Over the past few weeks, we’ve been encouraging limiting screen time and providing creative ideas for things you can do with your kids to do, but today we want to cover tips on how to encourage independent play. Finding ways to encourage independent play can help your child become more confident and comfortable playing on their own, and it is a chance for them to learn to be creative, learn, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes, all on their own.  It can also be useful when you need a break or to get a few things done yourself but don’t want to put them in front of a screen. So let’s dig in! 

CREATIVE SPACE

Just as a painter can’t create a painting without brushes and paint, a child can’t be creative without the proper toys or gadgets. But this doesn’t mean your child needs fancy toys to be creative. Some of the best artists create art from repurposing objects or piecing “scraps” together. It won’t matter how expensive or fancy their toys are but they do need to have options to help them create the world their imagination wants to take them into.

SEPARATE SCREENS FROM PLAY SPACE

Separating creative play space from TV’s, computers, and other electronics will provide an ideal environment to get creativity flowing.  Passively watching a screen can discourage active play, especially when a TV is on in the background or a game is available right there. Clearly separating the two helps the mind to let go of the urge and natural draw to screens and allows the child to let the imagination flow. One of the best ways to separate these is to have an allotted time for when playing with electronics is allowed, this creates the understanding that it isn’t the time for your child to be using them.  

STEP BACK AND LET THEM LEAD

Follow their lead as passively as possible without being disconnected or detached. This trains their minds and muscles to take the lead in play and to be the authors, so that they aren’t reliant on your inner world, but rather on their own. By doing this they learn that their ideas have value and are worth pursuing, and they don’t need an adult to give them direction. This also allows them to test new ideas, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. If you are there guiding them every step of the way, there is no room for their own growth and learning.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Too much chaos can be an overwhelming environment for imagination to flourish. Sometimes, less really is more, especially when it comes to imagination play! Consider rotating toys, this will help pique curiosity,  create a good variety and keep creativity active. Also, providing a variety of options will give their imagination choices and the freedom to explore new concepts. When you give a child a box or bin filled with an assortment of things, they will be far more creative than going into a room overflowing with toys.

AGE APPROPRIATE ACTIVITIES

Age appropriate toys for your child play an important role in independent play, you’ll find that toys that are not age appropriate will leave you with a bored or frustrated child. Consider where your child is at developmentally, are they refining motor skills, learning to imitate those around them, or having their own interests emerge?  Finding toys that meet their needs and interests will encourage healthy developmental growth. Dress ups are a unique toy that can be ideal for a wide range of ages. They promote creative play and join kids of all ages together in an imaginative world with no limits. And since Little Adventures dress ups are comfortable, washable and guaranteed to outlast your child, it’s a perfect choice for every play room!

AVOID INTERRUPTIONS

Once you have ensured that their play space is safe, you can let them play freely while going about getting a few things done yourself. When a child is actively playing by themselves, try not to interrupt the magic. Let them play independently and resist making comments, offering suggestions or throwing out compliments about how well they are playing.  This allows them time to create their own world without a parent hovering over them.  Creative play needs concentration on their part and it will be frustrating to them to be interrupted regularly and will distract them from playing independently.

RESEARCH

Brian Sutton-Smith studied participants who were given a task to imagine various purposes for an object. It was determined in the study that they were likely to come up with considerably more ideas than their peers if they were allowed to play and tinker with the object first. For example, allowing kids to play with playdough for 10 minutes before conducting a creative activity resulted in more creative ideas. It’s a great idea to keep play dough on hand as a great transitionary activity from routine to creative play. 

Being a parent 24/7 – 365 days a year can be exhausting. We all need breaks and sometimes a little screen time is just what is needed. But hopefully these little tips and tricks in this article will help promote some independent play outside of screen time allowing you to get a load of laundry in, some dinner cooked or simply just do something you enjoy.