We often feel good about ourselves when we are playing with our children, doing an arts and crafts project with our kids, or taking them to a playgroup or sports practice. We feel as if we are providing our children with a productive, enjoyable activity.
Sometimes we even feel guilty when we are not available to do these activities with our kids because we are too busy or too tired.
But the truth is that children benefit tremendously from time spent playing alone or with other children. When children play outside of a structured activity and without our participation, they have the opportunity to experiment, develop creativity, practice social skills, problem solve, and strengthen critical thinking skills.
If your child isn’t accustomed to playing without an adult, it may take a while for her to feel comfortable playing on her own or with friends. In my classroom, I have noticed that children are less comfortable with creative play than they were in the past. They often choose, in the beginning of the year, to draw pictures or play games (such as Uno) with me. I feel compelled to provide them with specific projects or accompany them in their endeavors. I hold back though, because I know that if I give them time their play will become rich, creative, and satisfying.
As the year progresses, I find my students gravitating more and more to engaging in creative projects with one another. By mid-year, the children are putting on costumes and taking on new roles in imaginative games. They are building with blocks and working together to solve problems by experimenting with physics. They are also sorting plastic animals and acting out family roles with them. They are even using paper and tape to create three-dimensional structures that I never could have dreamed of.
By engaging in their own play, children are naturally practicing and extending the skills that are essential to their development.
To encourage your child to play on her own or with friends, set aside a bit of time each day when you are not available. Start with just a few minutes in her room. It might be difficult for both of you at first, but she can handle it—remember, it is play! As days goes by, you will likely find your child enjoying her time without you more and more. Her activities will probably become more creative and she will likely spend increasing amounts of time in her endeavors.
Of course, playtime spent with parents, arts and crafts projects created together, and playgroups are essential components of your relationship with your child. But don’t underestimate the importance of your child’s playtime without you too.