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.'