Playing independently… will it ever happen?

As a pregnant mother of a toddler, it would help me so much if The Child would play independently. We rush around enough as it is, her social calendar is pretty full. I’ve taken her lead when watching her play at friends’ homes, and have bought toys she seems to enjoy (mostly second hand, I’m also incredibly cheap frugal). She currently has a doll’s house, lots of little people, play kitchen, vacuum cleaner, castle (that is ridiculously enormous), dressing up clothes, and a few Early Learning Centre Happyland sets.

But does she play with them at home? For about five to ten minutes, maybe. Then she needs me to get heavily involved. WHICH WAS NOT PART OF THE PLAN. She can play with these for ages if — and only if — she has someone playing with her. As I can’t squeeze out a newborn at an already toddler-level stage of development, I need another plan.

As many mums have told me, their toddlers tend to start watching a lot of television around this time. As The Child already has a well-established television addiction (*hangs head in shame*), she doesn’t need any more than she already consumes. So I’ve been trying to distract her with all sorts of suggestions*.

playing independently - will it ever happen

But some of the time, I do let her tell me exactly what she wants to do, and this morning it was giving some of her little plastic toys a bath in the sink. All I had to do was set it up for her, and she happily played for over half an hour, while I got some laundry folded and put away. AND THEN I REALISED THE ESSENTIAL TRUTH OF A TODDLER’S INDEPENDENT PLAY:

Stuff your kid likes isn’t enough. Your kid needs to LOVE doing whatever it is in order to be so absorbed they don’t need you there.

(In our case, I need to be within earshot so I can respond to her running commentary / monologue.)

The Child adores messy and sensory play. Give her pens, paper and scissors, glue, soapy water, shaving foam, ice, paints, play dough, cloud dough, mud, or snow — and she’s happy as Larry. Unfortunately for me, this means most of her independent play needs to be at least lightly supervised (i.e. eyes on her most of the time), but it’s better than being forced to follow her around with a hand puppet, pretending to be a unicorn with no legs.

(Yes. Seriously.)

Here are other handy tips on encouraging independent play from:

* This is where I’m not really that lazy. I am an extensive list maker. I have a big list of possible activities when staying at home.

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