What if 'Independent Play' was a myth. An internet buzz term to make parents feel bad? The term spurred off the back of a very specific developmental stage called 'Solitary Play' and it only exists for a very short time between the ages of 2 -3.
My saying this will either make you feel very relieved or very angry. If you are with me in the relieved category then you probably have a child that wants (NEEDS) to play with you all the time. But what of the internet which insists we most let our kids get bored, what of life which means we have to get shit done around the house and finally what of your sanity which requires you to have a limit to playing dragons and butterflies (long story but it involves costumes and I do get a bit of a work out so it's healthy?).
Yep you can hack independent play even though it doesn't exist. Oh and by the way you are going to have to cut out or at least cut waaaaaaaaaaaay back on TV for this to work. That's right independent play and no TV? I am not a crazy lady! I promise! Doing this is going to increase your time to do tasks alone and reduce screen. Seems almost too good to be true...but it is true. It works.
First of all identify what your child gets the most playful joy from. Are they super active - is kicking the ball their thing? Do they love 'reading' books? Or do they like imaginative/role play? Whichever one suits them this is your target play.
Your child needs a full cup for this to work. But you aren't going to fill up their cup on the activity they most enjoy to do.
This is a co-operative method. So you will play with your child for a bit and they will 'help' you for a bit. Create a schedule for when and how things will work. I'll attach some free downloads to give you an idea of where to start. The basics need to be covered including when your child naps and eats. You might start with breakfast and then cleaning the kitchen together then move onto the first activity of the day which is not one of their favorites but involves some super connected time together so for my little dude who loves snuggles and cuddles reading is a great option. Then you will repeat these things working with your child's attention span. So my three year old has twenty minute blocks of interest. Each activity lasts twenty minutes.
When you need a break or to do a specific task where a small child's 'help' is really un-freaking-necessary start the SUPER FUN activity that will fully engage your child. At the start of the activity let your child know you have to do x and you can only play for 5 minutes. Start the play and then excuse yourself after 5 minutes. Your child may call out and need affirmations during the play. Just call back but don't come back. Your child will come and find you when they are filled with all the joy they can squeeze out of that activity alone. You will be able to scoff previously unwrapped chocolate (that's another Mama hack you need to get into - kids can hear wrappers a mile off) in absolute peace or change your tampon without trying to explain the complex world of a womb to a three year old. It is heaven Mama - heaven.
But why no TV? TV just doesn't fill your child's cup even if you are there with them singing the playschool songs and creating the Mister Maker art. The thing about doing this is that within a couple of days you won't need TV as much, you will have a lot more free time and even better the little person in your life won't ask for TV as much. There is one catch though... you can't be having screen time if you are barring your little one. So if you need to check work emails or want to check in the instagram you will have to do that at nap time, park time (aren't the outdoors freaking amazing), or let your tiny human have some screen time. It's okay to fill your cup too. Really okay... Like it's actually a thing - get on it.