Encourage independent outdoor play
1. Fill Their Attention Cup
Kids crave attention. They need to be acknowledged, seen and heard. However they don’t require attention all the time.
I like to refer to this as the “attention cup.”
Once the cup is full, children are generally content with spending time playing by themselves. Fill your child’s cup during care giving times, such as mealtimes, bath and bed time, and nappy changes. Sing songs, ask questions, listen and respond, whatever you and your child enjoy together, be present and give them your undivided attention.
Filling their attention cup in this way will promote independent play for your child and alleviate the dreaded “mum guilt” that we can sometimes suffer from.
2. Start Young
For little ones, independent play doesn’t mean no supervision. What it does mean as that they can play independently away from you. As your child grows so will their independence and you’ll know when supervision isn’t needed in certain situations.
When your children need less supervision, implementing habits can be useful to encourage independent outdoor play.
Kids flourish when provided with routine and structure. This does not mean that you will set up activities for them. This means creating a reoccurring schedule that encourages independent play.
For example: after breakfast we get dressed, shoes, socks and coat, and your child is sent outdoors to play while you complete your morning bits and pieces. It may be that when school age children return home from school, they have a snack, then it’s outside for one hour while you get dinner started.
Whatever is right for your family and children, stick to it. Consistency is key!
3. Let them Go!
Yes, I can see you peering out the window making sure they are okay, and that is fine. I’ve done it quite a few times myself!
We all want our children to be safe; but aside from their safety, children should be left to sort out their own games, figure out their own way of doing things and have the freedom to keep themselves occupied.
Children who are given opportunities to be bored, tend to become very creative thinkers and can better adapt to change.
Independence will not develop unless they are allowed to do things for themselves.
4. Treat their play with respect
Play is an important part of every child’s development, but of course, life gets in the way and we need to achieve certain things throughout the day.
It may be shopping, picking up other children from school etc. Treat children’s playtime with respect by letting them know that it will be dinnertime soon, and they need to wrap up their game.
Smaller children need nappies changed of course, look for breaks in their concentration, or let them know that we will be changing your nappy once you’ve finished that puzzle, for example.
I love this saying by one of Australia’s popular parenting authors and educators Maggie Dent. She says ‘connect before you redirect‘ and her voice always sounds in my head when I’m about to transition my children from one activity to another. It really works too!
5. Monitor, Support and Encourage your child interests
Children will learn and play more freely when they are engaged in what they’re doing. That’s why supporting your child’s interests is so important.
If your child loves balls and sport, extend their skills by setting up a hoop or a target outside to help them with their gross motor skills.
If your child is obsessed with artistic endeavors, use nature to create inspired works of art.
It will be so much easier to get your kids enjoying independent outdoor play when your child’s interests are being met.
Our society may have changed, but the need for children to have independence, individuality and a little freedom from adults has not.
Encouraging our children into backyards for playtime has never been more important. Tech is on the rise, screen time is at an all time high, and our children are suffering. The decline of outdoor play has seen a rise in mental and mood disorders in our children. Kids freedom has declined, and so has their creativity and their abilities to problem solve.
While our world has changed, the basic needs of children have not. As parents we can make a difference and allow them to have a free childhood with independent outdoor play.