A friend of mine recently asked me why my kids play so well without me. How did I do it? she wanted to know, meaning, How did I train them to play independently? What is the secret to getting my kids to leave me alone for five minutes? Why don’t they go take one of their millions of toys that I’ve spent so much money on and GO PLAY?
Well, I’m no expert on this, but I do have two big kids who play really well alone and together, with just the slightest bit of prompting from me. Without question, that little boost from mom is the key. Every time I look up from my laptop to the sound of whiny little voices complaining they are so bored, I try to remember that it is not always their fault that they don’t know how to play independently. It’s a skill that needs to be honed. That’s why we still enforce quiet time where they play alone (not together) for at least 45 minutes every non-school day, why they must read independently every day, and why we really do have limits on screen time (I shoot for an hour on school days and no more than 2 hours on non-school days, trying to keep it at around 10 hours/week). After all, how can they learn to use their imaginations if I never ask them to, and never show them how?
Of course, as I type this, Little H is next to me watching Super Why on JDubbs’s Kindle because she woke up early from her nap and I need to get this blog post finished. So, of course I am a fan of screens and there is always an exception to every rule. But paying attention to how often and how much your kid interacts with screens may help you in your quest to get your kids to play better on their own.
Well, enough of the lecture portion of this post. What about practical help? What do I do with my kids to get them to play nicely alone? The thing is, although they end up on their own, they don’t start off that way. In my experience, most kids need a little help getting started with prolonged independent play, and the longest activities tend to need a little parent guidance. For example, instead of saying to your son, why don’t you play with your zillions of toy cars, help him create a race track on the floor of his bedroom to bring the fun to life. With 5-10 minutes of prep time from you, you will receive huge returns on your investment while your kids play nicely that day and many days thereafter. The key is helping them get started.
With that in mind, here are 10 great ideas that need just a little help from an adult on the front end, but can be put away for lots of independent play day after day thereafter. I promise they’ll be so excited to have you by their side at first, they will be all the more invested in the experience once you quietly sneak away.
10 QUIET ACTIVITIES TO HELP YOUR KIDS PLAY INDEPENDENTLY
Starting in the left column and going down, then the second and third column, the blog posts are as follows:
10. Pebble Art
All of these activities need just a little help from an adult to gather materials or get the fun started, but once you do, the fun will continue on long after you excuse yourself to go get some work done, clean the house, or check your email! And when your kids realize and are confident that they can have tons of imaginative play without you, they’ll stop coming to you with every problem or question–they’ll start solving them on their own.
So by taking five minutes to begin the fun, you actually buy yourself much longer than that. Just remember that imaginations need nurturing, too, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your kids grow.