Playing Solo: Why you must encourage independent play during the lockdown

Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning—whether structured or unstructured. While group play enhances social skills, when a child plays alone (without parents, siblings or friends), they are paving a way for self-growth and becoming self-sufficient adults. This is why experts often emphasize it might be a good idea to let children get bored and find ways to entertain themselves. This builds in them solving problems independently. It helps them grow into curious, creative, healthy, more organized and happy adults equipped with important life skills including time management.

Though independent play is crucial for children, it often needs to be inculcated. Children can be more uninhibited and creative when an adult isn’t directing things. Since they don’t need to follow rules or explain their play, they can just go where their imagination takes them. Thus, free play teaches children self-reliance, confidence, and improves focus.

Why independent play is important, especially during the lockdown
Play is known to relieve stress and keep children mentally stimulated as well as engaged, which is the need of the hour. With no gap in their play experiences, readapting to normal routine would be smoother. Play will have mitigated anxiety, making the start of the school year less stressful. Parents are often unable to engage in quality playtime with kids. For such times, they need to encourage their child to play independently. Especially during the lockdown when people need to work from home and homeschool too.

Independent play helps children grow into curious, creative, healthy, more organized and happy adults

If you want to know how to encourage your child to play independently, here are things to keep in mind:

Start realistically
Encouraging independent play starts with a practical plan so that you don’t overschedule for yourself or your child. Pick times when your child is most likely to be relaxed, and not when they are overtired, hungry, sleepy or have just been away from you for a while.

Clarify expectations
If your child only plays with you and not unsupervised yet, try a gradual approach. Move just a few feet and only leave for a few minutes. Check in on them or join them in their play. Increase the time and space away as they get more comfortable playing on their own. Explain to your child what the expectations are—that they need to play by themselves for 10-30 minutes every day. Ensure that your child knows that this is NOT a punishment and explain why it is important.

Choose engaging and age-appropriate games
There are many simple toys for single child that can keep them busy. If you have a toddler, make sure
to supervise them so that they don’t hurt themselves but give them their space to explore on their own. Building materials such as blocks, one player puzzle games, animals, trains or art materials for older preschoolers are great for engaging their imagination and problem solving with minimal support or mess.

Brainstorm activities together
Since the idea is to keep the child engaged, they need to enjoy the activities or games. Sit down together and make a list of things they can do by themselves and would have fun doing, whether it’s a toy, game, puzzles, word searches or drawing.

Set boundaries
Make sure your child understands what they are not allowed to do while playing independently. For example, are they allowed to use scissors or glue? Enter the kitchen? Keep all such objects out of their reach. If their activity involves something they are not allowed to do unsupervised, encourage them to choose a different activity or help them with parts of it before they start.

Make Play a habit
Include Play as part of the child’s daily routine. Even if it’s without toys or games, encourage them to be by themselves and explore in their own way.

Do not correct their play
If you’re sitting with your child, avoid correcting their play. Even if they want to make wings on a fish, let them. It’s their way of expressing. Correcting them will make them under-confident and not try to explore. They need to feel like their play matters to feel motivated and confident to play.

Praise them at the end
When the time limit is up, pay complete attention to your child and show genuine interest in what they have done. The best way of changing anyone’s behavior and motivating them is by acknowledging their effort and praising them. Children are likelier to do things when they know they will be noticed and praised.

Conclusion 
Whether structured or unstructured, Play is the brain’s favourite activity. Group play builds social skills, but independent play has many benefits:

  • Solving problems independently
  • Enhances self-confidence, curiosity, creativity
  • Inculcates time management and organizational skills

Independent Play is especially beneficial during the lockdown

  • It helps when parents cannot engage in playtime with children
  • Alleviates anxiety, boredom and stress, by keeping kids mentally stimulated and engaged, thus building resilience
  • No gap in play experiences will ease readapting to normal routine and make the start of school year less stressful

While encouraging your child to play independently:

  • Let the child know it’s not a punishment
  • Pick a time when the child is not tired, sleepy or away from you for too long and don’t move away too far or too long
  • Brainstorm with them to choose engaging and age-appropriate activities they’d enjoy 
  • Set boundaries like off-limit things and places but don’t correct or direct their play
  • Make play a part of their routine
  • Praise them at the end


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