If you feel guilty about leaving your child alone to play, don’t. Allowing your child to play on his own is more important than you think. Here are just some of its benefits.
WORDS JOANNA ONG
According to Dr Lim Boon Leng, psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital, playing is the main means of learning for any preschooler and helps to cultivate problem-solving skills and creativity. A good play is considered one that is enjoyable for children and where they are required to manipulate objects and the environment around them actively. Some elements of a good and meaningful play would include undirected free play, interaction with changes in objects (e.g. moulding plasticine), sorting and recognition of patterns, using one’s imagination, and interaction with parents to help build bonds. Outdoor play should also be included for variety and interactions with the outdoor environment.
The Importance of Playing Alone
Playing alone has more benefits than one can imagine. Dr Lim adds that it is normal for toddlers and young children to be egocentric. Even when they are in a group, the tendency is for them to play alone by themselves.
Playing alone is the groundwork for them to learn to play with others later.
It gives them the opportunity to manipulate the toy all by themselves
and to explore things the way they want to.
Playing alone also teaches them that they can have fun by themselves, helps them to self-soothe and develop emotional independence. Usually, when playing alone, children tend to be animated by imitating sounds and providing running commentaries thus this helps to improve linguistic abilities.
Encouraging Playing Alone
For parents with more than one child, Dr Lim advises that there is really no need to fret over this. Children will tend to play on their own at a younger age but will quickly learn to have fun with one another as they grow older. It is natural that they tend to want to play with one another and there is no need to separate them or insist that they play alone. In any case, there may be instances where the siblings or parents are not available to play with the child. The child should then be encouraged to play alone. For an optimal environment to play alone, Dr Bronwen Lloyd, policy analyst with the Department of Education & Early Childhood Development in Nova Scotia and Professor Nina Howe, Department of Education in Concordia University gives some recommendations:
If your child prefers to play with you, keep in mind that playtime with your child is also important, Dr Lim emphasises.
Playing with your child will help to build your parent-child bond,
which in turn helps in developing the emotional stability
of the child in the long run.
However, if you have something important to attend to, the child can be encouraged to play on his own near you. You can first get the child engaged with a toy, allow him to explore and when he gets bored and comes to you, introduce another toy or activity to him. Dr Lim adds that it is also necessary for a child to learn to play with others, as this is the basis of social skills and interactions. In children who do not develop group play, there is often the worry about Autism Spectrum Disorder.
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Safety when Playing Alone
Dr Lim highlights that playing alone does not mean being left alone. The child should still be supervised and adults have the responsibility to ensure that the environment is safe e.g. gated area away from the kitchen, open windows or balcony and exposed electrical points. Take time to assess the environment before letting your child play alone. Nevertheless, allowing them to take little risks, like falling on the playground, will also help them learn to take risks and not become overly sheltered.
Indoor or Outdoor Play
A combination of indoor and outdoor play is best, recommends Dr Lim. As long as it is safe, there are no limitations to toys. Playing with toys like building blocks and bricks will help with imagination and fine motor skills. Kicking a ball outside develops gross motor skills. Children get bored with toys very quickly. It is best to give them one toy at a time to occupy them for longer. As for outdoor activities, a myriad of activities can occupy the child. A playground with different play areas where the child can swing, slide and climb safely on his own is a good place for the child to explore.