Play is the essential work of early childhood, we've talked about that before.
But time and again it is sometimes ignored by parents and carers to plan more structured activities and numerous aftercare.
However, playing alone is one of the things that can develop all the skills and tools that children need to grow into successful adults.
For children, play is associated with positive cognitive, social-emotional and physical development, especially unstructured play.
Unstructured and child-centered play allows children to develop socio-emotional skills such as self-regulation and cooperation when they have to take turns playing in the playground or have space to run in a local park.
You may be concerned that your toddler plays alone a lot.
- Maybe he plays alone a lot and not with you, but this is good.
- Perhaps he often plays alone and not with peers, but playing in parallel (playing “next to” other children) is part of the development.
However, as parents, we don't always have the chance to play with our kids all the time.
And it might be good to encourage our children to play independently in a quality way for times when we need to cook, get some work done, or have a short time alone.
Why is independent play important?
While high-quality interactions and playtime are essential for healthy relationships and development, children also benefit from opportunities to develop independence and self-regulation skills.
Overall, a child familiar with independent play is less likely to say they are bored or not sure what to do when playmates or electronic devices are not available.
It is important for children to find joy in themselves. A steady playmate in life is no guarantee and children should learn to enjoy themselves.
As adults who are often glued to devices for constant entertainment, we believe this is more important than ever, and raising children who are satisfied with themselves and their own thoughts is a solid educational goal for each of us.
Independent play also promotes creativity. When children are encouraged to solve problems on their own, they come up with endless possibilities.
What skills does independent play teach young children?
The self-reliance needed to support independent play supports a child's ability to focus and develop problem-solving skills.
When there's no one else to reach for the toy or rebuild a fallen block tower, she explains, a child needs to figure it out on their own and remain calm to continue successfully.
This builds the ability to control and persist with emotions.
When a child plays, alone or in a group, they develop an executive function.
The executive function is the ability to self-regulate their emotions, develop patience and impulse control.
These are all skills essential to a child's overall health, development and future success.
As a parent, how do you deal with playing your toddler alone?
As parents, we tend to intervene and entertain or often feel guilty about letting the toddler do their own thing.
But leaving them alone in a safe and healthy way can be very good.
A toddler playing happily on a bouncy castle or blanket is engaged in independent play.
Since your child can also play around with you, activities such as playing on the kitchen floor while cooking nearby provide a great foundation for further independent play.
Also keep in mind that playing independently is not always alone. Toddlers often just want you in the room, so be there for them.
Not only does your presence provide emotional support, you can encourage their game independence with praise.
So grab a pile of laundry to fold and settle into the playroom with it. Let them play and they may suddenly see activities that they want to join you.
Your toddler is experiencing a lot at the moment and is developing strongly. If he now plays alone a lot, not with you or not at the daycare or childminder, that does not mean anything.
At the moment they are more involved in parallel playing to focus on others.