The Holy Grail of Independent Play

As with most of my parenting experiences, my pre-child idealistic  version  of play was very different from the frustrating reality. I was under the impression that from babies, my boys would be able to entertain themselves to a certain extent  leaving me free to get on with the household chores and errands, maintain my small business and run the smallholding. Wrong.

My eldest (J) has always craved my company, and has very little interest in actual play with ‘toys’ until quite recently (he is now 4). He was most happy being carried, and later running, round the garden, putting everything in his mouth he could find and ‘helping’ with our seasonal tasks. We soon learned that toys really weren’t for him unless they were small versions of tools that he could use to help  with whatever job we needed to be doing. He is now going through a stage of  imaginative play and dressing up, but still has little interest in other toys, and always with input from myself or their Dad.

This all sounds idyllic, but actually trying to lay a hedge, chop wood, muck out goats, or dig the garden with a baby/toddler/young child in tow is not easy, or fun, though I am sure an excellent learning environment for the boys!

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Baby boy 2 (O) has actually been a lot easier. He was happy to watch his big brother, and has always had initiative to push toy cars around or stack building blocks. I will never really know if this is because he has learned to do this from his brother or if it just comes more naturally to him. They are very different children when it comes to play.

There seems to be a few theories to why children won’t play with their toys and seem to prefer whinging and fighting:

Firstly, some parents suggest that we do too much with our children and they come to expect to be entertained – J asks me on a daily basis what are we doing today. During the holidays sometimes I just don’t know, or don’t actually want to do anything much other than pottering around the house. So there could be some truth in this, though not doing anything with them strikes fear into my heart that we will all go stir crazy.

Others suggest that they need a rotation of toys, and having everything out all the time is just too overwhelming. I regularly try to put a box of toys away for a few weeks and when it’s found there is a brief excitement of finding their long lost toys. They soon get muddled with the rest of their things and we are back to square one. More planning necessary.

I have recently discovered the joys of so called ‘open ended play’. I’m not entirely sure the boys received the memo, but we are working on it. These are toys that can be used in different ways depending  on what your child currently enjoys doing – stacking, knocking things over, sorting, movement etc. J would happily watch me for hours whilst I tried out different ways of playing with these toys, but is not that interested in trying them out for himself, he would much prefer to do a puzzle together, and I guess that’s fine by me.

One suggestion I’ve found particularly interesting recently is that we often provide our toys already set up, such as a train track already made, a puzzle completed, or a dolls house arranged. Children have had the challenge of putting something together taken away from them. I wouldn’t say I fall down too much here, I’m not really one to set up a play area ready for the boys in the morning,  but it could be an area to improve on!

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We do get brief moments when they will play independently, and when it happens I can’t help but stand there in awe. I think that I have really just expected too much too soon and the time will come all too quickly when they won’t want me to be their main source of entertainment, and then I’ll probably feel pretty lost. Are your children good at independent play, and do you have any tips to encourage it?