Attention span for play

My son is 3.5 and has such a hard time playing by himself. I feel like I’ve bought a million toys, art projects, games… but the second i step away he follows me around. I like playing with him, but i just can’t do it all day. he doest nap so the day feels very long. Also-he’s an only child so its me or no-one as a playmate. Any suggestions?

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Hi! I definitely don’t know that I have the answer but an account I follow on instagram talks about how much she has learned from following an account that is all about play (I am trying to find the name of it and I will post it as soon as I get it). I know toys that allow for open ended play are great because they can keep using their imagination to create scenarios. I would think that with any other skill you can help build him up to more independent play. Maybe slowly increasing time. Like get him set up to play and then have to ‘go to the bathroom’ or check the oven or something and then come back for a bit and then head away again. Slowly increase the time and each time you engage give him new skills/strategies for play. Not sure if that makes sense.

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Here is the account: https://www.instagram.com/theworkspaceforchildren/

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ill check them out! thank you

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Maybe it could be helpful to set up an actual schedule for him-maybe draw pictures of the activities/meal times so he knows what to expect. Also set specific times in that schedule that you’ll be playing with him (draw a picture of yourself at those activities). And maybe when you can’t be with him try giving him more structured tasks like a specific art project, painting 3 paintings, or building a castle with 20 blocks so he knows what he’s supposed to do.

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Some kids have a very hard time with pretend play especially if there’s no one else to play with. I find my kid does better with stuff like play doh, paint, water play-all the messy stuff :rofl:
check out @dayswithgrey, @busytoddler, @coffeeandcrayon and @happilyevermom on instagram

This is something we struggled with in our house for a long time too. We have a whole playroom full of beautiful open ended toys, and she’d play alone for a few minutes and then come search me out to play with her. With trying to work from home these days that was very unproductive.

Just recently she has started to get a lot better and will sometimes play for 45 mins - a hour on her own. A few things that I found that worked for us are: 1) Less is more - we only keep a few key toys out on the shelfs in the playroom so she doesn’t get overwhelmed, and swap out weekly for other items. 2) Setting up simple invitations to play or starting to build roads/castles/cities for her so she can complete them or play with them on her own. 3) sensory play - Water scoops and pouring bowls will keep her attention the longest. We are lucky that we have a screen in porch that I can lock, and I can see her from my office. So she’ll go out there and play and give me some peace and quiet. Throw in some water-beads once she’s played for a while, and it buys me more time.

This is such a great question! It sounds like you’re specifically looking for resources to encourage and promote independent play. One of my favorite experts on this is Janet Lansbury. I highly recommend this article to start with: Stop Entertaining Your Toddler in 3 Easy Steps
The first key is to observe what your child is most interested in. When they are engaged in a favorite activity, they are more likely to move into independent play. (This only works if the activity is developmentally appropriate and interesting to your child - if the activity is too easy or too hard, they will rely on you to make it interesting.) You can support their play at first by staying close, and if your child tries to engage you, give prompts that support his thinking and independence, rather than engage in back-and-forth. For example, if your child rolls a ball towards you, instead of rolling it back, you could say, “wow, look how far it rolled! What can you do to make it roll again?” You’re still engaged with your child, but prompting him to play without needing another person to reciprocate.

The environment is helpful here too; if your child’s space is crowded with toys, they may be overwhelmed and rely on you to choose activities. Keep things simple and accessible so that your child can easily choose and start a activity without needing help finding something to do. On Instagram, @nickav25 and @3mm.montessori are some helpful resources!

I hope that this is helpful, or at least gets you started with some resources! You can also follow me on IG at @my.baby.plays. I have a 1 year old, and years of experience teaching 3-4 year olds.

Here are a couple more articles about independent play:

https://www.janetlansbury.com/2020/07/engaging-in-your-childs-play-without-interrupting/#.Xxm88AiMgH4.facebook

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Independent play doesn’t come naturally for a lot of skills. It needs to be taught and practiced. Some things that often work at our house:

  1. Play together first. My kids often need some inspiration for how to play with toys. If I grab our toy cars and pretend to race them around the room, they’ll often join in.
  2. Step away. After they’re engaged in play, try stepping away. My kids often keep playing.
  3. Set a goal. I might put out blocks and tell my kids I’m going to fold the laundry, then I’ll come back and they can show me their huge tower when I come back.
  4. Be nearby - as they work toward independent play, try to do something nearby and comment occasionally so they feel connected to you but don’t need you playing along.
  5. Know your kids’ play strengths. My preschooler dislikes blocks - leaving him to play independently with them is just not going to work. But he loves water play and can play independently for an hour! Find what really engages your little one.
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I love this!!

Hey mama! I’m a certified sleep consultant, and I found that when I dropped my daughter’s nap and swapped it for quiet time, her independent play skyrocketed out of necessity. She now typically does quiet time in her room for almost 2 hours every day (playing independently that whole time!). If you’re not already doing quiet time, you should definitely introduce it! You can start with a very short amount of time — 10 or 20 minutes even — and then build up from there! I also have a blog post that goes over all the ins and outs of quiet time: www.sleepingchildsaneparent.com/blog/quiettime

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I really love these ideas and I love Janet Lansbury too! Clutter and too much “stuff” is a really big factor when it comes to attention span and creative play. As an OT, we do try to stay away from toys that have too many lights and sounds. Simple, open-ended toys tend to spark more creativity because there is not only one way to “play” with the toy!

On a side note, I sent my son to a preschool that prioritized outdoor, free play and did not allow any electronics. The room was filled with natural light, wooden toys, blocks, and art supplies. He truly thrived in that environment and even to this day, he is more creative and can play for longer periods of time than my daughter. It was absolutely worth it! :slight_smile:

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I love that idea of “quiet time” because it seems like young kids can expect this uninterupped time in their bedrooms, without television, to explore and play with the toys in their own environments. :slight_smile:

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Yes! Setting up and then stepping away seems to be key!

You are all amazing! What an incredible community this is! I’ve been trying lots of your tips and things have really been improving.

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Hi! I had @curiousneuron on a live on my instagram (https://www.instagram.com/starfishtherapies/) and she talked about attention span and kids if you want to check it out. It’s in my post feed. I would also check her out as she has great information!

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@Starfishtherapies I just watched it

https://www.instagram.com/tv/CDNVVksBvOZ/?igshid=jkxis5hyy95o

And it was awesome! I never thought about the cognitive side of play in those terms. I always assumed we play to get through the day :blush:. I thought there were some great tips on even just how to setup the play space (make a mess even if it’s just to clean up). I’m wondering if @curiousneuron has a tip / cheat sheet.

Thanks for sharing!

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I believe she said she has some free downloads on her website. I would take a look!

Loved it so much-some really helpful information! I follow you both now in Instagram.

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So glad it was helpful! I definitely learned a lot too!