As a teacher and play therapist, I know how important it is to teach you kid to play alone. They need to be able to do this for their own imagination (and your own mama sanity!)
We all want our kids to play alone, even just for 20 minutes while we sit down and catch up on a book, or for 10 minutes while we chat on the phone with a friend. I love playing with my kids as much as the next parent, but alone time is healthy for everyone: you and your child.
“Many parents believe that they should constantly engage with their children, but that mentality leaves no time for relaxation ” and creates stress that your kids pick up on. It’s the downtime for scribbling, making a car out of a cardboard box, or exploring the backyard that fosters the skills your child needs to be successful and fulfilled: creativity, critical thinking, and confidence. ” ~ Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., coauthor of Einstein Never Used Flash Cards.
How to Teach Your Kid to Play Alone:
1. Set up an area for your child. Our daughter has a space in her room that is designated to her princess castles. When it is time for her to play alone, we get out her princesses that are put away (we only leave a few out at a time) and she will be engaged in play for 30 minutes or more.
2. Give them an art project. I give our kids the Crayola Magic markers (the ones that only write on the special paper) and ask them to make a birthday card for someone.
3. Give them an Invention Box and let them go crazy! (30 minutes of play is worth the 5 minutes of clean-up!)
4. Ask the kids to go outside and gather leaves. I could sit on my porch and read for 20 minutes while our kids look for leaves and put them into a grocery bag. When they come back, sort them, count them or make a craft with them.
5. If your kids have trouble playing alone, spend thirty minutes playing with your kids (not just watching them). Be sure there are no electronics and no interruptions. While you do what you need to do, they will be ready to do what they need to do (play alone). Give them the attention first and then give them an activity to keep them busy. Usually, the attention that you gave them is enough to sustain them during their quiet time.
6. Don’t interrupt. I listen for our kids instead of going in to check on them. The minute that I walk into the room to ask “Everything going OK?” is the minute that they stop playing alone and want me to join in. Wait to go into the room until you are ready to play. (If you are a worrier… pick up a video monitor.)
7. If your child is new to playing alone, teach them HOW to play by talking it out. “This car is going to the store. What will he need at the store? Bread? Maybe he will make a sandwich later. Oh no! There is a tree down on the road and he needs to go all the way around the tree.”
8. Build a fort out of kitchen chairs and a sheet (or throw a sheet over the table) and put a few toys, books and maybe a flashlight inside. This keeps kids busy for quite a while.
9. Gather a box of dress up items and place them near a full length mirror. Put on some great music for your kids (we like Pandora Disney stations) and let your kids have fun using their imagination: dressing up, pretending and dancing in front of the mirror will keep your kids busy for quite a while. This is perfect for teaching your child to just imagine.
10. A book on tape is a great way to encourage your child to spend some time reading and looking through a book without you. I love to read to our kids at night, but I want them to enjoy books on their own, too.
11. Set a timer. You can tell your kids to play alone until the timer goes off, at which point you will join in on the playtime.
Example: “Play with your blocks for 10 minutes and when you hear the BEEP, we can build a house together. If you ask me to come and play before the BEEP, I am going to say no.”
12. Don’t direct the play. The next time that you are sitting with your child to play, let your child lead the direction of play. There will be many times when you will step in, perhaps to say “Let’s go into the castle. Come on, Ariel! Here is a pretty dress for you.” … Instead, try to let your child lead the way in play and be a great follower. This will teach them how to lead the way in their own independent play (and in life). Be the play supporter instead of the play director.
13. Don’t correct their play. So many times, our kids will be doing something like making a fort or building a house out of blocks and we will see a way for them to improve it. When we tell our kids these things, we are assuming that they have a problem. If they are overlooking it or choosing not to make it a big deal, why would we try to fix it? Your child is learning the simple lesson of “don’t sweat the small stuff”, so don’t teach them the opposite.
14. Offer a choice. When our kids are having trouble finding something to do, I will offer them a choice: You can either pick a chore from the chore basket or you can go play upstairs. They pick to play upstairs 90% of the time.
15. If your child is hesitant, have independent play in the same room that you are in. Maybe you are reading a book and you bring in a basket of books for your child. Maybe you are cleaning in the kitchen, so you give you kids a pot and pan to pretend to cook their own dinner. Playing in the same room will be a great step in the right direction.
Kids who play alone learn how to create, solve problems, invent ideas and use their imaginations. Independent play is so important to their growth, as well as to their education and life-long success. You are giving your child such a gift when you encourage him to play alone. For more ideas, visit us on our Facebook Page (we share parenting ideas every day!)