Thursday, 23 February 2012

Independent Playtime

One part of our routine that I am most thankful to have picked up from the Babywise series is the concept of Independent Playtime (IP). It has been such a blessing to my kids... and to me!

The general idea is allowing them to learn to play happily and - you guessed it - independently! Take a safe space (I find the cot/crib is the easiest), throw in a variety of toys and books (some favourites, some different ones), and let them explore! I find the key is out of sight, out of mind - if they could see me, they would want to get out, but if they are given their own space and peace, they played happily. I started with both my kids when they could sit independently and grab toys on their own (around 7-8 months) and start at just 5-10 minutes. As they could play happily for the entire time, I gradually increased it to a time that suited them, me and our day. For Eli at 19 months, it is about 45 minutes - yup, that entire time he plays happily and enthusiastically with just a handful of toys! It is one of the many (shocking) benefits we have found in IP - this little whirling dervish who is constantly on the move and usually flits from one toy to another (leaving them all in his wake!) can peacefully and intently play with just a limited selection for so long. It amazes me, but definitely says something about the idea that kids are often so overwhelmed with so much choice and space, it can actually be quite soothing to them to just have a little space and limited options every now and then.





What else do I love about IP?
  • Eli learns focusing skills and increased attention span.
  • He learns to entertain himself independently without needing to be constantly 'entertained' by someone else,
  • He learns creativity and problem solving (especially without me so quickly diving in to help!)
  • It calms and relaxes him on a fractious day,
  • He has time with different kinds of toys that he wouldn't usually bother with (as well as some faves of course!)
  • Mama gets some time to take care of different things - household chores, email, phonecalls, preparing meals etc, all while knowing Eli is safe and happy - and best of all - he is occupied but not in front of the TV! I also love that getting this 'stuff' done during this time means it frees me up to focus more on the kids during the rest of the day.


Lily has always done it too since a little lass, but that deserves it's own post as she has her own charming approach and being older she safely plays in her bedroom for her Independent Playtime (for about 55 mins). She has gotten all the same benefits as Eli has and I have seen it been such a blessing to her as she has gotten older. I admit I often find myself listening outside the door as she plays in a more imaginitive and engaged way then I usually see her when 'out in the world'. It is truly just magical hearing her chirpy little voice exploring and creating in her very own little space.

IP is part of our regular week day routine, usually after breakfast and before Eli's morning nap (which we are slowly currently weaning from). I use a kitchen timer set up on his dresser so he can see it (and hear it tick) and he knows when he is all done. After I set him and the timer up, he cheerfully waves me 'Bye Bye!' as I leave the room. Today I lingered a bit trying to take some snaps of him and he stood up and started saying 'BYE BYE!!! BYE BYE!!" - which I interepreted as 'Mum, how about you get going, I've got work to do here!!'. Ahem!

When the timer goes off, I hear him immediately start clapping and cheering 'All done!!! All done! Good job!'. Cracks me up every time, that boy is such a card!



This routine and skill has been such a blessing to our household. (I think I already said that but I guess it bears repeating 'cos I really mean it!). I love to see them learning to entertain themselves and engage with play in a more focused and peaceful way. I read a great article by the amazing Janet Lansbury about Independent Play for babies and children and how we are so often 'told' not to use the TV as a babysitter but are at a loss of what else we can do that serves that all too legitimate need parents have of a little time in a long day just to breathe, or get things done. TV can certainly serve that purpose (at times) but IP is a much preferred tool in my parenting tool bag that not only gives them - and me - a little 'space' in our sweet days together, but is enjoyable, engaging, fun and character building. So yes, it gives me that time, but more than that I love to see how the kids embrace and flourish with it.

It works for us and for that I am so thankful!

So... all the babies who're independent, throw your hands up at me! (Sing it with me, haha!)

A lovely quote from Janet Lansbury to finish -

 'The love of inner-directed play, creative thought and solitude will be lifelong gifts that neither you nor your child will ever regret.'




21 comments:

  1. Oh my I have so much to learn from you Kate.

    I really love that article from Janet. I have recently started reading her articles and I have been inspired already! TV is a part of our day (working hard to reduce the amount of time too :) ) but like she says I exhaust all my other options before I turn to it.

