One of my digital detox goals was to create an environment of play in our house, rather than the “I’m bored, let’s watch a show!” routine that was becoming all too familiar. I also wanted our boys to learn how to play on their own without too much of my intervention.
Tips For Teaching Children to Play Independently
My sister-in-law recommended this popsicle stick trick where you write activity ideas on popsicle sticks, and if the kids are bored or stuck on what to do, they pull a stick and do the activity listed. Next, you set a timer for 30 minutes, and at the end of the time they can choose to continue playing or pull a different activity. I loved that idea and made the same for my house. It took a few days to catch on, but recently my oldest has asked to pull a stick or two and each time he says, “That is a great idea!” Adorable and efficient — what more could you ask for?
I’ve significantly reduced the amount of toys that we have visible in the playroom at any given time. After the rush of birthday and Christmas gifts in December, I got really frustrated and bought the biggest storage tub I could get at Target.
I loaded up all of the “single purpose” toys into the bin with the idea that the boys could access them one at a time if they wanted to play with them. I couldn’t believe it either, but I am being completely honest with you when I say that my 4 year old has asked for ONE single toy out of the box and hasn’t asked again since that day a few weeks ago. It’s the craziest thing — if it’s out of sight, they don’t care about it at all! If there is something extra special that they want to play with, they’ll ask for it specifically, but otherwise it remains closed. If we’re being real here, I’m going to give it another month or so then the toys in that been will be heading for donation, too. It makes me feel less stressed just thinking about it!
Daily Steps To Create An Environment of Play
1) Re-establish your connection with your kiddos FIRST thing in the morning.
2) Line up a couple of new and exciting activities to get the day started (see my favorite sites for inspiration below).
3) Be patient! Easier said than done, I know, but it’s crucial to the process.
4) Reward and encourage independent play. Genuinely be interested in what they show you.
5) Be prepared for needy days. This is the hardest one for me because I know they can play on their own, so when they need me to play I’m sometimes confused and a little annoyed (I told you I was going to be honest!). Once I take a deep breath and remember they just want to be close or show off what they’ve been working on, it’s really sweet. I try to savor these moments because I know once they’re bigger, they won’t want my approval or closeness as much.
My Inspiration Resources
Specifically, I love this DIY play dough. It’s super easy to make with ingredients you have at home. It makes a HUGE ball of play dough which is nice because my boys like to do big construction projects with it.
2. Busy Toddler
My two favorite take-aways from Busy Toddler are 1) sensory bins and 2) restaurant kits. First up, the sensory bin. I bought some tubs from Target, some dried beans from Sam’s (all for less than $20) and made two “bean boxes” for the boys. They will play construction trucks and pretend to cook with them for hours! And I’m not even kidding. Second, the restaurant kit. As I mentioned before, our kids cannot handle iPad screen time without going crazy. So this restaurant kit comes in handy when we do eat out. They get excited about playing with the toys that are reserved for restaurants.
3. Days with Grey
A few of my friends saw my desperation for keeping the boys occupied and came to my rescue with Days of Grey “Breakfast Invitations.” Every day she shares an idea that you prepare the night before so that you have an activity for your kiddo to do while you prepare breakfast, get dressed, etc. You and your kiddos will have something to look forward to in the mornings.
Hope this helps inspire your environment of play at your house! Do you have any fun “play” tips to share with me? Let’s talk!
[Photos by Emily Steward]