Parenting Fodder – Independent Playtime

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Just popping in with a quick run-down of one of my favourite “parenting” tips. Two words. Independent Playtime. And yes, it is a proper noun round’ these parts which, incidentally, taste like manna straight from heaven when they roll off the tired parental tongue.

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Independent Playtime (IP) is a scheduled section of each day where baby/toddler spends time…independently playing. Betcha didn’t see that zinger coming, eh? Typically little ones play in a crib/playpen with a pile of toys, allowing Mom – or Dad – time to frantically dash around the house completing as many this-would-be-so-much-easier-without-a-toddler-underfoot activities as possible. Efficiency during IP could be an Olympic sport. I’d lose, since I generally just end up checking my e-mail or doing dishes.

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But I digress. We started implementing IP when Abby was able to sit on her own for extended periods, around 6-7 months. Starting with short increments (3-5 minutes) is ideal, and staying in the room but at a reasonable distance can help ease little ones into the habit. After a week of shorter stints, Abby was content to spend 15 minutes each morning playing happily in the pack-and-play with her assortment of toys. I would play some music to keep her occupied. By 9 months, she was up to 20 minutes (sometimes both morning and afternoon). She would actually toddle down to her room and say “pway, pway” and swat at the playpen. No coercion necessary. In fact, she was usually ready for us to just leave already…

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Over Christmas this year, our dedication waned. For about two months there was nary a minute of organized IP. And that was fine, because really she plays so well on her own to begin with…but there’s something special about the structure of IP. So in January we started anew. The first few days involved minimal tears, but now we’re back to 30 minutes a day (and she’d happily do more).

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We load up the bed with toys, turn on some music, start the timer (a new, important addition – Abby LOVES starting the timer, and when it beeps she is practically giddy and insists on mashing and beeping buttons hither and yon around the house).

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I realize IP might not appeal to all parents, and it certainly isn’t necessary to promote independent play and creativity, but it has worked wonderfully for us. Abby looks forward to this structured playtime and we involve her in the preparation (selecting the toys, setting the timer); it helps foster concentration skills (we use a limited number of toys in each day and rotate them frequently) and has made her into an exceptionally independent little girl. It stretches her imagination (we often listen in by her door to the fascinating conversations she participates in with her stuffed animals).  Also I think it helps establish trust that any separation from us is short-lived – when the timer goes off, we come and get her…immediately.

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For lots more information regarding IP, check out the Chronicles of a Babywise Mom blog, which contains a wealth of information – extending far beyond “Babywise” techniques.

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