Category: Child Development Information & Ideas

How to Encourage Independent Play

How to Encourage Independent Play

As a homeschooling family, one thing my girls are REALLY good at is playing independently. Over the last six years, they have learned to entertain themselves while I teach the other child. We’ve also spent many hours playing at our Classical Conversations community, my husband’s choir practice, and the girls’ gymnastics class. Some children are natural learners when it comes to independent play, while others need direct instruction and practice.

How to Encourage Independent Play | child development, independent play tips for kids, life skills, early childhood, parenting tips

When is my child ready for independent play?

I recently had a mom ask, “How early do you think kids are able to do this?”

The easy answer, of course, is that all children are different. I believe independent play is an important life skill that needs to be taught in early childhood and practiced over time until it becomes a way of life.

I would venture to say that some babies can learn to play independently for small amounts of time, maybe 5-10 minutes max. Our oldest daughter loved to look at herself in a mirror during tummy time, even if I was sitting right next to her!

Even our second baby, who much preferred being held or worn, would often have her independent play time in the kitchen while I prepared dinner. I would sit her in the high chair with a special toy and she was free to explore near me (but not exactly WITH me).

As our girls grew into toddlers and preschoolers, their time for independent play grew longer and more frequent. As a homeschooling family, each girl would have a turn for lessons while the other would listen to her personalized playlist and play in the other room.

There is a myth that all children need to be “entertained” all the time, and it’s just not true. As parents, it is important to build in time for independent play–not in a neglectful way, of course. (It should go without saying that parents and caregivers should ensure their children are safe and happy during independent play sessions.)


Grab our FREE independent play learning ideas!


 4 Ways to Encourage Independent Play

  • Environment

All too often, parents send their children “off to play” in a room filled with toys. Immediately, overwhelmed with choices and decision fatigue, children will make a mess or be destructive. The first and most important step for teaching kids to play independently is preparing the environment. You can either set up a toy rotation system or perhaps easier for this purpose, bring just one or two toys to an uncluttered play area, like a rug or blanket on the floor. If your child has a small table, you can also set up an independent play activity on it.

  • Equipment

I am a self-proclaimed lover of toys. There are some amazing learning products on the market these days! When it comes to teaching your child how to play independently, however, you are looking for a certain type of toy. You are looking for something open-ended, that can be played with in a variety of ways.

(Reminder: Rolling Prairie Readers uses affiliate links at no additional cost to you. You can see our full disclosure policy here.)

Off the top of my head, I might consider Mental Blox or a train set to start. As your child becomes more adept at independent play, you can bring in the sensory bins or playdough invitations.  (You can click here to see the entire list of our 13 favorite indoor toys.)

  • Educate

As I mentioned in the introduction, some children are naturals when it comes to independent play. Others need to be taught (shown AND told) what it means to play independently. It may take a few weeks, but with good instructions, clear expectations, and lots of practice, you can set up good play habits that will last for years.

If you have a toddler or preschooler (or even an older child!), try this process:

  1. Explain that you are going to try a NEW activity! I think we first called it “room time,” but since we often switched from room to room, I started calling it “invitations to play.” (Now, our six-year-old just asks me to set up “an activity.”) Find a name that works for you both and signals something new and exciting.
  2. Show your child WHERE they are going to be doing the activity. As you lay out a blanket or set up a child-sized table, they will likely be intrigued without you doing too much. Remember to keep it fun–independent play is not a punishment.
  3. Bring out a toy (just one!) that they haven’t played with in a long time or something new you’ve picked up at a consignment store. Choose something they will WANT to play with at first (no screen time, of course). Make sure to keep it open-ended!
  4. Turn on music or an audiobook while your child plays. Stay close by, but don’t get involved in the play unless you want to. (Definitely don’t grab your phone/tablet, or your child will want what YOU have.)
  5. Mark down what time they start playing and when they lose interest/walk away. Hopefully you can get 5-10 minutes the first time! When they are done, ask them to clean up with you before they move on to another task.
  6. Repeat the process tomorrow. And the day after. Keep practicing until your child can stay focused on ONE activity for 30 minutes.

Remember that this should be FUN and light-hearted. If you are having any struggles at all, just reach out and we can troubleshoot together. 

  • Engage

If your child is struggling to play independently, the most likely problem (sorry to say) are the toys. We all know that kids gravitate towards the things that interest them, right? Start setting aside the toys your child no longer seems interested in playing with until you find the “sweet spot.” You can certainly try re-introducing the toy to your child at a later date to see if their interest has returned. (If not, you can resell that toy or donate it to charity.)

Another likely culprit is too much screentime. In our house, we definitely notice a negative effect on our children’s attitudes and attention spans when they’ve had unlimited freedom with either the TV or tablet. You may need to institute a “fast”or strong boundaries around screentime while your child is learning to play independently. We have found that audiobooks are a good substitute–low tech, but still engaging and fresh.

How to Encourage Independent Play | child development, independent play tips for kids, life skills, early childhood, parenting tips

YOUR TURN: How do you encourage independent play for your kids?


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Early Literacy Tips for Parents of Preschoolers

Early Literacy Tips for Parents of Preschoolers

Literacy Tips for Parents of Preschoolers | benefits of reading at home, fun learning ideas, raising readers, reading with your child, encouraging tips, learning to read, teaching kids to read

If you have a preschooler, you are probably wondering about HOW to prepare your child to become a reader. The most important job you have as a parent during this stage of the reading journey is motivation. We want our kids to see learning to read as an exciting adventure, and we’ll talk about about it in this free ONLINE video training. Get five literacy tips that you can use immediately with your preschool-age child.