    Great post Kate :)

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    1. Well I am learning just as much from you, lovely Mama! Isnt it funny, ive noticed you 'liking' articles by her recently on FB and didnt notice till i referenced that article tonight that it was the same person - lol, we are so in tune!!! :) She has some great ideas for sure (and very empathetic huh)/ Yeah im so happy IP gives us a good option before TV - not that i think its all bad, but... you know! a good last resort :) Thansk for your feedback as always!

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  2. Wow Kate - I'm constantly in awe of the parenting tips you share with us. Will definitely have to read some more about this! Sounds like a godsend! Too funny Eli booting you out of his room :)

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    1. aw thanks Megan, that is too kind! Well, most of what i have learned is from other mama's/books/sites too. I figure thats what this blogging gig is kinda about, passing on stuff you like, what works or doesnt, so we can all learn from each other! Share the love, right! here is another article if you want to read more (this website has lots of articles on the topic) http://www.babywisemom.com/2008/01/independent-playtime.html - yes a godsend indeed :) and yeah - i KNOW - Eli booting me out, what a monkey ;)

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  3. That is incredibly interesting Kate, will definitely have to look in to that further. I hate having the tv on so am always looking for other things to keep the kids entertained. Thanks for all the info, so nice that your kids enjoy it and you get some time. Win win!

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    1. thanks Vanessa, yeah i agree w minimising Tv! but as you said, its having something else in place huh - IP has been so good for this for us! i referenced another article above to Megan if your interested in more info. win/win indeed - nice when it works out like that huh :) (doenst always, so we take it when we can!!)

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  4. Oh dear, Looks like I have to be Sarah anonymous again :-)

    Lovely post Kate - so glad this is working for you! I have always encouraged my children to play independently...setting them up with activities then quietly withdrawing myself to leave them up to their own devices. Sometimes I would feel guilty for not playing with them, but always told myself independent play is an important skill to learn. I never knew it was an actual recommendation from parenting gurus!! I will be reading more from Janet Lansbury, she sounds like my kind of expert :-)

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    1. Hey Sarah Anonymous! argh sorry it wont let u put your name in! wtg on the independent play - just shows that sometimes our inner mama instincts are spot on huh! but its nice when they get confirmed by the 'experts' sometimes huh! (tho its ok when its not too if it feels right to you). Yeah i know what u mean about feeling a bit guilty when they are playing on their own but as u said, being able to play independently is SUCH a great lifeskill. i remember reading something that said = NEVER interrupt a child who is playing happily on their own! lol sometimes its so tempting to jump in w more good ideas when they are doing just fine on their own :)

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  5. Wow Kate, Just love the blog and reading it when I can.
    What a terrific job you've done with your two gorgeous kids. I feel so inspired when I read what you're up to. And so often it coincides with our current events too.
    Right now we've gone through a huge leap in Joseph's independence but he remains one of those kids who "has to be entertained".
    I am desperate for him to learn to play independently, particularly before baby girl arrives in a matter of weeks.
    45 minutes IP seems like an eternity for him. We're lucky to get 5!
    I manage to get dinner on the table thanks to the electronic baby sitter, I am sorry to say. Usually prep during his nap plus a 15 minute show before we eat, gets us to the table with a hot meal but that's not ideal.

    Anyone have any ideas on how to implement this with a willful and fairly set in his ways 3 year old instead of a baby? We'll take any helpful advice anyone has! :)

