“Soon it was time for Jakie to play in his play pen, so Josiah and I got to play together. Next thing I knew, we were in trouble! Mommy came into the room and said that it looked like a tornado went through. We did it again! We got too many things out at one time. We had stuff all over the living room: Legos, cars and trucks, Duplo people, books, and stuffed animals. It took us FOREVER to clean it up---even with Kara’s help. Josiah and I had to each do an extra fifteen minute chore with Mommy because we forgot the rule about getting out too many things at one time. “*
A couple of days ago, I described the benefits of room time for preschoolers.** Room time for the preschooler is not that different from play pen time for toddlers except that (1) it is generally a longer time period; (2) it is not contained (like in a playpen or crib but is in a room that you trust the child to play in); and (3) more choices and activities are provided for the child.
If you began playpen time with your child when he was younger, room time will likely become a logical, easy transition. When you can trust your preschooler (or older toddler) to play in a room alone (or with a sibling) without getting other things out, etc., he can probably move from playing in the playpen or crib to playing in his bedroom or other room that is near where you will be during that time.
If you have a scattered preschooler who does not play well alone or does not focus well, you might want to follow the steps below for implementing room time:
1. Create a “busy basket,” closet, or cupboard in which you will store his room-time-only activities and toys. (This weekend I will review some sites and activities to consider putting in your room time area.)
2. Build your preschooler’s curiosity and appetite for this special time by making a big deal out of your preparations. Let him have a “sneak peek” of things you pick up at yard sales, thrift stores, etc. As you are preparing to begin implementing room time, explain to your preschooler that you are gathering activities that he might enjoy doing by himself uninterrupted that will help him get ready for kindergarten—and be lots of fun. Be sure you do not act as though you are preparing punishment for him (i.e. “room time”)—especially if he is used to getting sent to his room for punishment.***
3. Tell him a couple of days before you begin that “on Monday, we’re going o start your room time,” so you do not just spring it on him suddenly and expect him to be okay playing alone (if he is not used to doing things by himself).
4. Choose the second-most-intensive time of your day in terms of time needed to get things done, and get him all set up with one or two activities and tell him that you will be back to check on him in ten minutes or so. (We used audios for our children at all ages, and usually had a story tape playing for the child too, unless he was playing alone while he listened to our read aloud time.)
5. Have him play for however long he can be content—without pushing it. Then help him clean up his activities and put the basket away. (Keep the “room time” activities out of reach except for during room time.)
6. Praise him for his focusing skills and independence.
Note about room-time activities: When our kids were little, I had a set of activities and toys that they used for room time (i.e. “busy basket”) that they could do alone. I also had another basket or tub filled with things that the older kids could do with them. The latter was filled with things that were either two-people activities or that the younger child could not necessarily do alone but would enjoy doing with someone.
*For the complete story of “Jonathan’s Journal, follow this link: http://positiveparenting3-6-5.blogspot.com/2010/03/day-seventy-eight-introducing-jonathans.html
**Benefits of room time for preschoolers and toddlers: http://positiveparenting3-6-5.blogspot.com/2010/04/day-ninety-seven-benefits-of-playpen.html
***Note: If you use “time out” in your child’s bedroom for punishment, you may or may not want to use his bedroom for room time. We rarely used time out (except for rare occasions in which we were trying to fit the consequence of isolation with anti-social behavior, such as fighting, not sharing, etc.—if you do not treat others kindly, you will not have any friends). We felt the benefits of time out were extremely limited—and continue to see this as parents tell us “When I send him to his room, he says, ‘Fine. I like to be alone anyway.’” If using his bedroom is a potential problem, use a den or your bedroom.