Since starting kindy Immy has been coming home craving mummy-time. “Come play with me, Mama,” has become a common refrain both in the afternoons after I pick her up and on non-kindy days. While I do spend time playing with her, I know that it is important for her to be able to play independently and it is important for her to understand that I have jobs to do, especially with the arrival of a new baby on the horizon.
So this is how I am currently encouraging her independent play…
Acknowledge and honour her need for mama time
The fact is that Immy and I have been home together for four years. Kindy is a big change for her and although she loves it, it takes a lot out of her. She comes home tired and hungry and these are classic cues for the onset of the needy preschooler. I manage this by making sure I have a cold drink and filling snack ready for her to eat in the car when I pick her up and by giving her a short period of uninterrupted playtime together, playing a game of her choice, once we get home. I like to think of it as filling up her tank full of mama love again
I then excuse myself to undertake dinner preparations or other chores and she is generally then good to keep playing on her own. I know that the arrival of a new baby will make this time more difficult to manage but even if it is reading together while I feed or going for a walk together in the park after school with the baby in the pram, I intend to continue to try to make this transition time between school and home as smooth as possible.
Providing open ended toys and making them accessible
It might seem obvious but a big part of encouraging children to play independently is making sure that they have open ended toys that are relevant to their current interests and stage of development easily accessible so that they can get on and play.
Invitations to play and being nearby
I am still setting up invitations to play or invitations to create regularly. Not everyday, but especially on days when I have work to do. I suggest starting with what your child loves to play with and creating a simple but attractive play scene that incorporates and extends upon their interest and then letting them play. For example,
- If they love to play with dolls, set up a pretend tea party or picnic with their dolls.
- If they love to play with dinosaurs – fairies – farm animals – wild animals – sea animals – superheroes – princesses – etc, create a miniature world or landscape to use in play with their figurines. Read more about creating miniature worlds and loose parts for imaginative play.
- If they love to play with a doll house, add small boxes and scraps of fabric so they can create some ‘new’ furniture or accessories.
- If they love to play with cars or trains, add wooden blocks, small people and other small items to create a landscape or city around their trains and roads (a large sheet of box cardboard with roads drawn onto it in permanent marker makes a great base).
- If they love to play with playdough, set it up on a table with something interesting to create with it – dried pasta and noodles, or small gumnuts, stones and sticks, or patty pans and matchsticks.
- If they love to draw, set up large pieces of paper with some new drawing utensils – try oil pastels or magic colour change felt tipped pens, or metallic crayons/felt tipped pens and black paper.
I set this up somewhere close to where I am busy working or doing chores, so that we can still talk and interact as need be.
Involving her in my chores
If Immy is still requesting my involvement and attention, I invite her to help me with what I need to do, finding her a task to help with dinner preparation or folding and putting away laundry or whatever else I am doing. She then has the choice to come and help or keep playing on her own.
So far this combination of strategies is working well for us but I am always open to new ideas and would love to hear, how do you encourage your children to play independently or answer the call of ‘I’m bored’?