Encouraging Kids to Play Independently so you can get things done and don’t feel like you have to entertain your kids. How to use daily routine cards and keeping a stash of activities like from the preschool activity bundle (2 – 5 years old) and Camp Mom: Summer Activities Pack (kids 3 – 8 years old) are true lifesavers.
Stop Entertaining Your Kids: Let Them Play By Themselves
It must be the time of year, but at dinner with girlfriends the other night, there was a common theme that kept coming up in our conversations. The topic? Getting kids to play independently.
These are the things I heard my friends say:
- How am I supposed to entertain my kids for three months!
- I work from home, but my kids are also home during the day too because camps are so dang expensive. How do I make sure they aren’t just planted in front of the TV and actually play independently without screens?
- I’m already out of activities and we’re two weeks into break. Why won’t they play on their own?
- I’m terrible at pretend play, but my kids won’t play without me.
I also had to share all my tips about not yelling at your kids, which happens like clockwork this time of year so if this sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. You can join the waitlist for my full course, Calm Parenting: Learn How to Stop Yelling, which opens July 8th.
Getting kids to play independently and having a full tank of patience so you don’t yell are things that go hand-in-hand.
If You’re in a Hurry or Looking for a Screen-Free Activity Plan your Kids will LOVE…
Getting Kids to Play Alone
I love Summer too and I do my best to make this time of year memorable for my kids, but I still have to get things done around the house and deadlines to meet.
(This also happens during school breaks and time of year when holidays happen.)
When kids play alone and without agendas, they get to be creative and imaginative. This is where their imaginations flourish!
Here are my tricks for having independently play each day, so you can get things done and kids have time to play on their own.
1. STICK TO A ROUTINE WHERE INDEPENDENT PLAY IS ON ROTATION
I know, I know, you’ve heard me talk about our routine only a bazillion times but that’s because it’s the glue that holds together our days.
Literally, I would be lost without it, especially in the Summer and when the kids are on school breaks.
With a routine we all know what happens during the day, there’s time for chores, reading, getting outside, making meals and even nap time since my youngest still naps (thank you, Lord!)
If you use any of my routines whether it’s from the sample summer schedules pack or from Mastering Sleep & Schedules, you’ll notice one thing that’s in every daily routine – independent play time and quiet time.
These are the golden nuggets of time when you need to get work done, clean the house, even read if you want!
If you’re just introducing routines or need to get yours back on track, using routine cards has been a lifesaver for me. Especially since my 4-year-old gets easily distracted, routine cards remind her what comes next.
When you have independent play as a part of your daily routine, children expect to play on their own and know you’ll be back to play with them after a little quiet time.
2. KEEP A STASH OF EASY ACTIVITIES
I admit, I feel a tinge of pressure to squeeze as much out of Summer as I can, but I also need to pay our mortgage and put gas in the car that takes my kids to all their activities.
Basically, I need to work and I don’t want to plop the kids down in front of a screen. This is exactly why I like to keep a stash of activities when I need the kids to play on their own.
It feels good to be prepared and have a plan, right?
My friend Jamie from Hands on as We Grow has two awesome activity resources my family relies on just for this reason.
The preschool activity bundle (2 – 5 years old) and Camp Mom: Summer Activities Pack (kids 3 – 8 years old) are true lifesavers when you need to pull together an activity and even WOW your kids in the process.
Here’s what she’s making this week:
- Monday: Make a walking stick
- Tuesday: Weave something outside
- Wednesday: Mud painting
- Thursday: Wash toys
- Friday: Trace squiggly lines
- Saturday: Draw a sidewalk family portrait
- Sunday: Go for a walk and jump over all the cracks
I was shocked at how easy she makes the activities, but my kids love them and keep asking for more.
Get the whole week’s plan with supplies and how-to here: Camp Mom: Summer Activities Pack
The trick though, is to only pull these ideas once in a while, or the excitement of them will wear off. That’s why they’re your secret stash for this Summer!
You can also sign up to for the waitlist for when the Activity Room re-opens in September and get monthly activity plans all year long!
3. LOAD UP WITH BOOKS AT THE LIBRARY
Every two weeks I take the kids to the library and load up on books.
We participate in our library’s summer reading program so there is some incentive to earn prizes for every hour of reading they accumulate, but they’re great to have for quiet time or when times get tough, to help reset the mood.
Create a cozy corner in your house for calm down moments and quiet time, which is a perfect place to put your library stash.
A lot of libraries have summer reading programs you can participate in, too.
4. PLAN FAMILY PLAY TIME FIRST
You know what kids crave the most?
Connection with their parents, believe it or not. (yes, even your teenager, I promise.)
They want to feel loved and know they are lovable.
So, while we spend a lot of time together doing things in the Summer, I also make time for family fun together like playing board games, keep a deck of UNO cards, coloring pages (I keep a pile with markers on a desk), or an impromptu water balloon fight.
Once I’ve filled their proverbial “attention bucket,” and know they’re good to go for an hour of playing solo afterwards.
5. SAVE SCREEN TIME FOR REST DAYS
Two of my kids woke up in a fowl mood the other morning and as soon as I saw their faces, I could see how exhausted they were.
That’s when I declared a pajama, movie and blanket fort day.
We don’t do screen time every day in our house so when they get the chance to bring all their blankets downstairs and watch a couple movies, they think it’s a special day but I know better. It’s a strategic move to help my crabby kids rest and be ready to go for tomorrow.
It’s not an every-day kind of strategy, but works well for an occasional lazy summer day, plus when they’re watching a movie, I can still get stuff done (unless I’m still in my PJs and joining them.)
We also have kid’s kindle fires with age-appropriate learning games and some shows for the kids if we want a shorter amount of screen time than a full movie. I set a timer on the kindles so they’ll shut off after a limited amount of time and somehow when the machine shuts off on their own, versus Mom turning it off, they handle it better.
(As a side note and one of the main reasons we bought kindles instead of iPads, is that if you break them within the first two years of having a kindle, amazon fully replaces them!)
6. GET OUT OF THE HOUSE & SHIFT YOUR ROUTINE
Some people think having a routine makes your days too structured and stiff, but getting out of the house is a part of our daily schedule and sometimes this has to be spontaneous.
When noise is peaking at our house, or tempers are starting to run hot, this is when I know it’s time to get out of the house.
We’ll walk to the park, drive to a stream or lake to play in the water for an hour, or grab an ice cream cone and restore everyone’s balance.
You can move your routine around and swap activities if your kids don’t need to be straight down for a nap. Your routine is always as flexible as you need, but as long as you stick with nap and bedtimes, you’ll be fine.
Remember, it’s all about giving your kids the attention they need and crave… and setting them up for a successful and happy time where they want to play by themselves.
I hope these ideas help you get some work, or laundry, or a 7-minute power nap in while your kids are content and happy playing on their own.
More Resources to Help Kids Play on Their Own
- Sample Summer Schedules for Kids (& Smoother Days Ahead!)
- Daily Routine Cards for kids
- 50 Screen-Free Activities for Kids This Summer
- Free Printable: Summer Schedule for Kids Planner Set
- Creating Screentime Rules for Summer (Free Printable)
- 50 Activities & Experiments to Keep Kids Learning in Summer