know they will love.
- When the allocated time is up, make sure you shower your child with praise! Children thrive on positive acknowledgement and are more likely to repeat the behaviour when the response has been a positive one.
Here are some of our favourite independent play activities to get your kids started!
- Colouring in – many children find colouring in a soothing and meditative activity. We recommend Djeco Metallic Pencils and Tiger Tribe Silk
Crayons. You could also try chalk on a path around your house.
- Playing with dolls – many children love to play out games of responsibility with dolls, while practising their nurturing and empathetic skills.
- Cars, trucks, and toys that move. There are so many amazing options here but we can't go past Majorette Racing Cars and the Bruder range of toys, which covers everything from trucks to excavators!
You're not alone
Here at Crackerjack Toys our passion is PLAY! (Oh, and your kids – we adore them too!) So if you'd like more individualised suggestions to encourage your child to play independently, we'd love to help.