When Jacob turned about 9 months old, I began to instigate an ‘independent play time’ every morning. This involves him going into his play pen in the lounge, with a few toys and books, and spending some time playing by himself whilst I am out of sight. I personally think it is really important that little ones learn how to play by themselves for short periods of time. As parents, I think we can sometimes feel obliged to be constantly entertaining our children but I don’t think this is helpful for the parent or the child. Children need to use their imaginations and to do so they need space, and parents sometimes need to get on with household tasks or *gasp* take a quick shower in peace. I don’t want to raise a child who is incapable of being happy on his own. These are a few (hopefully helpful!) pointers about independent time if you are thinking of introducing it yourself:
- Start small and build up gently. When I first introduced independent time I only expected Jacob to play for about 5 minutes. Sometimes he became upset the moment I put him in the play pen and on those occasions I didn’t push it. I wanted it to be something that he learned to enjoy, not associate with being distressed. Apart from a few blanket refusals in the first month, he has no problem going into the play pen for independent time and now he will happily last about 20-30 minutes.
- Choose your time carefully. I tend to do independent time after Jacob has had breakfast and is dressed with a clean nappy. I use the time to get dressed myself and ready for the day, and to do a few tasks that are tricky with a little one underfoot like putting away laundry.
- Be out of sight. This sounds harsh but is actually one of the most important things about independent time. Do not be in their line of vision because they will most likely be distracted by you and want your attention. If you go away for short amounts of time they will quickly learn that you always come back again (a great lesson!) and they will also learn that they can manage happily on their own for a bit. You could always set up a video monitor if you wanted to keep a secret eye on them. I make sure I can always hear Jacob, and I like listening to him chattering to himself – it’s cute!
- Don’t overwhelm them with toys. I made this mistake initially, piling in multiple toys to try and keep him entertained. He simply had too much choice and couldn’t work out where to start, so I began to choose just a few toys and books (usually about four) and he was much happier. His favourites at the moment are stacking boxes, pop up animals and the Peepo book, because he likes the hole in the front. Last week I started to give him a bag (the red spotted bag in the photos) with some play food inside because he is currently enjoying taking things in and out of bags/boxes and putting them back in again.
- When they get upset, stop. Sometimes Jacob will make little grumbly noises during his play time but is quickly distracted. There is a difference between this and his “I’m fed up now” noise and I have learned to tell the difference. To keep up the success of his time alone I don’t push him beyond being fed up and always get him out once he is done. I make a big fuss of him at the end of his time and we usually read a book or two together or play with one of his toys which he enjoys.
One day, when Jacob drops his naps, I will introduce independent quiet time in which he can read or play or listen to story tapes in his bedroom for an hour or so. I hope that this will prove an easy transition as by then he should be very used to having quiet time each day when he entertains himself.
I hope this is useful! Do you do independent time in your home? Any other tips to share?