Like most preschoolers, my son enjoys his play time especially through role-playing and imaginative scenarios. We have all the right toys in our home to create such an environment. What he lacked though was a playmate as he is the only child. Guilty about not giving him a sibling and being a working mother who could not spend as much time with him. I tried to make it up by being his favourite playmate. The pressure to continuously keep him entertained evening after evening finally took its toll one night. I felt like I had lost myself, having deprived myself of personal time because of my guilt. That was when I decided that he had to learn to play alone.
Play is fundamental to young children’s development. Children acquire new skills through exploration, repetition to mastery and in turn gain confidence. Independent play is play without adult intervention. When a child uses their imagination and creativity to make up roles, games and situations, they learn to express themselves, cope with new situations and solve problems.
While it might be tempting to just pass a bored child a tablet or mobile phone so that you could get the much needed peace. Psychologists recommend that children be bored because boredom is crucial for developing creativity. With the school holidays coming up, it is a norm to see most parents rushing to sign up for holiday camps and packing their children’s schedule with activities to keep them busy. I was one of them in the past. But this could be a drawback since we are constantly filling up our children’s time instead of allowing them to discover what they are truly interested in.
How do you encourage independent play?
Start by giving your child a task to work on. It could be assembling some blocks into various constructions, to fix a puzzle or even just paper and crayons to doodle with. For starters, it would be good to stay within the same area as your child who is still getting use to the idea of solitary play. Leave him to his own devices but maintain the connection which he craves by acknowledging his questions or comments and progress in his task.
A good way to keep a child interested in independent play is to have a play area with open-ended toys that encourage the use of one’s imagination. Too many toys might be overwhelming for a child, so a rotation of such toys would be encouraged. Set up a play scene for your child to begin with, if you child is an only child like mine, then encourage the use of soft toys in place of yourself as participants in the imaginary scenario your child has created. For example, the soft toys can be the customers of an ice cream stand.
Keep repeating this routine on a daily basis for moments where you just need some personal time to yourself. Be sure to balance it well with quality time spent together so that your child would not feel neglected. Our children are only young once, treasure every moment with them, be it whether you are actively involved in their play or not.