    Thanks again Kate, terrific blog! Well done!
    :)
    Gen

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    1. Hey Gen, thanks for reading, you are so sweet! well firstly, hey you are heavily pregnant and a bit of TV to help you get dinner on the table is totally understandable - i would do the same!! so take it easy esp in the newborn days! that said - it would be great for you to have another option esp for the months (and years ahead) and for cutie Joseph to be able to play contentedly on his own, esp during feeding w baby etc! So - its NOT too late - but yes you wont get to 45mins over night! start slow but if you are committed and consistent, it's doable. ok here is what I would do in your place -
      1) tell Joseph that now he is a big boy he gets to play in his room 'all by himself'sometimes!
      2) keep your attitude to it enthusiastic, cheerful, matter of fact - even if he isnt at first!
      3) choose a time you can be consistent w every day and remind him in advance eg - after breakfast and 2 stories with mummy, it's room time!
      4) lay out half dozen good toys and books on the floor in his room. ask him to choose one too/
      5) set the timer for 5 to 10 mins. explain that when the timer goes off (demonstrate), that means he finished his room time! encourage him to play and have fun
      6) when timer goes off, go in cheering :) lots of praise and stuff
      7) if he protests a bit, just say matter of factly that when timer goes off you will come get him, encourage him to have fun! if he is really not happy with it, then leave it that day but keep trying each day. if he comes out early, ask 'did the timer go off yet?'. try to make it a bit of a game w 'rules' to follow.
      I hope that helps?? start w small amount of time and lots of enthusiasm, baby steps but im sure you can get there. he may not play a heap at first but im sure will get into it. FB msg me if you want to tic-tac on further details and strategies. persist and im sure will be a huge blessing to you all esp in the newborn days. here is a good article w more ideas - http://www.babywisemom.com/2010/10/starting-independent-playtime-late.html All the best!!! x

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    2. Thanks Kate! That's so helpful. Been reading about it today, this goes a long way to helping me formulate a plan. I will fb with an update soon, let's see how we go! :) Gen

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  6. This is great. Thank you for sharing your methods on how to extend independent play time from an early age.

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    1. oh you are very welcome, so glad it was a help to you!

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  7. I found this post through your tv time post, I had missed it the first time around but am so glad I found it today. This is inspiring! My kids have quiet time every day after lunch and go to their rooms to read or play quietly. But Milo (18 months) doesn't and this has inspired me to work on him playing by himself too. I love the timer where he can hear it idea.

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    1. hey nicole, so glad it gave you a good idea! yes definitely sounds like a plan to get Milo doing IP esp since the older kids are (awesome!). If you start in short bursts that could help. Eli is now playing in his room rather than in crib - depending on milo you will know which one may work better! all the best and let me know - awesome if you end up w a break too :)

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  8. I just read this after today's post on BWMOM.com. My son is 19months now and plays solidly for an hour in his packnplay...I'm wondering when you switched your son to his room for room time and any secrets to how you transitioned --- OR did you keep PacknPlay time AND add room time ?
    Thanks

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    1. hi Aynsley, thanks for reading :) so glad IP is working so well for you too! i had to turn my mind back to how old Eli was when I wrote this post and I think he was about 19 months - how funny!! i think when you transition depends a lot on the kid. Eli needs pretty defined boundaries and he really was content in his crib for IP so i didnt transition him till close to 2 I think. Didn't want to mess w perfection - though i think his sister transitioned a lot earlier. When we moved to roomtime, to help him not feel overwhelmed w all the 'freedom', i laid out a rug w toys on it in the room. i didnt tell him to stay on it and he didnt have to, it just gave him a bit of a safe space. i reduced the time down to 30 mins to start off w and then built back up as he adjusted and got used to it all. hope that helps! xx

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  9. Oh this is such a great idea!! I will definitely be working on this with the boys. We don't have any cots around though, so I will have to think a bit more creatively about how to keep them contained! ;-)

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    1. hey talia - glad it inspired you! goodness, w miles at his super busy stage i have been feeling SO THANKFUL for independent playtime lately!!!! amazing how he can go from fussy and into everything to happily playing in his cot for IP for like 50 mins! it really is so cool :) oh - as for no cots - hmmm! do you have a portacot? or a playpen? i bet you could pick one up really cheap. for older toddlers (maybe 2ish) you can start them just playing in their room, if that helps. Janet lansbury has a lot of great ideas on her blog too xx

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    2. We have a portacot, so that will work well for Eli. And I think I might just put Lior in his room. I'm doing it AT THE MOMENT actually. Only Eli is asleep, so Lior is just in the spare room playing. Our first go, and I *think* he's getting it...!

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    3. oh that is awesome!!! hope it continues to go well. btw not sure if you did, but i find a timer or music playing helps them over time know to expect 'play until the timer/music goes off' just a tip for future if needed! great idea to do Lior in the room and Eli in the portacot. exciting :)

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