How I got my 15 month old to play independently

Written by Carol Renshaw , Mommy and Elementary School Teacher

Montreal, Canada

That moment when you just want to prepare dinner and your toddler is hanging off of your leg whining…. I now know first hand how challenging that can be. With a shift working partner and a very demanding little girl, small tasks were getting harder and harder to accomplish. Then I read an article about toys. What I did next has forever changed the way my child plays. Being an elementary school teacher myself, it has always been clear to me how to set up a classroom environment conducive to learning for all types of students. Not too many bright colors, limiting what is hanging on the walls, using curtains to cover shelving units so students are less distracted etc…. Why on earth did it only just occur to me that I was setting my daughter up for failure and wasting so much of my own time and money on toys!!!!!

So, here is what I did…. I took all of her toys and books off of our small shelving unit on our main floor (where she primarily plays) and sorted. I then brought all of those items into our basement- where all of her toys are stored- and I chose a small amount of items to bring back upstairs. Here’s what I focused on; 2 vehicles, 6 board books, a ball, building blocks, a stuffed animal, a stacking toy or two, a shape sorter and that is IT! I displayed them clearly on the shelving unit (using bins before) and then I waited for the magic to happen…

Once our daughter was awake from nap I brought her to our main floor level and low and behold, it was as though I had given her new toys. She began exploring. I decided I would try to make dinner, and I was able to! She happily played occasionally bringing me a book to read to her. She wasn’t whining at my feet, what was this new trick I had found?!

About two weeks later, she seemed to need a change. So, I gathered all the items from upstairs and did the same sort again. I tried to choose a variety of toys but limited them again. I realized the rotation created the same learning environment as two weeks ago. She was more engaged in her play and she was taking her learning to a deeper level, exploring toys to their actual capacities. Now, obviously gaining the ability to accomplish small household tasks was wonderful, but guess what…. clean up now takes 2 minutes!! Another bonus!

So, next time you think to yourself; why can’t my toddler play alone? Try taking away most of their toys!

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