By Hallie Bulkin
Many parents ask how many minutes a day they should play with their child versus letting their child play alone. There isn’t exactly a right or wrong answer for this as long as you ARE spending time playing with your child!
Some parents have said, well he can manage to play by himself for hours on end. While this is an important skill for a child to be able to play on their own, there needs to be a balance of independent play and play with others. The amount that you play together versus letting the child play alone will vary for each child.
If you find that your child plays alone most of the time you need to start to work your way into their play situation so they can also experience more advanced types of play. When you do enter their play, follow them in their play. Let them be the leader and follow their lead. This is harder than it sounds at first, but once you have it down it becomes a lot of fun!
You can learn a lot about your child and their imagination when you let them lead in play. Remember the game and the song, “Following The Leader”? (Some of you are now singing…following the leader, the leader, the leader, following the leader wherever he shall go…Sorry if this tune is stuck in your head now!) This is a great way to increase your childs creativity and cognitive skills and help them to generate make believe play scenarios.
So how do you play following the leader with your child? Here’s one way it can be accomplished:
First step: sit down next to the child and ask them, “What are you playing? ” or “What are you doing?” They may tell you they are playing airplanes while they are holding a toy flying it through the air. Go with it!
Second step: Ask them an engaging question that lets them tell the story of what they are doing. (Hint: Do NOT define the story for them otherwise you will be taking control of the situation and that is not the goal here.) You can ask questions like, “where’s the airplane going?” or “who is on the airplane?” Let them tell the story while you work your way into the play situation.
Thirds step: Offer a new idea. “Oh let’s fly around the building (name a toy in front of you) and go through the clouds.” See if they go with the idea. If they say no, that is okay, let them continue to lead in the play situation.
Fourth step: If they did accept your new idea to fly around the building, ask them “where should we fly next?” and see where they take you. Go back to letting them lead a majority of the time, while you only interject ideas once in a while.
Before you know it your mind will be programmed to play “following the leader” when you play with your child. You will have fun learning how your child thinks when they start talking their play scenario’s outloud. It’s a lot of fun if you allow it to be. Enjoy it!
Hallie Bulkin, MA, CCC-SLP