A sperm knows how to fertilize an ovum. A fertilized ovum knows how to grow to a baby. A baby knows how to learn to walk. A walking baby knows how to learn to talk. We don’t interfere in all this. It happens! And that’s how children learn to play too!
It feels ironical when I see articles and videos which talk about how to encourage children to play. Even the popular and widely-accepted Montessori play set-ups like the weekly activity shelf, flash cards, printables and themes seem weird to me. How can anything ‘structured’ be a playtime for a young child?
From 1st to 30th April, I will be writing one post a day on The Things that really matter to Children. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see the complete list of posts in the series.
I for Independent Play: Allowing Children to do their Work
Most of my adorable motherhood moments are surrounded around my children’s playtime; watching them from a distance or listening to them from the next room, for I don’t interfere while they are working. I wish they do the same with me 😆 Yet, their independent playtime has allowed me to establish a career from home although it isn’t as glossy as it sounds.
Independent play is a child’s ability to initiate and play for a considerable time without depending upon another child or adult to accompany them. Though some children find it difficult to sustain their focus on one play for a few minutes at a stretch, independent play is quite a natural thing for a child.
All it needs from our part as parents is to closely follow our children’s playtime, allow them to play with no or minimal interference, get them things that they need for their play, and most importantly, stay away from playing for them. If there’s something more I would like to say, it would be this:
The first two years
Babies and toddlers below two years of age are not going to play like an older child, like running a toy car on the floor or feeding a doll. Their kind of play may be pulling down things that are accessible to their heights. If there’s a kitchen cabinet filled with kitchen vessels reachable to their hands, that would be their favourite toy shelf. They would want to pull down to the last thing on the racks, scatter them all over the house and make noises by banging them. And when you find this inconvenient and begin to empty the lower racks of the kitchen or place child locks all around the house, that’s the first block you are placing on your child’s natural development of play.
Allow your babies and your toddlers to freely explore your surroundings while keeping only the unsafe objects unreachable to them.
This is the most-active, creative play years for children. Of course children continue to play after seven years, but mostly it is going to be of the learnt kind than a creative play. By 2.5 years, children can use kitchen toys, doctor play sets, bigger blocks and toy vehicles appropriately. It can take 3 years to play in slides and swings and ride a bicycle, and 4 years to build lego blocks and solve jigsaw puzzles. It can be +/- a few months for each child. The point is, wait for your child to show interest instead of enforcing a particular toy or play on your child.
School, tuitions, football class, drawing class, music class – yes everything is good for your child’s development, but when taken one at a time. If your child is engaged in back-to-back structured activities, please slow down. Spare at least a few hours in your child’s day for unstructured play. It is in their free play time that they experience the joy in independent play.
The collection of toys your children has and the way it is organised are also among the important factors for independent play though a child can play independently with no toys as well. Include a few varieties of open-ended toys like wooden blocks, jenga blocks, magna tiles, clippo or legos. They can give them opportunities to find a number of possibilities to play.
Having loose parts in your children’s play stuff can add fun and interest to their playtime. Buttons, shells, paper cups, bricks, marbles, nuts and screws are some examples of loose parts. You can read more about the benefits of loose parts in playtime from the internet. Also, read to your children Malar’s Big House, a picture book by Thirupurasundari Sevvel, illustrated by Ankitha Kini. This book can inspire them to seek the joy in small things and remind you to be that parent who would facilitate their spontaneous plays.
Here’s how my boy used bricks and sticks in his plays. the point is, it’s not always the sophisticated stuff or branded toys that your child’s playtime is built upon.
A little girl used to visit our house to play. She used to keep checking each of the play items from our play area for a minute and then throw them on the floor. After throwing everything down for about fifteen minutes, she would come to me and ask, “Aunty, do you have something to play?” Her mom often shared her distress that her little girl was unable to play independently at home. But every time I spotted her in the community play area, she seemed one of the busiest kids on the ground.
Every child has his or her own approach of playing. And, it keeps changing with age and experience. No kind of play is better or superior over another. What interests one need not interest another. I have never met in real life a parent who has shared her son’s or daughter’s interest in legos, but it is the number one favourite of my boy between 3-5 years. I understand why many parents think legos are highly expensive and an utter waste of buying while I spend two hours in the queue to get a lego set in a 50% sale.
Follow your child’s interest! It matters to them.
List of posts in the Series