Recently, I had a conversation with another mother who was struggling with the fact that her children rarely played independently. She shared that they always wanted to be with her, that they would often wander aimlessly looking for something to do, and that when they finally found something it would only maintain their attention for a short time. She was understandably frustrated! She wanted what we all want: to be able to have 5 seconds to cook dinner, answer an email, or take a phone call while our children play. Alone. Without us.
“How can I teach them to play on their own?” she asked me.
I love this question, and I love the answer even more. You can’t. This is not something we can teach our children, so you can take this one off your list. The most wonderful news is that our children come into this world biologically inclined to play. Through play, children learn about themselves and the world around them. Through play, children learn problem solving skills, concentration, persistence, and patience. Through play, children integrate the mind, the hands, and the spirit. They are literally born to do this. Isn’t that amazing?
Even though we can’t teach them how to do this, our role in this process is still a critical one. We are the keepers of the environment. Maria Montessori spoke passionately about the environment as an “aid to life.” She also said that “The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.” Simply put, the environment should allow the child the opportunity to do all the things he or she is born to do. It has the power to be a magical place. That, my friends, is where we come in. We have to create the right space, provide those rich experiences, and establish order and routine. When all that is in place, our children will soar.
What does that mean and how do we do it? The first thing we need to do is minimize the stuff. Most of us would agree our kids have too. much. stuff. That is so overwhelming to children, and it is usually the number one cause of that aimless loop they make around the house. Start by putting at least half of the stuff away, so your children can actually see what their options are. The next thing we need to do is to pay attention to our children. What kinds of things are they currently interested in? For example, is it trucks and other vehicles (welcome to the world of my little W)? So, then let’s make sure we have some books about trucks to encourage language, some push toy vehicles for gross motor skill development, and maybe some truck stickers and plain paper (5-10 sheets, not 20!) to refine those fine motor skills. Stay tuned in to your child so that when this interest wanes, you will be ready to refresh the environment with the next purposeful activity. How will you know when it’s time to do that? Your children will tell you. The pegs that a few weeks ago were used so carefully to push into the pegboard have now become “trumpets” and “fishing poles.” Time to put those away. They served their purpose! The last thing we need to do is to make sure that “motives,” as Montessori mentioned, are high quality, concentration-lending activities. Activities such as bead stringing, puzzles, books, coloring with a few crayons, opening and closing different containers, clay, building blocks, and dramatic experiences like a play kitchen or a doctor’s kit truly lend themselves to a deeper level of concentration which translates into a few moments of free time for you!
Children will play beautifully by themselves when the environment allows them the opportunity to do so. Scale down and tune in. Then watch them grow. You will be amazed.
Find the joy~
**Need help creating an environment where all of this can happen? Are you not quite sure which toys you need and how to display them so that your child can access them purposefully and independently? Schedule a consultation today. Together we can make your environment a magical place too.