You have seen the light. You know you’re a helicopter parent and you know it has to stop. In fact, you’re ready to let your kids roam free… play on their own… no more hovering. But when it comes to independent play, is it too much for us to expect that a three year old child, for instance, can get up and play in the morning—by himself—so that we can sleep in? (And we’re not joking). Encouraging independent play is important, but when and how to encourage it takes some thought. Today, Parents Ask expert Dyan Eybergen discusses and offers a step by step guide through each age as to what kind of play a parent can encourage:
Q: At what age are children ready to play on their own? For toddlers, in particular, if they’re wanting you to sit and play with them all the time (and you can- don’t have to prepare dinner, or help another child etc), should you? Or do you need to set up guidelines for times when they will play independently? How do you do that?
A: Children should be encouraged to “play on their own” right from infancy!
♣ From birth to 3 months children explore the world around them through reflexive actions (kicking, waving arms, sucking fingers) they also explore through sight and hearing.
♣ Infants are attracted to bright and vibrant colors, especially yellows and reds, and to objects with high-contrast patterns like black and white spirals. They prefer the human face to all other patterns, and will watch faces intently. They will turn their heads in the direction of a sound, and are more attracted to objects that emit a gentle, soothing sound and that move slowly than to those that remain still or are too loud, too sudden, or otherwise extreme.
♣ Parents should provide opportunities for babies to lie on their backs in a playpen or on a blanket on the floor to exercise gross motor skills and explore through sight and sound. Put on soothing music near baby and have a mobile or bright cloth pictures near the child’s line of vision. Putting a child on the floor or in a playpen in sight of a parent while that parent is cooking or doing household chores is doable. As long as the parent can see the child at all times. The parent can talk or sing songs to the child and the child will hear the parent.
♣ At 3 months they begin to swipe or reach towards a dangling object to grasp it. Any object grasped is likely to be mouthed and to be handled with jerky, unpredictable motions. Therefore, soft, lightweight, washable, easy-to-grip objects with rounded corners are best.
Encouraging independent play is important, but when and how to encourage it takes some thought.