Updated: Sep 14
Now more than ever before I hear the question.. How can I get my children to play by themselves? The pressure of constantly entertaining children can wear on caretakers of all types. How can we engage children in meaningful ways, yet allow them to take the lead? I have a few tips and tricks to spark independent play in children. These tips and tricks are based around provoking rich play. Independent deep play provides endless benefits to children and can be crucial in development. When children partake in deep play adults around them can provide support by stepping back, observing, and reflecting on why the children are choosing these types of play. This practice can help you decide how to further provoke the independent play!
Take it Outside!
Taking play that normally happens inside, take it outdoors. What happens when you bring your favourite dress up items to the back yard? Move the play kitchen onto the patio! Changing the environment of where play typically happens can be inspiring for children. It can allow them to engage in different ways with materials and toys they already have. This will provoke a deeper form of play and allow you to step back.
Open Ended Materials.
Give your children a box, a milk carton, a set of cups, and some ping pong balls. What can they create? Toys and materials that have on purpose will cause children to tire of them quickly. Materials and toys that have endless possibility will inspire longer, deeper, and richer independent play.
Here is a simple list of things you likely already have to get you started.
paper towel/ wrapping paper tubing
washer/ nuts/ bolts
pots, pans, cups and other kitchen items
These materials will inspire play best with how your organize them which leads us to our next tip.
Arrange Visually Appealing Play Spaces.
How you present play materials can often inspire independent play. Try adding popsicle to the play-dough next time you pull it out. Arrange open ended materials in accessible baskets where children can see them versus stored away in containers that must be opened to discover their contents. Placing out dolls in combination with blocks on the carpet when you are looking to inspire independent play may encourage children to build block homes for the dolls. The key to these set ups is to arrange them in ways that are visually appealing. Using textures and beautiful materials will make the set ups more enticing to play. Check out our instagram @playcreativeseeds for examples of how to arrange materials in inviting ways. Then tag us to share your ideas!
Lead by Example
Lastly, if all else fails I often find leading by example can be an amazing way to inspire independent play. To spark play in programs I often find myself building a small tower of blocks. This often initiates the curiosity of my students and when they inquire what I am doing, I will invite them to join. Once they are engaged I will step away, and let them take the lead. When we play together I don't dictate their choices, or make requests. I simply play alongside them to inspire them, and then renounce myself to my observing spot and watch the play take off.