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Teaching Kids to Play Independently

Teaching your children to play independently is a great skill to teach them, both now while you try to work at home and in general. When your children are able to play independently, they will be able to keep themselves entertained without you needing to facilitate their play or help them find something to do.

At Yellow Brick Road Early Childhood Development Center, we know that independent play is important and we encourage it in the programs at our child care center. With parents working from home, it is important now more than ever to teach your children how to play independently.

We have five tips to help parents teach this skill to their children. Read on to learn more and contact us with any questions you may have!

Tip 1: Create a Play Space

Our first tip is to create a defined space for your children to play independently in. For older children, this could be in their bedroom, a loft, a playroom, or the basement. For your younger children this play space will likely be in the same room as you but in a more defined space, like at a table or on a rug. You want your child to understand that this specific space is theirs and this is where they can play. When you set up a space, it can help your child understand where to go to play.

Tip 2: Have Toys That Are Open Ended

When you are trying to teach independent play, you want to choose toys that don’t have a set purpose. Try to pick toys that your child can play with alone, with others, or allow for parallel play. Blocks, play dough, LEGOs, a whiteboard and markers, and other toys like this are great options to have in your child’s designated play area. Toys that work on fine motor skills are another great option that can help your little one develop these skills as they also learn to play independently.

Tip 3: Start By Playing With Them

One thing that is important for parents to realize is that play is a learned skill, it is not something that children just know how to do. The first time you set your child in front of a box of blocks, they aren’t going to know what to do with them. To teach your child to play independently, you are going to have to start out by playing with them so that they understand what to do with different toys.

You will need to get down on the floor with them and play with the different toys. Show them how each toy works and how they can use them for different things, sort them by color, build, arrange, and play. Make sure you are doing this in the specific play area. Over time, you can slowly decrease the amount of time you spend playing with them and encourage them to keep playing while you step away for a moment. This can help teach your kiddos how to start being more comfortable playing alone and learn the skill of independent play.

Tip 4: Use a Timer

Some parents may not need this tip because their children may learn how to play independently with the other steps. However, if your child is still struggling to play independently and you need them to learn, using a timer can help.

Tell your child that you are going to set a timer for five minutes and during that time they can play alone. When that five minutes is up, you will come and join them and play with them. This allows your child to play alone but know that you will come to join them soon. You may find that your child is fine playing alone long after the timer goes off. If this is the case, let them continue to play alone for a couple more minutes until you join them. We recommend using a vibrating timer on your phone so that if it does go off and they are playing just fine on their own, they won’t hear the timer and stop their independent play.

If your child doesn’t seem to be playing alone as well as you had hoped, when the time goes off go back and let them know they did a good job playing alone and that you will join them now. When they know that you will join them eventually, they are more likely to be okay playing alone for a while.

By using a timer you can keep your child busy for the amount of time that you need and then you can come back and play with them. They will begin to get used to playing alone while you step away to make dinner or jump in a meeting, before you can join them again. You can start adding more and more time to the timer so that they get used to playing alone a little longer each time.

Tip 5: Encourage Independent Play

Once your child is able to play on their own after you start playing or set a time and back away from it, it is time to start focusing on how to initiate it. If you are in the middle of cooking dinner or about to hop on a Zoom meeting and your kiddo comes up to you and says they want to play with blocks, tell them to go and get the blocks out and start playing and that you will come and check on them in a little bit.

This encourages your child to initiate independent play on their own and become more comfortable with it. If they need you to jump in later, you can before stepping away again. To continue to encourage independent play, it helps to celebrate them playing alone and what they are doing. Tell them how much you love the castle they are building with blocks alone. Give them praise and verbal rewards when they do a good job playing alone.

We hope these tips can help you teach your children how to play independently. We know that it is important to teach your child this skill, especially if you might be working from home. If you have any questions be sure to contact Yellow Brick Road Early Childhood Development Center today!

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