Join Blog Contributor Christel as she discusses how to calm the chaos with five easy steps to establishing independent play!
After baby number 7, our house became a little bit crazier. The added blessing significantly altered the structure and routine we all had grown accustomed to. Our little guy also was constantly entertained by his older siblings and never learned the meaning of independent play.
You would think we would have learned our lesson when baby number 8 arrived. Our youngest, almost 2 years old, runs the roost and keeps his siblings at his beck and call. He single-handedly manages to organize around the clock entertainment by one of the kids. From toy trains, books, to coloring, our youngest son is entertained by everything and everyone, but himself.
I realized I made a huge mistake by never letting my kids explore and play independently while they were younger. Something had to be done.
The Importance of Independent Play
Interacting with adults is essential to the healthy development of little ones. At the same time, they should be given a chance to explore the world in a safe and child-friendly environment. Time alone, gives them a chance to learn and problem solve. The benefit of this time is an increase in self-esteem.
Learning to play alone is just as important for older children as it is for babies and toddlers. In fact, it is great for teaching independence, developing the imagination of a child, and learning to find a personal inner calm.
“Life is more fun if you play games.” – Roald Dahl
About 9 months ago, if a person walked into my home, they would be greeted in the living room with toys. The yells of our four-year old would greet them from the dining room and our shirtless nine-year old could be found doing cartwheels down the hall.
My kids were constantly bickering and arguing. From whose turn it was, which game to play, or anything else, I was constantly putting out fires. Each night, I went to bed exhausted and defeated.
One day, I knew something had to change. After much prayer, my husband and I knew we needed to Calm the Chaos and begin to create time and space for independent play.
Establishing independent play in the home takes FIVE simple steps!
Acknowledge the Issue
Accepting that things may be getting out of hand in your home may be one of the biggest challenges. Everyone would love to have kids who looked like the latest social media post. You know the one where all the kids are sitting alone quietly engaged in an activity. You may never get the perfect photo but designated independent play can be a reality. Kids can decide to seek time to be alone and just play. The first step is acknowledging that your kids DON’T do this.
Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean you are looking for picture perfect kids. Acknowledging the issues just means you realize your kids need to begin to learn to work on self-soothing techniques that will be useful for a lifetime.
Decide on Tech Times
Don’t stop reading! If your family does not allow electronics, then this step is a no brainer. Limiting tech times is not something you have to worry about. However, if you are anything like my family, electronic devices are a coveted item by your children.
When we made the decision for our children to establish independent play, we knew completely cutting tech time was off the table. Instead, we defined tech time and how much time would be allowed.
In our homeschool, we use various tech resources for learning. As we were establishing our guidelines, we determined time spent in front of the screen for assigned activities would not count. Next, we looked at the alarming statistics from a report from Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
¹Some preschoolers spend between 4.1 and 4.6 hours per day using screen media.
²Kids 8 to 18 use screen media approximately 7 hours per day2
After looking at these numbers, we concluded we would limit non-educational screen time to two hours per school day. When you decide your tech time, make a decision that is best for the needs and structure of your family. Just make sure you have set clear time limits.
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Create a List of Independent Play Resources (and use them!)
To get started, sit down with your children and come up with a list of ideas and interest. This can be done over dinner or you can turn it into special occasion. The most important thing is to give your children a chance to express their interest and ideas. Doing this, will give you a better idea of what to include on your list.
Once your list is created, decide how you will store it. Hang up the ideas on the fridge, write each idea on a popsicle stick and place it in a jar, or create cards that are easily transported.
Without a list of Independent Play resources, you are setting up yourself and your kids for failure. Remember. You want to keep this experience a positive one.
Don’t Jump All In
If your children’s screen time is high, don’t expect them to cut it off cold turkey. Their screen habits did not get this way overnight; neither will their ability to independently play. When you first start with implementing your tech time limits, ease into it and congratulate them often! You can decide to gradually decrease the time your children spend using electronics over the course of several days or weeks.
Another fun way to begin decreasing screen time is participating in Screen Free Week. This week is geared towards family, schools, and communities who are interested in unplugging from digital entertainment and spend days reading, playing, creating, exploring, and connecting with family and friends.
Whichever way you choose to get started, remember the importance of positive words of affirmation. Phrases such as “Good Job” have less impact than, “Wow! I love the puzzle you put together!”
Walk the Talk
Do you find yourself on your phone or digital device all day? Did you know the average adult taps or touches their phone at least 2,617 times a day, according to a study done by research firm Dscout. So, let’s think, if your children are seeing you on your electronic device numerous times each day, what message do you think you are sending?
Make an intentional decision to carve out time each day to model the behavior you want from your children. Sit back, put your feet up and read a book, get creative, or start a new hobby. Just make sure you are walking the talk!
Independent play is a necessity. It helps with concentration, self-control, and imagination and more! It is also a learned behavior, so don’t expect kids to perfect it immediately. If you are ready to get started, use the freebie below from Perfectly Blended and Blessed.
CHIME IN: How can you implement independent play into your home? Let us know in the comments below!
¹Rideout, V. (2011). Zero to eight: Children’s media use in America. San Francisco, CA: Commonsense Media. Further analysis of original data published by Commonsense Media was conducted on October 4, 2012 by Melissa Saphir and Vicky Rideout at the request of this publication.
²Johnson, J., Brook, J., Cohen, P., & Kasen, S. (2007). Extensive television viewing and the development of attention and learning difficulties during adolescence. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 161(5),