School’s out for the summer! Cue extra family time, sports, and perhaps a vacation. But, in addition to planned activities and family bonding opportunities, summer affords our children ample good old fashion free time. Managing the spare hours can feel overwhelming—especially so if you have a young child who needs close supervision or a child who, for any number of reasons, doesn’t initiate independent play. Regardless of your child’s age or developmental stage, however, it’s important to consider how you can set your child up to have safe, enjoyable solo play this summer.
Value in Independent Play
According to Pathways.Org, engaging in unaccompanied play time gives your child regular opportunities to develop
- Creativity, as they develop their imagination through invention
- Problem solving, as they determine solutions to encountered issues—after all, nobody is next to them to step in and remedy each dilemma
- Self-awareness, as they recognize what they like and dislike, as well as their skill sets
- Confidence, as they acknowledge their capabilities and autonomy
- Self-regulation, as they learn they don’t require another to be entertained or calmed, or to make their decisions.
While enabling your child to play independently may take training and the establishment of boundaries and routines, it is certainly worth the effort.
My first recommendation is to set up a safe area where you child can play—a smaller, more defined space for a young child. For details and examples, read Choosing Toys and Creating a Play Area for Your Child with Blindness or Low Vision.
Establish a well-organized play area, and consider task lighting and color contrast for children with low vision.
When playing independently, my elementary-age children enjoy pretending; listening to audiobooks; bracelet making; LEGO building; building with magnetic tiles; making simple, no-cook treats in the kitchen; molding dough or clay; sewing; jumping on the trampoline; listening to music or jokes using our Alexa; writing stories; practicing piano or the tin whistle; making “YouTube videos” which they don’t actually post; writing to pen pals; needle felting; and playing solitaire.
The activities your child enjoys will depend on their age, developmental stage, and of course, interests. Regardless of the activity, set clear and appropriate boundaries, as you are training them to safely and responsibly spend time alone.
Increase Expectations Over Time
The transition to your child playing independently will take practice and perhaps coaching. I recommend starting a short “solo play” routine with minimal activity options and clear boundaries. You may also want to stick close by your child initially, letting them know you’re near and occupied. You can increase the routine and distance between yourself and your child over time.
It would be wise to include activity clean-up at the end of the routine, with your child taking on as much of the responsibility as developmentally appropriate.
Take the effort to establish an independent play routine now, and you will be setting your child up for success and yourself up for some much-needed alone time!