Childhood is a vital part of a person’s life. Humans develop rapidly during childhood by learning and imitating what they observe. Our brain starts to develop before birth and continues to do so until adulthood. However, it is our early experiences that shape the human brain. Contrary to what parents think, a toddler’s activities and the response they get are far more important than academics.
Importance of Play for Children
Play is a vital part of a child’s development. Games like peekaboo, tag, playing house, and building Lego houses help build children’s imagination. Play lays the foundation for learning, exploring, and problem-solving. The best thing is that parents do not have to teach their children to play. Children can imitate what they see other children doing while at the same time experimenting with new things.
Play allows children to explore the world on their own. Children use their imagination to create an understanding of how the world works. While playing, children are masters and commanders of their imaginary world. Their parents make sure that the toddlers are safe. However, it is best if the children are left undirected. Undirected play helps children learn to solve their problems on their own.
Importance of Independent Play for Children
Independent play allows toddlers to learn many valuable lessons. These lessons encourage them to become self-reliant, independent, and confident in their abilities. Toddlers who regularly play independently are happier and more content than those who always play in groups or under parents’ supervision. Toddlers develop a more vivid imagination, full of imaginary friends, superheroes, fairies, and wizards, which later helps them become good at problem-solving.
For children, the most crucial turning point in their lives is when they start school. Until then, parents had been there to support the toddler, provide them with a safe environment, and involve them in various activities. Though when school starts, children realize their parents will not be there to hold their hands all the time. Toddlers who have played independently will naturally cope without supervision, while the mollycoddled ones may suffer.
5 Ways to Encourage Independent Play
Here are possible ways that can help encourage your children to play independently:
1. Provide the Right Type of Toys
Parents must provide their children with the right type of toys. Battery-operated toys, especially mobile and computer games, are a big no! They reduce the toddler’s ability to imagine a scenario. On the contrary, open-ended toys are more likely to affect the toddler than games that force their ideas on the child.
It would be much better if the toddler is provided with odd parts to play with. These can be blocks of wood, stones and pebbles, beads, seashells, and feathers. Loose parts will encourage the children to come up with new ideas to play with.
2. Never Force Your Ideas
Although your child may not need you during independent play, if you play with your child, make sure that you do not enforce your ideas. Always remember that you are the assistant, and your child is the director. If it is safe, let your kid decide what they want to do and how they want to proceed. The key here is to follow your children’s lead without being detached from the situation. This method allows the toddler to gain confidence in his/her abilities and ideas. Toddlers learn that their ideas are important.
3. Provide Toddlers with Age-Appropriate Toys Only
Toddlers are too young to play with certain toys, like puzzles. Toys that are too hard to play with will discourage them from playing independently. Toddlers who are helped by adults think that they are incapable of doing anything on their own. It might be alright for them to play with difficult toys when you are helping them, but make sure they are provided with more manageable toys when they are on their own.
It is understood that parents would want to help their children. A little bit of help seems fine, but if parents want their children to be on their own for long periods, they would have to provide them with interesting toys that require minimal support.
4. Provide Them a Secure Environment
Children are vulnerable. They might want to explore the world on their own, but they get frightened when they are away from their parents for too long. So, when parents encourage independent play, make sure the toddler is not too far away. Children’s play area should be a safe place, within earshot, so you can keep a check on them.
5. Do Not Treat Independent Play as a Punishment
Children are observant, so be wary of the tone you use around your children. Instead of impatiently making lengthy speeches about how you are tired and do not want to be bothered, it will be better to keep it as short as possible. Be easygoing and choose inspiring words instead of pouring your anxiety and worries over them.
We would not even suggest praising or evaluate children when they are playing. All three forms of responses can hinder your toddler’s interest in independent play. So, do not reward, do not punish, and do not evaluate it. Independent play is your child’s birthright, and you surely do not want to disrupt it.
Every child deserves to be allowed to explore the world themselves. They may take their time, but at least with independent play, they will be able to gain self-confidence, self-fulfillment, creativity, and problem-solving skills, which will help them in real life.