I was recently asked how I get my kids to ‘just play’.
“How do I get them to play independently, on their own, without wanting me to join in all the time?”
I don’t think there is an easy answer for this.
I don’t know any special activity or trick to getting kids to play without much input from their parents. Every child is different, every family is different. I just don’t think there is one magic answer to any parenting question because so much depends on your own individual circumstances.
It should also be noted that I don’t expect my kids to play totally on their own, without any adult interaction at all, ever. I am almost always within ear shot, and most often they are playing right next to where I am working (and by working I mean cooking dinner, folding washing, working on the computer etc…).
I’ve blogged about this before when I answered the question “How do you do it all?” but today I thought I’d share some semi-independent toddler play that happened here today.
Often I join in the play while I’m doing other things, drifting in and out, especially if Noah is home alone with me. Sometimes I’ll set up an activity or a little play space, especially if everyone is a little ratty and in need of direction or distraction. But I don’t expect to be 100% involved in their play.
Today it looked a little like this…
I set up some farm animals with some of the wooden fences and went to answer some emails, a metre or so away.
Noey came over and rearranged the animals how he wanted them.
He bought each animal over to me and told me the noise they made. We chatted about animals, and I sang Baa Baa Black Sheep with wrong words…
“Baa Baa white sheep have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.
One for the horse and one for the pig,
And one for the cow who did a little jig.”
Noah was unimpressed with my song and decided to kiss all the animals…
And put them to bed.
Then they needed some food… and so our afternoon continued along those lines with some duplo building and the occasional book or bad song thrown in for good measure.
So you see, no magic tricks, nothing fancy, just a really simple activity that I knew Noah would be interested in and be able to play with on his own.
What’s your kids favorite super simple activity at the moment?
How do you encourage your kids to ‘just play’?
Read the comments or scroll down to add your own:
i let mine go for it. Nienna is a very good independent player and great at thinking up games etc so she drags Beren in, who is not so good and has never been able to entertain himself (part of ASD too). If asked I will join in or often I will suggest boardgames/cards etc as part of our home ed day too.
As an only child, I never thought my little girl would get there. She loves having someone to play with (who doesn’t?) and with no other kidlets around she always asks me.
Like you, there have been no magic tricks. It’s just taken time for her to feel comfortable playing with herself, feel confident that she can do things for herself and develop her wild imagination.
Susan Case says
I agree – children need time to just play – to just be children. It is great to give them guided play ideas – but they need time to think, figure things out and use their imagination. I just wrote a book about the topic. Hope you’ll visit my blog sometime.
veggie mama says
As Abby is only 16 months, and totally mid-separation anxiety phase, sometimes it feels as though she’ll never play by herself for any longer than 10 minutes! Especially when the new baby arrives. You give me hope that one day I will be able to fold clothes/stack the dishwasher/sweep the floor without someone constantly undoing all my good work ;-)
I really think personality plays a big role too. My 6 year old has never wanted to play by himself for more than about 30 seconds – despite me encouraging him and attempting to set up lots of independent play situations for him. However, my 3 year old has always naturally played by himself – he will quite happily potter around alongside me doing his own thing while I get things done. He also will spend time in his bedroom playing by himself which my 6 year old never does.
My magic trick for getting the kids to play independently is to turn off the telly :)
I know it won’t work for all kids, but it’s amazing how when the telly is off, they go ahead and find something to play with (all our kids’ toys are in the lounge room). Now to convince my husband that it’s not compulsory to turn on the telly the moment he’s alone with the kids.
Also, despite having loved playing imaginatively as a child I can’t stand it/can’t do it as an adult (except building train tracks and sorting lego by colour) so I use a technique used by speech pathologists for language development where you narrate what the child is doing, but you never give them directions or ask them questions. It’s much easier than trying to join in, and I have a feeling that by letting them be in control when playing it possibly helps them be more comfortable with playing alone.
H-M Uusimäki says
My little kids, four and two, just play and play and play. They play with toy cars and trucks, trains, they play with play mobile, legos, play dugh, preted food. They play with sand and watwr, sticks and stones, leaves and grass. They swing and slide and run and climb.
They occationally ask me to join them their play: ride the bus they made of the dining chairs or eat the apple pie they made of sand or leaves or something like that. They like to have me close by but they are very good at playing themselves. All I have to do is help them to pick up the toys and supplies after thei play.
Well, they fight over a toy or swing occationally,