Encouraging Toddlers' Independent Play
As your child gets older, you’ll probably be thinking “they’ll be able to play for even longer on their own now.” Unfortunately, that’s not the way things usually go. As they become more mobile your child may want to follow you everywhere. Rose went through a clingy stage at around 13 months and although I could get away to the toilet and shower on my own, anything longer than ten minutes was just not happening. She did, however, play independently with me watching. It’s times like that when people can start to give up on the idea of independent play, but I say keep with it. I promise your child will still have moments of great focus and concentration. But if it feels like it’s going right back to square one, don’t worry. Don’t be afraid to start from scratch; Sit down with your baby, watch them play in silence, observe them without interruption. If they look for your help with something, for example putting a lid back on a jar, encourage them to try it by themselves. Rose is at a stage now where she never looks for help – probably because I’ve never tried to help her. I always make sure to give Rose items that are age and ability appropriate. I want her to be challenged but without setting her up for failure.
Getting outdoors is a great way to encourage independent play – and it’s something I am passionate about as you’ll know from my Instagram and Facebook posts. Just walking around your estate or locality and letting your child notice what is going on in the world around them makes such a difference to their mood. It also increases their confidence and lets them see how much trust you have in them as you allow them the freedom to explore without saying “no” all the time. I let Rose potter about on green areas, outside people’s house, walking up and down footpaths – it doesn’t need to be anywhere special; children will find what interests them. It could be something as simple as throwing stones, or wild flowers picked and dissected, berries taken off a shrub and popped down a drain, or a cherry blossom tree that is shedding its petals. Children have this amazing ability to find wonder in what we might think are the most banal places.
As regards toys for older babies and toddlers; I never give anything electronic or with flashing lights & synthetic sounds. These types of toys can reduce the amount of language you and your child use during play. They also don’t encourage imagination and creative play the to the same levels as open ended and non-battery operated play things. And even worse, they can over stimulate young babies and children; causing crankiness and overtiredness, something we all want to avoid!
Maria Montessori, one of the world’s most famous children’s educators and childcare innovators, believed children should have access to materials that are aesthetically pleasing, and I completely agree. If something looks beautiful children will want to play with it, they will want to take good care of it too. I have a lot of wooden toys in Rose’s play space; it’s elegant yet hard-wearing, which is needed with a heavy-handed toddler.
I always advise parents to offer toys that encourage open ended play. So, Items like jars & lids, plastic links, balls of different sizes and textures, pots and pans, bags that are safe for children (short handles to avoid strangulation), and purses with zips, buttons, Velcro etc. These types of non-toys tend to spark curiosity and can keep children occupied for longer. I often just put a few things together in a bowl or on a blanket and let the children decide what to do with it all. I try not to do this too often as I do feel children can also get bored with the same activities every day.
What about you – do you encourage independent play? Would you like more tips on how to implement a bit of independent play into your child’s life? Let me know and I’ll do my best to help.
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