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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 Simple Ways to Encourage Independent Play

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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The Benefits of Homeschooling-Entrepreneur Version

The Benefits of Homeschooling-Entrepreneur Version

4 Benefits of Homeschooling as an Entrepreneur

Our homeschooling journey began about the same time our second daughter was born. I was teaching at our older daughter’s preschool while pregnant, and we all intended to go back when baby Kate was six weeks old.

Right before I returned, I was told I would be the teach in the 3-year-old classroom, teaching my own daughter along with 11 other children. The idea of making $2/hour while my newborn was in the nursery just seemed silly. It made a lot more sense for the three of us to “do school at home,” lesson-planning for one child and holding my precious infant as much as I wanted.

Addie and I immediately thrived as homeschoolers. She soaked up the one-on-one attention, I loved the flexibility of our routine, and our little one napped on her own schedule.

It also became quite clear that buried deep inside of me beat the heart of an entrepreneur. 

I began teaching signing classes in our home in 2012. Over the next five years, I have added parent workshops, family activity guides, and one-on-one consultations. Along the way, I have met many other “mompreneurs” who are also considering homeschooling their children. I often hear this question:

Can I run my own business and find the time to educate my kids?

Have you seen that meme that says: “Pick Two: Your Sanity, Happy Kids, Clean House”? That’s how I feel about homeschooling and running a business. On any given day, I may rock the teaching aspect of our day OR I may finish a ton of housework OR I may check off everything on my work to-list. More likely, I’ll have a good day in TWO areas, but never have I ever managed to do all three. And I’m okay with that.

4 Benefits of Homeschooling as an Entrepreneur | WAHM, homeschool, preschool at home, mompreneur

My girls have grown up right alongside my business. They have watched ME grow, too. If you are a homeschooling mama considering starting your own business or you are a business-owning mama considering homeschooling, let me just say, it CAN be done.

Here are four benefits of homeschooling as an entrepreneur:

  • Benefit #1: My girls recognize that “work” is a list of tasks, not a set number of hours.

My husband works a fairly traditional 9-5 job, but he also works every fourth weekend and the occasional evening. His flex-time schedule means that we can move a morning of schoolwork to the evening or weekend–and our girls still get plenty of Dad-time. We also travel during non-peak times (hello, Disneyland in September!) and soak up as much outside time as possible whenever the weather permits.

  • Benefit #2: My girls understand that “community” is not limited to age or location.

If you are considering homeschooling (or are already homeschooling), then you are no stranger to the socialization question. I have seen my children are building their group of friends from a wider pool of people than those assigned to their classroom. They have relationships with older adults, neighbors, community workers, older and younger children, students who are homeschooled and those in traditional school, etc.

  • Benefit #3: My girls have household responsibilities, and they  see that housework is not gender-specific.

With our home pulling double-duty as our school, every family member works to keep it going. Honestly, I couldn’t work or homeschool without the support of my husband and children. We play together, we work together, we learn together.

  • Benefit #4: My girls know that their education can take them anywhere.

From a very early age, I have been able to nurture the interests of my children. My older daughter loves to sing, bake, write, and draw. She has grand plans to open an art shop/bakery when she is older, and I fully believe she will accomplish it. Both of our girls have lots of free time during the day, once their school work and chores are complete, to pursue their passions. I am able to work school lessons around their learning styles and strengthen the gifts they already possess.

Which of these benefits of homeschooling as an entrepreneur mean the most to you?


 

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