June 27, 2016

Independent Play: Fun for Mom and Baby

Let's talk about babies for a minute here! Our babies and the way that they play, in particular.

If you aren't familiar with it, daily independent play time is really great for your little ones, and it is exactly what it sounds like: a specific amount of time every day that your little one plays in a safe space by themselves, without being able to see you or interact with you.

It was first recommended to me by my aunt who managed to raise 3 wonderful children, and then by my baby's pediatrician after my daughter was born. The idea is to encourage a healthy level of independence and imagination in your baby, and let's be honest here...it also buys you a few minutes of free time without a baby attached to you. Here is the rundown on my personal experience with independent play and why I love it so much.

I decided to start scheduling a few minutes of independent play with my daughter when she was just a few weeks old. I know that probably sounds crazy, because newborns don't know how to play, but hear me out. I wanted my baby to get familiar with a scheduled time of the day that is designated for playing, and get used to the fact that I wouldn't be present for it (that she knew of). She obviously didn't know the difference in the beginning, but she learned quickly. This was especially important for me to establish early on, because I manage a financial advising firm from home, so having two hands for typing would be important at times.

I started by placing her on her plat mat with a few dangling toys, and I stepped out of her view for about 3-5 minutes. Always make sure that your baby is in a very safe place and position, so that nothing can fall on her, no one can step on her, or hurt her in any way.

Every few days, I changed the environment and the toys, so that she could experience something new. Some days it was her swing, then the bed, the play mat, a blanket in the front yard, or the living room floor. I was always nearby, but I did my best to stay out of sight.

By the time she was 3 months old, she was actively stretching, reaching, kicking, and holding her head up. She could also handle a few extra minutes of independent play on most days. So every morning after a feeding, I would put her down in a safe place for about 5-10 minutes and step out of her sight.

These kiddos go through phases though, and it isn't this easy forever. When my daughter hit 6 months, the dreaded separation anxiety struck with a vengeance. She screamed bloody murder if I left her sight or set her down, and she struggled to sit and play for any amount of time without me next to her (insert eye roll here). We still did our best to do a few minutes of independent play every day, but if she got too upset, it just became counterproductive and we waited for the next day.

Now my daughter is 9 months old, and through good days and bad, we still do our daily independent play whenever possible. She can now manage about 10-15 minutes of time alone in her Pack and Play or on the living room floor. She can squirm and scoot around and put stuff in her mouth though, so I have to watch her more carefully...but I still try to keep a little distance between us so that she doesn't see me watching her. I do this because it makes it easier for her to focus on playing and not expect me to help her, hold her, or feed her. She is learning independence and it is a beautiful thing to witness.

I have found this part of our daily routine to be so good for me and my baby. I love to watch her when she doesn't know I'm watching. It is wonderful to see the gears turning in her head while she figures things out on her own, and it is wonderful to know that she is capable of being an independent kid that knows how to PLAY! My personal rules for independent play are: no technology, no parents, and no food. Just simple toys, a baby, and an imagination.

written by VHS contributor// Cate Rosales
sweetandsimplelife.com