You know the benefits of independent play. But how do you encourage it? First, you have to discourage other activities. Despite what many parents believe, allowing children to watch TV or play video games alone is not the same as encouraging independent play; in fact, these activities teach a child to be dependent on technology. Limiting TV and other screen time is a good first step.
Many parents also pack their child’s non-school hours with outside activities. With his time filled up by school, extracurricular activities, sports and clubs, a child may barely have time to relax, let alone time to play independently. All of these activities have their place, so eliminating all of them is probably not wise. The challenge for parents is to help their children strike a balance between independence and interaction with others.
Once your child has the opportunity to play independently, how does he do that? Spending time outdoors is a great way for many children to develop independence. For some children, a walking stick, a ball or some kid-sized yard tools are enough to keep them occupied. If this does not work for your child, or if playing outside is impractical for some reason, alternatives include playing cards and dominoes, completing challenging puzzles, and creating art with various media; these activities are good for both structured and unstructured time. Dolls or puppets are a good choice as well and even better if you are able to build time into your schedule to watch a show put on by your child.
Finally, be sure to praise your child when you find him being self-entertaining appropriately. One of the best things that you can do for your child is to reward desired behavior with positive reinforcement.
Even though independent play has many benefits, it should not be overused. Children still need attention from their parents. Do not be tempted to leave your child alone for long stretches of time; younger children may need to have you check on them every few minutes. Be sure to begin and end independent play time with positive communication between you and your child. Before play, let your child know approximately how long you expect him to be independent and where you will be if needed. After play, ask what your child did and listen intently. Be sure to offer plenty of praise when appropriate.
The benefits of independent play are clear; creativity, self-confidence, and leadership skills are just some of them. Regardless of a child’s age, spending time independently, with parents, and with friends is necessary for him to become a happy, healthy, well-adjusted adult. Since your child depends on you to supply what he needs, be sure to offer your children the gift of independent play.
David Reeves is Marketing Manager of Playland Inc. in Carrollton, GA. Playland Inc., is a total solutions manufacturer and supplier to many industries, with its roots deep in the park and playground markets including churches, schools, and day care centers. It has developed into the only company in its field to offer direct to all of its customers, the ability to purchase outdoor playgrounds, shelters, shade, indoor playgrounds, water slides and site amenities. Connect with SII on LinkedIn or Facebook.