Sunday, 9 May 2010

How much independent play?

Eleanor can crawl around on the floor and play on her own for considerable chunks of time. If you put a variety of toys down, she’ll explore them in detail for up to three quarters of an hour at a time.  She likes toys she can chew, toys that make music and toys she can push around. She’s also just discovering toys that she can bang to make a noise. And, if you leave a shoe anywhere in her vicinity, she’ll be your friend for life.

This is, of course, very convenient. It means I can take her upstairs and do a bit of work in the morning, while she crawls around the office floor, playing with her toys and desperately searching for some paper to chew on. It means I can leave her in the living room with Rosemary for a bit, while I load the washing machine or empty the dishwasher. In theory, it means I can sit and catch up with blogging for a bit, though in practice work or housework is taking priority most of the time, as we’re so humungously busy at the moment.

When she does get bored, just 15 minutes or so of attention, be it walking her round the room (she loves to walk and stand), bouncing her on your knee, dancing round the dining room, ticking her, changing her nappy, giving her some milk, etc. and she’ll be able to go back to her independent play, though not for as long. Or she can go in the bouncer or her bouncy chair for a bit (both of which will probably have passed their use-by date soon! She does get frustrated sometimes, if she’s trying to get to something and can’t pull herself up to it, for example, but for the most part, she plays happily, chattering and squealing away.

At the other end of the spectrum, Rosemary has been struggling with independent play recently. When a friend comes round to play, they’ll play imaginatively together for ages, but on her own she is finding it difficult to come up with independent play that she wants to do. She’s getting bored with a lot of her toys, or can’t find them, because the toy corner needs a good sort out.

But mostly, it’s because her default position is in front of the TV. When she gets up in the morning, she asks to watch TV, when she gets home from playgroup/nursery school, she asks to watch TV. And for this I entirely blame myself. She’s always (well, not quite always, of course!) watched TV, but since Eleanor was born, I’ve found myself switching the TV on for Rosemary, so I can get on with sorting Eleanor out, whether that’s changing her nappy, feeding her or just playing with her. Or, indeed, leaving her to play on her own while I catch up on the washing. It’s just easier that way, and I’ve done it far, far too much.

Chris, when he’s on Rosemary and Eleanor duty, tends to have the TV off. He comes up with things for Rosemary to play with, if she’s not thinking of them herself – he’ll get the blocks out or the Happyland people, for example. Or he’ll just leave her until she starts playing independently and imaginatively, which really doesn’t take a huge amount of time after the TV is off. And he usually manages to get a bit of housework done, too. This is what I used to be like and I’m not entirely sure where the laziness has come from – maybe from the constant exhaustion?

Anyway, we are now trying to gradually cut down on the TV, making sure it doesn’t go on the second she comes downstairs or in the front door. Encouraging other play, for example, we made some playdough yesterday, as all the old stuff had dried out ages ago. And we’re trying to encourage watching a DVD or video instead of the TV, so it’s for a finite time and not just vegging in front of the TV. Rosemary is fantastic at independent and imaginative play, given the chance. So we (I, really) need to give her that chance. Even if it means being interrupted while filling the dishwasher or having ten times as many toys to pick up at the end of the day.


How are your children at independent play? Do you have one better than the other? Has TV taken over and how have you changed that? Do you think it’s OK for a 7-month-old baby to be spending so much time on independent play?


  1. I think it's brilliant that she will play independently so young. After all, she is exploring her world and its a big, fascinating place. My nine month old manages about five minutes max, and only if I am in the room. My eldest wants to play with me all the time and it's exhausting. But we limit the TV to one hour in the evening, though I am sure that will change as she gets older.

  2. I wonder if the eldest child in a family always has problem with independent play? My eldest never managed it until his younger brother was old enough to come up with ideas and start games for them both. If this is the case do you think it's because the eldest demands so much attention they don't learn to do things on their own? My youngest had all the toys available to play with from being a tiny baby and was like Eleanor very good at amusing himself. Would have been ok except for him waking up all night, so with an attention seeking toddler and no sleep I used TV, videos and Cbeebies website a lot of the time. You got to do what you got to do. Our parents did not play with us all the time so why has society changed to expect that we have to entertain our children. We're not superhuman and we have to work, do chores live our lives too. Our lives do not need to revolve around our children.

