Usually parents expect to play with their baby - quite a lot at first, and then increasingly less as they grow older. However, if you are the parent of a toddler or preschooler, you may have learned that the more you play - the more they want, until some children simply do not know what to do for themselves if no adult is involved.

If this is the situation at your house, you may be interested in learning how to set up an Independent Playtime as part of your child’s regular, daily routine.

Much of the prep work for independent playtime happens before you even begin the routine. Listed below are guidelines for you to follow, but feel free to put your own touches here and there so the experience is tailored to your child’s age and interests.

Choose where your child’s independent playtimes will take place. It should be a baby-proofed room with either a door or a gate. Their bedroom works very well, whereas basement playrooms are better saved for more general play.

Gather several baskets or interesting containers and purchase or collect the following types of play props: farm animals, zoo animals, families of people, a few stuffed animals (not 100), dress-up items like hats and scarves, musical instruments, dolls, cars, etc. Use your imagination! Each set of items needs its own basket. It’s ideal if there is a high shelf to put some of these containers when they aren't being played with so that they’ll stay exciting for the Special Playtimes.

(say to child) “Guess what. You get to have a Special Playtime in your room today with a very exciting snack. Let’s go get the snack ready right now. (could be a combo of fish crackers, 2 mini-marshmallows, handful of Cheerios with a few raisins added in…make it a very tasty, tempting snack of something they do not otherwise have often). I’m going to get down all your Special Baskets for you to play with, and you can be busy until the kitchen timer rings (30-45 minutes). I will open the door/gate when the bell rings. Do you want some music on?”

Now comes the hard part, initially: you must leave your child alone with this lovely set-up whether he/she is happy about it or not. Be sure the gate or door is secured to give them privacy and prevent them from being in charge of when this playtime is over. For your child to accept this new routine, I suggest Special Playtimes happen twice a day when you are home. Avoid calling or talking back and forth the whole time except for once or twice to say “I’m busy and you are busy.” Be very boring during these times and soon your child will resort to exploring the baskets.

At the end of the playtime, you both play together at sorting each item into its proper basket. (There is learning going on here, with sorting, counting, colors, clean-up – don’t call it clean-up, just call it putting things in their baskets.)

You can rotate little additions in and out such as a Dr. Kit, a sheet over a table to make a tent, a coloring table for an older child, a new CD, etc.(If your child is toilet trained, put a potty into the room.) This way you can allow your child small chances to add their own requests to the Special Playtime set up, but the unconditional variables include there being no choice about going in or when to come out. If your child protests this for a few days it’s perfectly normal. Through many repetitions of this routine, he/she’ll begin to see it as an opportunity for private play, which is where imagination really blooms.

And you? Since the above two Special Playtimes are in addition to naps, you may start planning how to spend your new-found time! I suggest you read your novel.

Author's Bio: 

Erin Kurt, parenting & life coach to working mothers, and founder of ErinParenting, is also the author of Juggling Family Life and creator of The Life Balance Formula and the How to Get Your Child to Listen program.