Are you freaking out trying to find ways to entertain your kids during this coronavirus “break”. Don’t freak out! I’ve got you covered with some tips to encourage independent play and give you a well deserved break from all this stress.
Coronavirus is my inspiration for sharing these tips
I’ve been writing this post in my head for years. I usually start making a list for this post during the hot Southwest Florida summer that has us stuck indoors every day after 10 am. Rainy days have also been a source of inspiration. Most recently, this whole coronavirus mess has finally made me sit down and write this post.
Call me crazy, but I love it when my kids are home. I’m probably the only mom who is excited to keep the kids home during this COVID-19 scare.
A huge part of my normal mom stress comes from packing lunches, making sure the kids are at school on time, and dealing with the overtired crazy kids after school. When we have at the chance to play at home all day, my stress level is zero.
Sure, my house gets wrecked and my extrovert brain starts to turn to mush, but my mom-stress level stays at zero.
Teach your kids to entertain themselves by letting them get bored!
Most moms get overwhelmed and stressed by the idea of entertaining kids all day long.
But that is the problem!
You don’t have to entertain your kids all day long. Teach your kids to entertain themselves by letting them get bored and sure enough, they will be entertaining themselves in no time.
A week (or two, or eight) stuck at home due to the coronavirus is the perfect time to teach your kids how to get bored.
The reason I love at home days so much is because my kids have learned to entertain themselves. Yes, all three of them, even the 2 year old.
Is it healthy for kids to be bored?
Independent play fosters creativity, curiosity, and self confidence.
Have you ever heard that boredom is the spark of creativity? I completely agree with this!
When children are left to their own devices, they are forced to engage in child led play. This kind of play leads to increased imagination and curiosity.
The world needs more kids (and adults) who are self starters and know how to problem solve on their own. Allowing kids to be bored is the first step in teaching kids to solve a pretty easy problem- how to entertain themselves. Once they can solve that problem, their minds work a totally different way.
How do you teach a child to entertain themselves?
The experts have their own advice. However, when I research it and see what the experts have to say, I see that most of them suggest the same 11 tips that I offer below.
Just to be clear, I’m not a parenting expert, nor do I claim to be or even want to be. I’m hardly an expert at anything. These are the things that I have done to teach my 3 kids to entertain themselves. These 11 tips have helped our family create a space at home that fosters independent play. If it works for my 3 kids, I’m sure some of this advice can work for you.
11 Tips for Teaching Kids to Play by Themselves (and Surviving as a Parent)
- Follow a daily routine- even on vacation days- I’m a huge fan of following routines, not schedules. If you follow a routine every day and build in self directed play time daily, kids will expect it daily.
- Limit screen time & build it into your routine– Don’t allow for technology time to be a part of independent play time. Instead, built TV or tablet time into your daily routine and make sure the kids know that they will have technology time after engaging in self directed play.
- Set up permanent “family entertainment” stations around the house- Put all the books in one area of the house for a “reading nook”, create an area for coloring and creativity by putting crayons and paper in one area, keep all building toys in one area. This can easily be done in a bedroom, playroom, or in other areas of the house. For example, we keep play dough in a cabinet in the kitchen so Max can easily get it himself. Yes, I’m that mom who really doesn’t care if play dough gets everywhere. For the most part, Max keeps it at the kitchen table because that is part of his routine.
- Turn off the TV. Turn on music or a kid friendly podcast– We use our Echo to play our favorite Apple Music playlists or the kids’ favorite podcast, Wow in the World. It’s amazing how the kids immediately go their own ways when a TV screen is no longer fighting for their attention.
- Don’t offer suggestions when kids say “I’m bored”, instead remind them of 1 or 2 stations they can visit- Don’t tell the kids what to do, instead remind them where they can go around the house to find something to do.
- If a kid asks you to play with them, always say yes- kids learn to play from you. If they ask you to play with them, do it! Show them how to play. Research shows that kids don’t need much more than 10 minutes of play with you a day to understand how to play.
- It’s okay to use an escape route- once you settle your kid into play, don’t feel bad about excusing yourself. Take a break then check on them. If they are still playing independently, let them be!
- Be a role model- sit in the reading area and read your own book or sit down and color. Show the kids how you entertain yourself without technology.
- Have age appropriate learning toys– Click here to see the toys that we use daily for self directed play.
- Encourage siblings to play together– Use a reward chart or special treat to encourage kids to play together.
- Build in clean-up to the routine- kids will make a mess when left to their own devices. Either create a space that you don’t mind being a mess or teach the kids how to clean up after themselves. Personally we do a bit of both. Sometimes the kids create massive Lego stories that stay up for days, other times we clean up at the end of play time. It’s okay to play it by ear.
At what age should a child be able to entertain themselves?
According to Parents.com, “the older a child is, the longer he’ll be able to play alone. For example, at 6 months, a child may be content by himself for 5 minutes; at 12 months, for 15 minutes; at 18 months, about 15 to 20 minutes; and at 2 years, for about half an hour.”
That gives us this:
- 6 months- 5 minutes
- 12 months- 15 minutes
- 18 months- 20 minutes
- 2 years- 30 minutes
- 3+ – an hour or more
When kids entertain themselves, you get more time to do the things you want to do too!
This is the best part about teaching kids to entertain themselves.
I wrote most of this post while my kids had independent play time.
It feels so good to be able to get work done while the kids not only entertain themselves but also work on their own creativity and self reliance.
Encouraging independent play is different from ignoring your kids
Just because your kids are playing independently doesn’t mean it is time for bon bons and wine in the bath tub. Save that for when then kids go to bed.
Independent play time for kids is a great time to prep dinner, read a book, pee in peace, or get a little work done.
I try to set up my work from home location in a place where I can watch my 2 year old while also be able to hear my 4 and 6 year old.
But what if my kids thrive on technology or getting out of the house?
I know every kid is different. Just because my kids do well at home, doesn’t mean your kids will.
Try to think of rainy days, snow days, super hot summer days, and coronavirus days as a forced opportunity to teach kids how to beat boredom at home. You don’t have to be a homebody for the rest of your life!
On days like these you really don’t have a choice.
Well, you do.
You could choose to let technology take over for the day and then deal with the aftermath of brain mush kids who have become crazy little demons.
I’ve been there!
I’m not a perfect parent. I’ve learned a lot of these tips by mistake because I’ve also been known to let technology and TV take over for days. Days.
If you are a regular reader, you’ll remember that at one point I ran two businesses from home, took care of my mom while she was battling cancer, and I had 3 kids under 5 at home. At that point in my life, I relied on technology a ton. And I don’t feel guilty about it at all. If you must rely on technology during this time to get through this coronavirus, do it. I certainly won’t be judging you.
However, this is a great time to give boredom a try.
Through all my technology heavy parenting days, I’ve learned that my kids are much happier when they engage in independent play, therefor I’m much happier.
Best of luck in these crazy times!