I could hear my two year old son singing in his playroom upstairs, but didn’t disturb him. After a bit, he excitedly asked me to come see his block creation – a “house.” I went up the stairs, and told him he had done a great job, and asked him if he wanted to keep playing with blocks or do something else. He wanted to continue, so I left him alone again.
Independent play is one of the most necessary skills that a child needs to develop. Independent play teaches them creative thinking skills, independence and self motivation. It’s not about ignoring the child so I can get other things done, it’s actually a skill that I have worked hard to cultivate in my son because I want him to have those skills in the future.
In his book Beyond Discipline, Dr. Christophersen spends an entire chapter describing the benefits and factors involved in fostering independent play. It is something that has to be fostered in children, and is something that particularly with the first child may not come easily at first. It is also something that has to be intentional.
As a parent, I have to fight the urge to correct my son in the way he plays with certain toys. If he fills a toy cooking pot with Legos and tells me they are dinner, I pretend to eat them I don’t tell him that Legos are used for building and not for food. When he wants me to put his puzzle together for him because he is stuck, while I may suggest a piece or two I have to resist the impulse to help him or do it for him. Instead I tell him he is doing a good job and to “keep trying.”
We have to give kids the space to figure things out on their own and the time to do it. We also have to allow them to make mistakes and not rescue them right away.
As he was building his “house” with his blocks, I heard the blocks crash several times. I also heard my son tell himself to “try again,” just as I have told him many times. He has to learn how the shapes of the blocks work together so he can understand how to put them together himself. It is not a skill that would be helped if I did it for him.
I often play with him for a bit when he gets a new toy and talk with him. We discuss the possible uses for the toy and how it could be used and then play for a bit. I then leave him by himself to figure it out more – or to come up with brand new uses for that toy. This encourages creativity and resiliency. From a little under one on, I have made it a point to give him gradually increasing increments of unstructured play time alone each day.
Creatively, I have watched him thrive from it.