Expert post: Why independent play is good for our children
You don't need to be a one person entertainment machine to keep your child amused.
If your children have been off school this week, you've probably heard the inevitable cry of "I'm boored!" at least once.
So how to respond to this? Well, I choose....not much, actually.
I don't think every moment of childhood needs to be an event-filled, extravaganza of fun, organised and led by adults. That way leads to exhaustion, huge expense - and is it really what's best for our children? If we leave our children to get on with amusing themselves by playing independently (either alone or with friends or siblings), is this just a lazy parent's cop out, or do we have our children's best interests at heart?
Benefits of independent play for children:
Exercises their imagination and concentration skills
Playing alone (or with siblings or friends) allows a child to create an environment of their own choosing. Great fun, and important when you spend the rest of your life being told what to do by parents or teachers.
Increases self esteem
Being able to be happy in your own company is an important part of valuing yourself as a person and building your own sense of self-worth
Their games aren't restricted by dull adult rules
You may consider yourself a bit of a funster, but the best expert on children's play is usually a child. So let them get on with it.
Gives parents new insights into what's going on in their child's mind
Once you take a step back and see how your child chooses to spend their time, this will show you what's important to them. Listen to what they say and you'll get a snapshot of their innermost thoughts and anything that's bothering them.
It increases their confidence and sense of what they can achieve for themselves
Nothing like the sense of satisfaction you get when you build that enormous tower out of every piece of Lego in the house
A nudge in the right direction
Some children need a little help when it comes to playing independently.
- Turn off the TV
- Bring out a toy they've forgotten about -it'll seem like new
- Set a challenge, like a jigsaw or a puzzle. My seven year old likes me to print out sudoku puzzles for him.
- Praise independent play when you see it in action
Start an activity then let your child finish it alone
Set out some paints, crafty stuff or puzzles and let your child take it from there. My daughter likes making and decorating cookies, so I stay on hand in case she needs help, but mainly let her get on with it. Though I do help with eating the cookies, so don't call me neglectful.
- Don't attempt to 'solve' their boredom - let them find their own solutions. It's OK to be bored - your imagination needs something to jump off from
Tell your child when you plan to spend time with them
Sometimes children get a bit whiny and demand adult attention because they're not sure when or if they're going to get it. Reassuring them that you will do something together will help them feel more at ease playing by themselves.
And there are benefits for parents too once you stop being Number One Entertainment Machine. If your children are happy to play independently, then it will free up your time too, and there's no need to feel guilty about this.
A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that regular opportunities for unstructured play are vital for a child's healthy development
Free Range Kids - very interesting blog on raising self-reliant children
You can find more ideas for independent play here:
NurtureStore - Ready for Ten writer Cathy's blog is passionate about play
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