Learning to play independently..

The other day I was craving snickerdoodles, mostly because the last time I made them with my sister something weird happened to them, but we couldn’t figure out what we did wrong, so I wanted to make them again to see if I could get them right. Anyways, I really wanted to make them, but A had already finished her first nap for the day which meant I didn’t have much free time left. I took a gamble and decided to make them during her Independent Playtime. And I’m pleased to say they turned out a success this time!

So now you might be wondering, what is Independent Playtime (IP)… It’s exactly what it sounds like! A plays by herself independently somewhere safe (for us we do crib); doesn’t need my help to find something to play with and doesn’t need to see me to feel comfortable to play. Of course this doesn’t mean to just leave the baby in the crib or room and expect them to not feel anxiety about where you are. It’s about slowly building that trust with your baby so they know that you’ll be back to get them and they’re safe playing where they are. Honestly, it’s been a lifesaver for me. While A plays, I have a bit of time to myself, mostly to do wash dishes or prep the next meal, yada yada, but occasionally, independent playtime lets me make cookies! Basically, I put A in her crib with a few toys that she usually only sees during IP and tell her I’ll be back to get her later, and she plays by herself for on a good day an hour, but usually we aim for around 45 minutes.

During A’s first few months, I remember feeling like I should constantly be entertaining her with something so I’d often jangle things in her face and try and get her to interact with her toys, but after reading Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg, I toned it down a bit. I tried to think of it more as letting A invite me to play with her. Then a few months later, in one of the Mommy Groups I’m in on Facebook, I started noticing people doing something called Independent Play. Naturally, I was curious…

First day at IP around 6.5 months

We started around 6.5 months, right after A was able to sit up (with a Boppy to support her in case she fell over backwards). The first time I tried it, the moment I left the room she started wailing, so I started a more gradual approach. The first couple weeks I sat in the room with her, her in her crib and me behind her in the rocking chair. She’d only last a few minutes of playing until she got bored and wanted my attention, but we slowly worked our way up from there. Over the span of a few months, we’ve worked our way from 5 minutes to an hour, and at first only once a day, but now if we don’t have plans to go out for the day, twice a day.

Wanting to play with me when I was in the room with her

There are definitely days when after 10 minutes she realizes that I’m not around and gets fussy, but if I leave her to whine a bit, she will usually go back to entertain herself. And typically I’ll only go in unless she’s bumped her head (more common now that she’s standing in her crib) or she’s full on crying.

You might be wondering why I put her in the crib. I had the same question when I started! I thought she’d get confused since crib is typically for sleeping, but we’re doing the crib for now because it’s a safe place where I don’t have to be constantly watching to make sure she doesn’t hurt herself. She’s also not walking yet, so she’s not feeling the urge to explore her room, but I think we’ll transition out of her crib into playing in her room in the next couple months. I also try and make a big contrast between IP and naptime so she doesn’t get confused. The curtains are closed and her sound machine is on for naptime, and during IP, it’s bright and there are plenty of toys for her to play with!

It’s crazy that ‘playing’ is something that we can train our babies to do, and I’m so thankful for the moms that shared with me how they went about Independent Play. It definitely was a struggle the first couple months, but now it’s nice to know that if I need to take a shower, put makeup on, or get ready to go somewhere that I can put A in her crib with some toys and she’ll be able to entertain herself for a bit. And hopefully in an age where it’s so easy to find something stimulating to do, A can learn to be an independent and creative thinker without having to resort to screens all the time.

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