  3. Mr A will play independently for a very limited amount of time which can be extended by talking to him as you blog.
    TB's great at independent play when it involves the xbox or Lego. Fir anything else it has to take his fancy at that particular moment.

  4. Marie is 7 and she entertains herself. She was always very independent. She loves reading now and spends hours reading Harry Potter. Noelie is 11 months and she lpays by herself quite often too very much like you describe. Sometimes she wakes up from her nap and I can hear she's awake but she is playing happily in her cot so I just leave her (that sounds so bad!) to play until she starts calling for me.

  5. I'm lucky because I now have two children of playing age and they love to play together. When I only have the 2yr old at home, though, it's hard to keep her occupied, and I will let her watch TV for a while so I can have some time. I find that a difficult thing to balance as well. When I do housework, I try to involve her, even though it drives me up the wall. I don't know what the "right" thing is, though, if there even is such a thing.

  6. I think it is great that Eleanor likes to play independently so much. Geekygirl was like this, and is still pretty good at it (as long as the TV is off!).

    I found that setting arbitrary but strictly enforced rules around TV work well. A certain number of shows on weekend mornings with a warning before it goes off. And a couple of shows on Tuesdays when Geekydaddy goes to yoga! (mine are in daycare all day, there would be way more TV if not!). They don't even ask for TV outside of the designated times any more.

    Soon they will be playing together, and you'll have the whole new problem of "when and how do I intervene if I hear a howl?!"

  7. Babygirl still much prefers to have continuous interaction which can be a bit tricky

    Toddlergirl has been better at independent play (she's more of a solitary soul anyway) but Mr has been letting her have more TV which has gradually meant she's keener to watch TV on the iphone than to play or read - I must focus on sorting it, just I don't want to step on his decisions too much

  8. I'm a grammar school teacher and "independent play " is always something that comes up in my classroom... Some kids are able to be taught a project and work independently... this is great because they develop well. i see that kids whom aren't as good maybe draw one thing or use one color and are constantly showing me every step they take. This is a detriment to their learning process in my opinion. It's ok to ask if something is correct but the constant approvable is not annoying but inhibits their progress. If your child is having trouble entertaining themselves try art projects and not just because i am an art teacher. I think art supplies are super engaging.

  9. This has been really interesting to read. Piran plays on the floor by himself for long stretches of time. At 9 months he is not yet crawling but happily sits there on this playmat surrounded by toys. He will stay there for 45 minutes to 1 hour. All I need to do is occasionally push the toys back if he has thrown they all across the room. He will go on his front / roll onto his back but gets bored and cries until I sit him back up!

    After 4pm though he needs someone with him to play, or the tv on as he tends to get a bit tired and grumpy by then!

  10. I don't think 'too much' independent play is a bad thing at all. I think you're right to wean Rosemary off the TV, although it definitely has its place. Since J dropped his lunch time sleep, half an hour of Cbeebies means he sits quietly and rests, which he wouldn't otherwise do. He has become so used to playing (and fighting) with the girls, that he is terrible at independent play, especially in the hour between their bedtime and his. Invariably that's when I want to collapse in front of the TV or get on with cooking, and he whinges round the house saying "but who can I play with nowwwwwww?"

  11. My son, now 3 was always very happy to play independently. I was able to leave him to it for 20 mins at a time and like you describe, come back to him for a few mins and then leave him to it again whilst I did stuff around the house.

    Were I to have a second child, I suppose they'd have him for entertainment too but personally if I was turning back the clock I would be mindful of not leaving them to their own devices so much as my son's speech was very late developing and although I have no way of knowing if this was related, I do torture myself that I didn't talk to him enough early on.

    I'm coming to Cybermummy so I hope to see you there! I'll be the red head handing out french macarons if I make enough of them!!