Why Independent Play is Important for Young Children
There are many instances where it’s important for children to engage in play with others and learn how to follow directions at school and at home. Childcare, school, playdates, and other activities all teach important skills necessary to be successful in school and in life.
There is also value in balancing adult-led activities or playdates with independent time. After all, children have busy schedules just like adults! In fact, free play can help to reinforce many of the skills they are already learning at their childcare center or school. Keep reading to learn more about why independent time is important for children.
Importance of Free Play
Children have structure throughout the day, and much of this consists of listening to instructions from adults and being still. Free play allows them to take a break from that structure.
Incorporating scheduled periods of unstructured time each day can help children grow comfortable with being independent. Daily periods of free play offer tremendous benefits for children no matter their age:
- Provides an opportunity for their minds to relax.
- Encourages self-regulation and time management.
- Teaches children to solve their own problems.
- Allows for creativity, imagination, and free thinking.
- Teaches them that it is okay to rest.
- Helps children realize they are capable of accomplishing tasks on their own.
- Increases feelings of comfort when left alone.
Many of the skills above are important to learn as children prepare to enter the kindergarten classroom. Begin to incorporate alone time into your child’s daily routine using some of the ideas below.
What it Looks Like
Free play can come in various forms and may be dependent on your child’s age. For older babies and toddlers, you can give them a few toys in a safe space and let them play how they wish while you maintain supervision from a distance.
For preschoolers, it is often unstructured, independent play. As children get older, independent time may involve doing art, playing dress up, or playing outside. Above all, let them choose the activity.
In other instances, children may nap or rest during this unstructured time. Even if children’s sleep needs don’t require a nap, quiet time is still valuable. If naptime isn’t doable, encourage them to look at a book instead. Take a break from stimulation such as lights, technology, and even conversation.
Independent play could also involve the family doing something together, such as taking a walk. Instead of reviewing colors, shapes and other educational elements your child may be learning, allow your children to stop and explore what interests them. You can still encourage independence and self-discovery when you’re together.
If children are always on the go, they may struggle with knowing how to spend their time when something isn’t scheduled. They are used to going from childcare or school to activities with minimal downtime, just like adults. Alone time allows their brains (and yours!) to rest and recharge. Incorporating alone time or quiet time into your daily routine can be beneficial for you and your child.
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