Play has a vital role in development of our children and is the foundation of all learning especially the Social skills. The first five years of a child’s life are spent in understanding and gaining survival skills like walking, talking, muscle coordination and of course interpersonal relationships. Play is an intrinsic component of this process because it is here that kids first test their skills and then relate it to their life.
My own parents are full of stories of how I used to have Tea-parties, Imaginary friends and play house all by myself for hours at end. Today children hardly ever play alone and I often hear mothers complain that they have to perpetually engage their kids or have a playmate over. The cultural phenomenon of “INVOLVED PARENTING” and inner perceptions of parents has mothers raising Children who need a constant companion and are daunted by the idea of entertaining themselves even for a short period of time.
WHY A CHILD SHOULD PLAY ALONE
In no way am I against playing with a child and even I spend a lot of time doing activities with my daughter. Playing together is a way of showing them that you love them and give them attention. But if you want to foster independence in your toddler it is important to create opportunities for him/her to play alone. Often Parents try to fill every waking hour of a child with interesting activities which is wrong.
Children must be left on their own to extract an enhanced learning experience from Play. If you are always hovering over them, correcting their mistakes, giving them guidance and using ‘your creativity’ to engage them how will they ever learn to let their own imagination run wild and create a fantasy world for themselves.
The competence to be alone encourages self-confidence in a child and he/she is able to handle separation from parents in a better way. Playing alone will enable the child to gather encouragement, comfort and discipline from within himself/herself rather than depend on parents or care givers for the same. Playing alone is also an emotional outlet for children where they can duplicate roles that they see like playing teacher, caring for their dolls, being a space fighter etc.
In today’s age where single child families are abound, if you don’t encourage “playing alone” your child may feel withdrawal symptoms or deprivation when he/she is in situations where they have to entertain themselves. This may lead to a dependency on you, constant need for attention, watching TV all the time and may be mischievous activities.
HOW TO HELP A CHILD PLAY ALONE
Use a phase-separation method: If you have always been playing with your child, you can’t suddenly put them in a situation where they have to entertain themselves. Initially, just plan an activity for your child which requires minimal input from you and you can watch by the sidelines. It doesn’t matter whether you do this for 5 mins or half an hour as long as the child remains engaged. Slowly increase your separation time and use activities which will require the child to think and imagine on their own. But, always be around for helping your child in case they need it and make sure that there are no dangers involved in their play routine.
Create Opportunities : It is important that you make it possible for the child to initiate independent play. Books, toys and activities should be kept at the eye level of the child so that they can take them out and play without any help. Similarly encourage role-playing games where the child can be a teacher or a doctor and can use his/her dolls as companions. Other ideas can be to create a Sensory bin and a dress up box.
Invest in suitable toys: Apart from the regular toys keep some which will make it easy for your child to play alone, like a playkitchen, Dolls, a dollhouse, action figures etc. It is not even necessary to buy these, there are so many craft tutorials available on the internet for making toys at home which can help you. Here is a fantastic playkitchen made from repurposing a TV Cabinet from giggleberry. If your kid is more of an outdoors personality you can create a backyard camp or an obstacle course in your garden. Look for games for kids whose labels says “for 1 or more players”.
How do you encourage your child to play alone? What activity for kids do you suggest to foster independent play? Share through your comments.