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What is Independent Play Time (IPT)?

Independent play time is a time when your child plays alone, without you or other siblings around. You choose the time of the day this type of  play will occur and also the toys that your child will play with. Independent play time should happen at the same time every day. Typically Independent play time takes place in a pack ‘n play or play yard for younger babies/ toddler, and older toddlers will have room time in their rooms, which is called roomtime. My son is currently 13 months old and he has his independent play time in a play yard, which is larger than a pack ‘n play. The one I own is North State Superyard XT Portable Playard & Gate.

How long should IPT Last?

If you are just starting out, I would suggest starting with 10 minutes. See how your child does. Once your child is able to play alone for 10 minutes without fussing, add an additional 5 minutes. Keep adding 5 minute increments until you reach your desired length. Use a timer that will send off a loud sound at the end of the IPT. This helps your child understand that IPT is over. In the book Babywise II, they recommend the following Independent Play Time Lengths:

  • Baby that cannot sit up unassisted: 10-20 minutes twice a day
  • Baby that can sit unassisted: 35-30 minutes twice a day
  • Baby that can crawl: 30-45 minutes at least once a day
  • 15-20 month olds: Up to 60 minutes at least once a day

How many toys should I allow my child to play with?

Currently, I usually put in a variety of toys. Today I allowed my son to have 4 cars, 3 books, 2 light/ music toys, nesting cups, and old yogurt container with colorful balls inside. Don’t put too many toys in their pack ‘n play or in their room. You want them to learn how to focus on one toy at a time. Too many toys is overwhelming and there is also not enough space for them all.

Other things to include during IPT:

I usually play music in the background. My son usually cries the first 1-5 minutes of IPT. I have found that playing music in the background cut down his crying and helps him to play better. I also allow my son to have his nuby straw cup of milk with him in the morning and a cup of water in the afternoon. I do not allow food during this time, but the drink helps him to enjoy himself more. I also give him his security object- his blankie. If you child has a security object, I would allow him/ her to have it during this time.

Important thing to keep in mind:

  • Don’t interact with your child during this time. You want your child to play on his own.
  • Check on them every so often to make sure they are okay. If you can, try to do this discretely so your child does not see you. When my son sees me he usually gets upset because he thinks I am coming to get him out. My son is much happier if he plays alone without seeing me.
  • Vary the locations of IPT. I have done IPT so far in our game room, playroom, and office.
  • Don’t over use IPT. Keep it limited to the time allotted. Your child will get frustrated if he has to be in their too long.

Benefits to IPT (quoted from Babywise II p. 73):

  • Mental focusing skills: Playpen time helps a child develop the ability to concentrate on an object or activity at hand and not be distracted constantly.
  • Sustained attention span: You will observe how your child picks up a toy, manipulates it with his or her hand, examines it carefully, shakes it, and then revisits the process again.
  • Creativity: Creativity is the product of boundaries, not freedom. With absolute freedom, this is not need for creative thinking or problem-solving.
  • Self-Play adeptness: This is one of the positive signs that your baby is moving from dependence to independence.
  • Orderliness: The first step to developing orderliness is to help your child with cleanup times. Start by placing a few books in one corner, a bucket or small toys in another, or stacking other items in a neat pile. Simple statements such as “Let’s put the toys in the basket,” or “Help Mommy clean up,” aid in this process. The object is to leave the area neat, with the child participating in achieving this goal.

The personal benefits of IPT that I have experience and seen in my son:

  • It allows me time to shower in the morning and get ready without having my son cling to me or worrying that he is getting into trouble. It also allows me personal time to check email, do laundry, or just read a book.
  • My son is better at playing independently now. Before starting IPT, my son was the master of cling. I had a hard time getting much done because he was clinging to me constantly or he was fussy because I want in the same room as him.
  • I have noticed that my son is better at playing with a single toy for longer now. He seems more content with the toys I have out for him to play with. Before starting IPT, he would jump from toy to toy rather quickly. He still changes up toys rather frequently, but I would say he is improving.
  • If my son does not have his IPT one day, I notice a huge difference in his additude. He is much more likely to be clingy and fussy if he does not start his day with IPT.

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