Monday, July 14, 2014

Encouraging Independent Play in Toddlers

As a stay at home mom, I would love to spend my entire day playing with my kids. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen most days as I have to clean the house, make meals, work on the blog, etc etc. I don't know how many times I've said "why won't they just go play by themselves???" It seems that when my to do list is the longest, they need the most attention.

I've been working hard the last couple of months to find ways to encourage their independent play and I thought I'd share them with you! It's a daily struggle in our house and I'm certainly not an expert but things are slowly getting easier.

Encouraging Independent Play in Toddlers

1. I've noticed that when I spend an hour or two purely focused on my kids in the morning, they are much more likely to enjoy independent playtime later in the day. If I try to start on my to do list first thing in the morning, they throw tantrums and fight. Giving them some undivided attention right away fills some of their "mommy time" needs and gives me time later to focus on things I need to get done.

2. Both of my kids thrive when I give them "jobs" to do. Toddlers love to imitate and I've taken the opportunity to teach them how to help me. If I need to do the dishes, I'll give them each a wet washcloth and let them wash the fronts of the cabinets. If I need to do laundry, they help put things away or drag their empty hampers back to the laundry room. When I vacuum, Connor runs his ball popper toy behind me. I'm able to get my cleaning done and they feel like they've gotten to help!
Helping me clean. Obviously Grace dressed herself that day!
3. If I know that I have a blog deadline coming up or that I need to deep clean the house before guests arrive, I try to plan a fun outing early in the day so that they can get some energy out. Just an hour at the park in the morning can totally transform their moods. They're much more likely to play happily that afternoon if I've given them a chance to run off some of their energy.

4. Both of my kids tend to look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them to just "go play!" But if I set out one or two toys, they are much more likely to get engaged. I like to put away some of the toys they get for Christmas and their birthdays and rotate them out so they get new toys all year round. I can pack up the old ones to bring out again later in the year or donate/sell them. It's more fun to play with "new" toys than with old familiar ones.

5. I've learned through the years that Grace loves more structured activities. Connor will play with toys for hours, but Grace gets bored with them pretty fast. For those toddlers who need more structured playtime check out some of my favorite toddler activities. Most require just a few minutes of set up and then she is able play independently while I write a post or pay bills.

6. This is a hard one for me, but I've learned that to encourage independence, I need to let my kids play. If they get a little dirty or a little messy, that's okay unless they are going to hurt themselves or damage something. They don't need to play with toys exactly how they are supposed to be played with and they don't always need to follow the instructions. If they're having fun, let them be. I often have to stop myself from correcting them. When I'm able to get 30 minutes of work done, the little mess is totally worth it (I do ask them to help clean up when they are done). I always have to remind myself that they are learning and I should encourage them to be creative and have fun.

I laid out a sheet and let them make a huge mess while I got dishes and lots of laundry done.
Totally worth the mess and they had so much fun!
Some day these tips work perfectly and others they don't. There are days that I simply have to push my to do list to the side and remember that my kids need me now. There will be many days later in their lives where I will wish I could go back and cuddle or play with them.

How do you encourage independent play in your house?

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