Independent Play

Take heart in knowing that independent play is good for your child. There are times to play together and times to play alone. You will certainly find opportunities for both.

"Mommy, will you play with me?" your Sproutlet asks for the third time today.

If you're like many of us, this invitation pulls you in opposite directions. You have a long to-do list, but don't want to miss out on those special moments.

Take heart in knowing that independent play is good for your child. There are times to play together and times to play alone. You will certainly find opportunities for both.

Encouraging Independent Play

Just as you have work to do, your child has work to do, too. A child's work is play. By fostering independent play, you help your child learn creativity, problem solving, and self-reliance.

Your first job is to set up a safe, child-friendly environment. Place age-appropriate toys within your child's reach. Stay nearby to provide safety, but avoid hovering. In this type of environment, your child can feel secure and free to explore.

Decoding the Message

When your child asks you to play, consider the meaning behind the invitation. He may simply want to check in-to know you are interested or to show you something he made. Not every invitation means drop everything and spend the hour with me.

Ask your child how she wants you to play. You might find the answer is simpler than you thought.

Playing Together

Of course, there will be those moments when you put work away, roll up your sleeves and dive into playtime with your child.

You can still nurture that independent spirit as you play together:

Be a Follower. Allow your child to lead the play. Follow along and let her make the decisions. "What would you like to play?"

Describe. Instead of praising, simply notice what your child is doing and describe it. This shows you are paying attention without passing judgment. "I see you are adding a yellow string."
 
Paraphrase. Repeat what your child says and then say it in a slightly new way. This shows understanding and also builds vocabulary. "Yes, you built a boat… a gigantic, sparkly boat."

Avoid Criticism. Children naturally seek your direction or approval, but playtime should be free of parental commands and criticism. When he asks for your opinion, empower her by redirecting the question. "What do you want to build next?"