Tag: life skills

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.)


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 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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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.

Learning to Read is a Lot Like Potty-Training

Learning to Read is a Lot Like Potty-Training

Over the last year, I have realized how many childhood skills need to be taught directly and intentionally. Our kids need to learn from us how to appropriately handle money, relationships, and conflict before they become adults, right? It got me thinking about our early years of parenting, all the way back to potty-training, and how easily those same ideas apply to academic skills like learning to read and write.

Learning to Read is a Lot Like Potty-Training | early literacy, parenting tips, ideas for families, child development, preschool, Kindergarten, 1st grade, motivation, fun, encouragement

It’s a beautiful process, one of my favorite things about parenting. Both of my girls have become happy, independent readers…and I love it. If you’re at all concerned about your child’s journey toward becoming a reader, I have some encouragement for you:

  • Every child will learn in his/her own time.

Parents often ask me about programs and curriculums designed to teach young kids how to read. Like potty-training, I think our culture has turned learning to read and “getting ahead” into a money-making opportunity. Is Reading Eggs fun? Yes. Is it necessary? Probably not.

Learning to read is a milestone in every child’s life that cannot (and should not) be rushed. A child who is read to regularly will love books and learn how to read when the time is right.

  • There is no ONE “right” way to learn.

There has been a major push toward phonics-based programs over the past decade: books, DVDs, apps. While I certainly believe phonics are an integral part of any literacy program, there is SO much more to learning to read.

The good news is, there are as many ways to learn how to read as there are potty-training methods. In all facets of early learning, I believe in finding the “right” way for YOUR child and YOUR family.

  • Every adult caregiver needs to be on the same page.

As I have mentioned before, I have a background in elementary education. I have a HUGE respect for teachers, especially those who teach preschool and Kindergarten. I was a teacher before I was a mom, though–and if I stepped back into a classroom tomorrow, I would do things differently.

Yes, teachers know a lot about child development and classroom management, but parents are the TRUE experts when it comes to their children.

Learning to Read is a Lot Like Potty-Training | early literacy, parenting tips, ideas for families, child development, preschool, Kindergarten, 1st grade, motivation, fun, encouragement

Kids will have an incredible number of influential adults in their lives: coaches, church workers, doctors, and teachers. Parents are the consistent thread throughout a child’s lifetime. You know how your child learns best, what his interests are, what kinds of books will keep her up with a flashlight at night. When it comes to your child’s learning journey, YOU are the adult with the most influence.


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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?