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Independent Play with Babies and Young Toddlers

Independence. It's an important Montessori concept to understand, and one that I've talked about many times before. In her book, The Absorbent Mind, Maria Montessori said, "The child's development follows a path of successive stages of independence...We have to help the child to act, will and think for himself." Having said that, I don't think that Dr. Montessori meant that *bam* children should be independent completely from the moment they are born in all areas of their lives. Each child is on a path towards that ultimate goal. But, as parents we can support that path from infancy. 

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Montessori parenting advice to encourage babies and toddlers to play more independently. Here are some tips to keep in mind for playtime.

When it comes to playing alone, sometimes that can be a struggle for children, especially young ones. I know that it has been for some of my children. So I know that when it comes to independent play for babies and toddlers I need to keep my own expectations in check. We aren't looking for long stretches of time where our kids are playing alone, but just to give them some time to practice here and there. Here are some tips to keep in mind to encourage independent play with babies and young toddlers.

Babies

  • Make it part of your routine from your baby's earliest days. Don't feel guilty setting your baby down for a moment or two and walking away to accomplish something else. 
  • Resist the urge to intervene when your child is concentrating - protect that concentration. This includes times when you are sitting and playing with your baby. 
  • Provide lots of really great connection time, when you both feel like you've time together, it's easier for you to step back some too 
  • Start with just a few moments and work up to longer stretches. We aren't talking about minutes here, at first it may only be 30-45 seconds. Build that capacity for independence over time. 
  • Observe your baby often to make sure the materials available meet their needs 

Young Toddlers

Little toddlers are very similar to babies in that they want and need a lot of your attention! Remember they are in the sensitive period for language, and feel seriously called to be near you and all the words you're using. But there are things you can do to encourage independent play and exploration:
  • Let your toddler explore their materials, don't feel like you need to interject to "show" or "teach" them the right way to use something. Let them feel like they don't need to turn to you to make sure they are playing correctly, 
  • Slowly distance yourself when playing. Sit a little bit back from your child, or leave the room after a few minutes. Just giving some space. 
  • Create an environment where you feel comfortable allowing your child to be alone. 
  • Don't force it or sneak away if your child is upset, look for times when they are calm, comfortable, and engaged. 
  • Busy yourself in the same room as your child - read a book, clean up, do another project. 

Older Toddlers

Older toddlers may have more capacity for independent play than younger ones. But, if you're new to the idea, it will take some time for them to get there. 
  • Again, protect concentration, if you see your child using a material, let them be! This includes non-toys, and practical life work. Unless they are being destructive, or are in danger, let it go. 
  • Make yourself busy - invite them to participate in practical tasks but if they are unwilling to join, no worries, just let them busy themselves 
  • Create opportunities in your environment that allow them feel confident doing things for themselves - like prepping a snack on their own 
  • Resist the urge to take over your child's pretend play by adding too much detail on your own. When you're playing together, follow your child's lead. 

Again, I think it's most important to remember to keep your own expectations in check when looking for independent play. Prepare your environment, step back, and allow for concentration. But, even with all that, you may only see glimpses of independent play for a long time. Eventually, your child will get there if you allow them to follow their own path. 

Montessori parenting advice to encourage babies and toddlers to play more independently. Here are some tips to keep in mind for playtime.

Does your child play independently? 
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Comments

Unknown said…
I'm curious to know the ages or milestones for babies vs young vs older toddlers?
I define them roughly as young toddlers = 1-year=olds, older toddlers = 2-year-olds
Unknown said…
Again, I think it's most important to remember to keep your own expectations in check when looking for independent play. Prepare your environment, step back, and allow for concentration. But, even with all that, you may only see glimpses of independent play for a long time. Eventually, your child will get there if you allow them to follow their own path.
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