Scroll down for all the resources mentioned in this training.

Need to find more time in the day to read with your preschooler? Check out this post for 12 fun ideas!

Books and resources mentioned in this video:

(Rolling Prairie Readers does use affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission if you purchase any items we recommend. For the full disclosure policy, you can click here.) 


TOP TIPS FOR CHILDREN IN PRESCHOOL:

  • Talking about stories allows a child to learn more about emotions (WHY a character feels the way they do), reasoning/logic, and picture-text connections.
  • Act out stories together. Encourage your child to bring characters and plots from their favorite stories into their block/dramatic play.
  • Expose your child to lots of new experiences! Prior knowledge will help your child understand what they’re reading later.

Teach your child to “picture walk” through a story. Sometimes this is a fun way to introduce a new book! Children who know how to deduce a story from the illustrations are not dependent on a reader to decode the text every time.

  • Watch TV with the captions on!
  • Introduce letters and sounds. Keep this fun and low-pressure (child-led) if you can. We used jumbo magnetic letters and an oil pan.
  • Rhyming games are a fun and important way to learn ending sounds. Make a points system for nonsense words and those with more than one syllable.
  • Give your child plenty of opportunities to write! Make a writing station with paper and pencils/crayons, use chalk outside, etc.

Grab our FREE Guide for Parents of Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers!

Grab our FREE Guide for Parents of Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers!

Raising children who love reading doesn’t just happen. So let’s be more intentional together, okay?

Goal Setting for Kids

Goal Setting for Kids

One of my favorite parts of parenting is teaching my girls skills that they will use throughout their life. From reading to laundry to goal setting, there are so many things to learn! Sometimes I get stressed by all the the things I need to teach, but this world is full of amazing experts who are willing to share their knowledge. Karen Delano is one of these amazing coaches! I reached out to her to see what advice she has about teaching kids how to set goals. Read on for a simple strategy you can use again and again!

Goal Setting for Kids | goal setting activities, goal setting ideas, growth mindset, family goals, child development, life skills | guest post from Karen Delano @ If It Were Simple

Happy New Year! It’s that time of year that many of us are setting goals for ourselves.

Goal-setting is a powerful skill we can teach our kids as well. Not only does it teach them responsibility for their own behaviors and learning but it establishes a lifelong habit for success.

The key to setting goals with kids is to keep it simple and fun! Start with smaller, short term goals that can be achieved in a week or less so they can see and feel success quickly and eventually your child will be excited to work on longer term goals.

But first things first, make sure your child knows what a goal is — something they want to accomplish by a certain time in the future. Let them know they can reach a goal by following a step-by-step plan and that making this plan is called goal-setting. It can be helpful to give them examples of your own goals to illustrate the idea by saying something like, “Mommy’s goal is that I will finish reading my library book by Friday. So I’m planning to spend 30 minutes reading before bed each night.”

Dream

Ask your child to dream of something they want to learn, do, create, change or overcome. Let them brainstorm all of their ideas – even ones that seem unrealistic or unimportant to you. It’s okay if they say they want to have a pet unicorn. At this point we just want them to start imagining and, too, any time we fully listen to our kids it strengthens our relationship.

Choose

Now it’s time to help your child reflect on their ideas and pick one to begin. Kids need to choose their own goal because it needs to motivate them and, of course, they’re more likely to follow through on their own ideas. But you can guide them towards setting a goal that’s realistic and within their control by breaking bigger goals into smaller, more manageable steps.

Visualize

Ask your child to close their eyes and imagine themselves having achieved their goal. Encourage them to tell you what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Then have them draw a picture of it! This visual reminder helps kids stay motivated when they start to get off track.

Plan

Work with your child to come up with a step-by-step plan of how they’ll take action. Have them decide when they want to get started and by when they want to achieve the goal. Determine if they need any help or resources. Another way to set kids up for success is by getting them to anticipate obstacles and how they’ll overcome them. Asking questions like “I wonder what you could do if xyz happens?” Using your own example can be helpful here too — “I might be too tired to read one night, so I could always fit some reading in after lunch so I’ll still finish by Friday.”

Celebrate

The process of setting and working toward a goal is an accomplishment in itself, even if your child doesn’t reach the goal. Inspire them to want to keep trying new things and to persevere with challenges by celebrating anyway!

It doesn’t have to be big or even be a “thing.” Simply honor the process with a round of applause, a dance party or a homemade certificate. Keep it something easy and fun!

And then — do it again! Over time you and your child will find out how they learn best, what motivates them the most, and goals can become more complex and longer-term.

I can’t wait to try this goal setting process with my girls!

What are your thoughts about teaching kids to set goals?


Goal Setting for Kids | A Guest Post from Karen of If It Were Simple

Karen Delano is a Simplicity Parenting Family Life Coach. She’s been a preschool teacher, run her own in-home play school and now she helps moms reduce their kid’s challenging behaviors, build connection in their family and deal with the stress that keeps them from acting and feeling like the mom they want to be. You can visit her website {If It Were Simple} and download her free guide to get kids to listen.