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My son (currently 8 months old) is quite content to sit by himself and play with toys (blocks, toy cars, etc.).

We make sure that he spends time interacting with other children, and we also make sure that we spend one-on-one (and two-on-one) time playing with him, reading to him, singing, etc., and he clearly enjoys those activities. However, he seems equally content to be on his own.

My assumption has been that play time without interacting with other people would help him develop some independence, and hopefully help teach him not to be bored when no one is actively entertaining him. However, I don't really have any research, or even experience, to back this assumption up.

Is there benefit to him spending time playing solo? Is there a certain amount of time he should spend playing by himself each day (or a limit to how much time he spends playing by himself)? Does this change according to developmental stages?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Playing on his own a bit can increase his independence (or perhaps his desire to do so signals he's already pretty independent?) -- either way it's not a bad thing. It sounds like he's getting plenty of social interaction :)

As for "how much" solo play is good and how much is too much, it depends entirely on the personality of the child. As long as he's not becoming a couch potato (i.e. being babysat by the TV) or reacting negatively to family time, play dates, etc. it's not too much. As long as you aren't tearing your hair out at the difficulty of folding laundry or cooking dinner with a velcro child attached to your leg, it's not too little.

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Benefit:
Teaching or letting a child play on its own seems absolutely fine to me, certainly nothing to try to avoid. As you say, it teaches independence and also creativity.

Risks:
As long as the child doesn't turn into a hermit who always wants to be alone, I'm sure it's beneficial. Since you also engage in play with him and he enjoys that, I don't see a risk of training him into being a loner.

Time:
I don't think there's any specific amount of time that he must achieve, or avoid. That would entirely depend on the personality of the child and his surroundings.

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So, you think introversion is a bad thing? –  Ernie Jun 8 '11 at 21:43
    
Like almost anything else, I think anything is okay in moderation. Introversion is only a bad thing if it's very pronounced. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 9 '11 at 9:23

Here's a good research based article on the importance of supervised play: http://www.parentingscience.com/preschool-social-skills.html In short, kids play better when parents model different social skills. Too much time with peers can actually undermine behavior.

But 8 months is really young. My understanding of the research is that until about age 3, kids mostly engage in something called parallell play. They play along side one another but not really with one another. More on parallell play here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parallel_play

You asked if there are advantages to solo play. I'm fuzzier on what the research says here, but concentration and enjoyment of self-identified tasks is a virtue. See: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on flow (TED.com)

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Lucky you! Any child who learns to play on their own is exhibiting a secure attachment to their parent, and he is probably using you as a secure base, which means he'll explore or play on his own and every so often glance at you to make sure you're still there and approving of his activities. I don't know of any hard and fast rules about amounts of time, but one thing that you can always do is narrate the child's play. Teachable moments at that age are pretty constant, and saying things like "Oh, you picked up the red ball!" will be teaching your baby colors and shapes, while still allowing him to dictate his play time.

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