Using Montessori Principles to Promote Independent Play (with Shannon of Motherhood Union)

Independent play. It’s something every parent dreams of, for their little ones. It’s also something that can sometimes comes with misconceptions and can even seem elusive.

That’s exactly why, I recently sat down with Shannon Teguh of Motherhood Union to chat about how to use Montessori principles to encourage that coveted independent play time. Motherhood Union is an online resource for moms of baby and toddlers that teaches parents how to use Montessori at home to create kids who really thrive. Watch the video below for Shannon’s fabulous insight (or just keep reading.) And if you want to catch these trainings live, be sure to join my FREE Montessori Toddler’s Facebook group here. 

What is independent play?

Shannon: Independent play is just, your child playing on their own without your interaction, direction, or you needing to manage the activity. This can be anything your child enjoys doing on their own. However, it’s important to note that independent play typically doesn’t last for hours on ends. The length of time your child will play independently, really depends on what sensitive period they’re in, how old they are, and even what they’re interested in. It’s something that needs to be built up to, in small increments. It’s also important to have realistic expectations of what independent play will look like. My five year old will play for hours on end with legos, while we’re happy to get 20 minutes with my 2 year old. 

What are the benefits of encouraging independent play?

Shannon: Independent play is beneficial because it allows children to build their confidence without parents managing their play. We fall into this trap of believing that our children need our attention all of the time. But children learn so much by trial and error. If we’re always hovering and correcting what they’re doing, they don’t have the opportunity to fail and learn. It’s hard to see our kids fail, even if it’s in something small. But we have to remember that this is how they learn.

It’s great for them to know that you’re there if they need you, but they get excited knowing they can do things on their own. Fostering independent play builds their self esteem! It can also help them build their focus. If you’re constantly switching out activities or trying to help them or even just telling them “good job” it breaks their concentration. So do your best to “sit on you hands” and simply observe (or even just go do something else) while your child is playing on their own.

How does independent play work with Montessori?

Shannon: They do compliment one another. People are afraid to admit that they want their child to play independently so they can get things done. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Parents need time to themselves or to complete other tasks around the house too.

Observation is such a huge part of Montessori. You’re really looking too see what your child is interested in and where they are developmentally. Making these observations helps you to set up the environment so they’ll play independently for longer. A prepared environment means that your home is set up in a way that your child has access to things they’re interested in and there’s not a ton of clutter. In fact, I cleared off all of our shelves a few weeks ago and put a simple puzzle back, and low and behold my 2 year old was enthralled for a full 20 minutes.

Any other tips for encouraging independent play?

Shannon: Less is more. It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day life. But if we’re intentional in paying attention to what our children are really in to, we can prepare the environment with things that will hold their attention for a longer period of time, and truly implement the Montessori principle of following the child. Montessori forces us to take a step back, really see what’s going on, and prepare an environment that fosters independence in our children.

Also, be sure to start small. Make sure your expectations aren’t too over the top so you don’t get discouraged. Start where you’re very near your child to build that confidence. It takes a while to develop this skill just like anything else. Observe. Take some time to look and see what they’re up to. Look into sensitive periods that align with their age-range. And don’t overdo it with the materials (even if they’re Montessori aligned). They don’t need a ton of stuff! 

If you’re looking for even more information on independent play be sure to snag Shannon’s FREE resource: 5 Montessori Activities That Encourage Independent Play here. 

We’d love to hear in the comment section below; How old are your little ones and how long do they currently play independently for?

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