Today I have a GREAT reminder to share with all you mommas – it’s totally a good thing to encourage your babies and toddlers to play independently! From the very beginning, we spend hours focused on every engagement that our littles have with the world around them. This sometimes turns into them wanting us to become tools for entertainment, as professional rattle shakers and button pressers — we’ve all been there lol They want your attention in order to play, and they won’t stop until they get it! While I typically engage in floor play with Arya 50% of the time, introducing independent play principles has been just as fun for the both of us.
My mom has been a Montessori teacher for almost 20 years and always reminds me to give Arya room to explore as she grows. Encouraging independent play has a ton of benefits, both socially and developmentally, not to mention that you’ll get some time back for yourself too. Even bigger plus? You’ll start to develop a confident child who is curious and adventurous and (dare I say it) self-reliant! So how do you do it? Here are some tips that I’ve learned from my own mom along the way: Phase 1: Start small
One common misconception about independent play stems from the idea that children shouldn’t be left unattended. While certainly true, solo playtime isn’t actually about them being alone. It’s more about introducing activities that are engaging to your child, that don’t rely on you as part of the entertainment. I started this concept small with Arya by sitting and explaining a toy or activity, getting her to engage, and then moving further away from her spatially, the longer she played. She could always see me, and matching her toys to her development level meant that she didn’t need me to make them “go”. Gradually, she went from 2 minutes of solo play to 5 minutes and at 2 years old, she’ll now happily play alone for upwards of 20 minutes.
Phase 2: Try not to guide them
Try not to hover, guide, interject or over correct. This one can be hard to do, especially when you’re excited about watching them really enjoy playtime! The bonus here is that the more you can allow them to explore their own imaginations, the more life cycle you’ll actually get out of their toys. Reducing the number of toys actually available to play with and rotating them out helps as well. Take the Lego Duplo set that Arya is playing with — she built a tower of blocks for about 15 minutes and then when she grew tired of it, she started using the tower as a wand while playing with her Elsa doll. Once you’ve unlocked a toddler’s ability to think outside the box, they’re likely to only rely on you for enthusiastic commentary and to share how proud of themselves they are (i.e. “Wow! What a great job you did, building such a tall tower!”).
Phase 3: Turn “helping” into learning
“I help you! I help you!”… this is Arya at any given moment of the day. She almost always wants to be with me, doing what I’m doing, right in the mix! In an ideal world I would have all the hours in the day to let her slowly apply blush to my face for 45 minutes — but I live in the real world where we have to get to work on time lol Instead of saying no, I give her a piece of the activity that she can go off and do herself. Things like going to find her own pair of shoes in her room, applying her own chapstick, throwing her own dirty diaper in the trash, finding her jacket, putting her own pants on, etc. All things that need to get done, but by turning them into independent activities, she’s able to occupy herself for minutes at a time while focused on a task. Sometimes I step in and assist but what I’ve noticed is that she is 100% willing to try to do it herself first. She only asks for help now when she truly can’t get something figured out. To her it feels like a fun game and to us, it feels like she’s well on her way to being the kind of kid who doesn’t mind trying until she succeeds!
Of course, we all know that every child is different so take these ideas at your own pace! The advice and resources I share on The Mom Life are always take it and leave it. Take something new you might like to try, and leave behind the rest. Would love to hear your tips and tricks too — sharing is caring when it comes to raising littles!