Encouraging Independent Play with your Baby

My son has always been ok with being left alone which has made my life much easier. Of course he has his moments where we wants to be held and carried around but often times he is happy to play on the floor while I cook or run to the bathroom. We have set up our house to facilitate independent play and it was worked very well for us. I have read some about Montessori play and development and I feel strongly that letting Finley problem solve and play independently is important for his growth and development. We started encouraging independent play early on and I think that has played a big role in Finley’s ability to play so well by himself.

There is a quote from Maria Montessori that I try to keep in mind. She said “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” I try to let Finley attempt things and even get frustrated with how things are going before I step in and assist him. I think him learning to do things on his own has been great for his independence and will later be great for his self-confidence and self-esteem.

The first way I encourage Finley’s independent play is by providing him with a safe environment to explore. We keep his toys low so that they are easily accessible, he has a basket on the floor of some small toys that he can explore and I often layout a few toys he hasn’t used for a few days to encourage him to play with different toys. We try to offer him “prepared” environments to explore. Some days I will put out bowls and kitchen spoons so he can play drums or a ring stacker so he can explore how to remove the rings.

Second, independent play doesn’t mean I am hands off. When Finley plays independently I am almost always watching and encouraging. I am there to help if he needs me and to provide security so he doesn’t feel alone. I am also there to intervene if he gets into an unsafe situation. When Finley was learning to pull up I would often sit behind him as he played so I could catch him before he hit the hardwood or at times use a good soft pillows. He did take some spills but those spills taught him to sit when he fell rather than fall straight back.

Third, we communicate about what he is doing. When he playing independently I like to talk to him about what he is doing. I talk to him about what toy he has chosen to play with, if he picks up a book I will ask him if he would like me to read it to him. I know he is picking up on what I am saying so it is important for me to keep the conversation going

A safe play environment is key for independent play. Finley’s play area is baby friendly so I can feel confident he is safe while playing. The outlets are all secured, there are no unsafe corners, the furniture is secured and all other hazards have been cleared. Finley’s environment also has lots of room to move which is very important for him to grow and learn, as he gets older we will spend time in places where he can explore his environment more like playgrounds and parks.

I am ok with Finley getting frustrated. We are working to teach him to problem solve and to have patience. Sometimes it takes him a few tries to figure out how to work a toy, maneuver around a piece of furniture or to get the toy he is after. By letting him work through the problem rather than solving it for him he learns how to remedy a situation rather than to cry for help. This choice can be more challenging to start but pays off in the long run.

Finley is free to choose the activities that interest him. I do my best to provide him an environment that will harbor development and growth. I put out sensory toys, books, and other developmental toys as options so he can learn new skills with these toys. You would be amazed what he figures out on his own and the games he creates for himself. When he learned to crawl one of his favorite games was to chase a ball around the living room, now he throws the ball for the dog. He learned how to do both of these things on his own and we are constantly surprised by what he comes up with.

I try to provide toys that are basic and easy to understand. We do have electronic toys with buttons and lights but we try to keep them limited. I turn them off and allow him to play with them without the sounds or lights and try and rotate them so he doesn’t get to use to the flashing and sounds. I do like the toys that play music and I often bring a small electronic toy to the store because he keeps him content for much longer than a stuffed animal. We have a lot of basic inexpensive toys and they are often a bigger hit than the expensive electronic toys.

We also look for balance. While I love Finley to play independently I also know it’s important for him to interact with others. We go to play dates, have playtime together and with daddy. We also do some more structured activities. Some days we will sit and imitate each other, I will make funny noises and wait for him to respond or imitate the noises he has made. We also play other games like catch, airplane and other things babies enjoy. Montessori believes that children under 3 don’t need a lesson plan to learn but they need an environment to experience things. We try to provide an environment for him to learn, experience, and grow. I know I am not perfect and don’t follow the Montessori plan entirely but I am happy with the growth I have seen in Finley and love being able to run to the restroom alone and trust he will be happily playing when I return.

Independent play is a great way for your child to learn and is great for allowing you as a parent a few minutes to yourself. I love being able to eat my lunch with both hands, wash a few dishes in the middle of play time or answer the phone and have a quick conversation. Finley loves to explore the world and I love facilitating that for him.

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