I wrote a post about Jane’s Free Play Fun activity a while back when I needed an easy way to give myself a few extra minutes of downtime and make sure Jane was actively occupied with something she was interested in (that wasn’t television).
I’m writing about it again because a friend mentioned to me the other day that when she becomes a mother, one of her goals is to parent in a way that fosters independence and creativity. Her comment reminded me of how important it is to leave your child alone at times and let her create her own entertainment, solve problems independently, and think for herself.
As much as we like to think we are the centers of our children’s universe, kids and babies are actually fully capable of – and want to – do things on their own. Even the littlest ones. And without you hovering around, they can truly be free to play, learn, and think for themselves.
Tips for Setting Up Free Play
Make sure the environment is safe so you don’t need to unnecessarily intervene
- For example, don’t choose a cutting activity if you are not confident your child is okay handling scissors on his own.
- Remove all unsafe objects from the play area (e.g., wires/cords; sharp objects; breakable objects; things your child might ingest; step stools; etc.).
- Put your baby in a pack n’ play clear of any furniture
Choose an activity appropriate for your infant or child’s age and experience
- Only leave out materials your child can manipulate without assistance so she won’t need to constantly ask for your help.
Build Free Play Time into your daily routine
- If you don’t usually leave your child alone, it might take your child time to adjust, but don’t be discouraged.
- Start small: 5 minutes a session is absolutely fine.
Acknowledge your child’s independence and creativity
- If your child creates something on her own without your assistance, focus your praise on her act of independence, not just the product of her creativity.
Of course children benefit from interaction with their caregivers and peers, but learning to be alone and learning to be self-reliant are equally important. Try it every once in a while and modify your free play time for what works best for you and your child.
The next time you’re feeling guilty about sending your kids to their rooms to play alone or setting them up with an activity and dozing on the couch or checking the latest celebrity gossip on your mobile device, remember that you are actually doing your kids a favor! And savor your alone time as much as they will savor theirs.
Free Play Ideas
Here are some ideas for incorporating some free play fun into your and your child’s day:
- Set up an invitation to free play with a host of craft materials like this one where Jane imagined her way through an hour of alone time (for both us!)
- For older children: Put together a few sensory activities and tools for your child to explore like this fine motor rainbow rice play
- For babies: Leave your infant in a pack n’ play with some sensory materials like these homemade I-Spy sensory bags and sensory bottles
- Set out materials for small world play (here are a few ideas)
- Or just leave your child alone with his or her toys that encourage open-ended play, like Duplo, LEGO, Mega Bloks, or Magna-Tiles, play dough (try this homemade recipe or these A-Z play dough flavors & recipes), or an assortment of drawing/painting materials.
Do you let your child free play?
LEARN! Creativity, independence, self-reliance, critical thinking, free play