My husband is out of town this week, so I’ve got babygirl allll to myself. While I am blessed to have family and friends nearby to help out, there are still many, many hours to the day where it’s just me and her, so I am SO THANKFUL that I trained her on blanket time these last few months! Not only has it allowed her to learn to play more independently, develop her ability to concentrate, and given her the space to develop skills she wouldn’t normally work on when playing with me, but it has also been a lifesaver for me! Each day, I can carve out 30-45 minutes of time to do my own things, whether it’s getting dinner ready, cleaning, or working on my own projects (*ah hem* blog). I LOVE IT.
Independent Play Time
In the first few months of my daughter’s life, I had it good. I experimented with independent play time, a concept I first came across in Baby Wise. The idea was that you should give your child some time to learn to play alone every day, gradually increasing the time to about 45 minutes. Obviously, there are benefits for mommy: time to get stuff done! However, I was happy to read about the benefits for baby as well, including:
Of course, independent play time also fosters more independence.
Fostering independence in your 2 month old?! Are you CRAZY?! was one of my first thoughts. Since the book suggested starting with just a few minutes, though, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try. So I lay down a blanket on the floor, set her down on her back, told her we’d start Independent Play Time and that I’d be back in a few minutes. I left her with a colorful plush firefly toy, then tiptoed out of sight and climbed under a blanket.
I stealthily poked my head out and watched her, and she was fine. She didn’t even seem to notice that I was away. I probably didn’t need to make such an effort to hide, but at that age, you’re supposed to stay with the baby and supervise her without her knowing you’re still there, so per usual, I tried to follow the instructions to the T.
I think she must have blinked a few times, maybe flailed her arms a little here or there, and then independent play time was over. I came out of hiding and cheerfully asked, “Was that FUN? You got to play allll by yourself! Wow!” And of course it was time for a nap after that. Whew. Play time. It’s hard work when you’re an infant.
Over the next couple months, I continued to do this, and at one point could even leave her in the play pen alone for about 30 minutes! It was glorious. I envisioned myself busting out blog posts in the middle of the day during her independent play time, spending her nap times finishing them up.
Then she started to get older. For a few months, I could not even leave her sight without her getting all worked up about it! I thought Independent Play Time was a thing of the past… until my friend Janette casually asked me about Blanket Time.
How to Start Blanket Time
This is pretty much the same thing as Independent Play Time, and, as the name suggests, it also takes place on a blanket. After consulting Baby Wise II, I laid out a small quilt my Aunt Grace had made for our daughter, and set out a couple of toys and books. I set the timer to 5 minutes, and put my crawly little girl onto the blanket, repeating, “It’s blanket time!” again and again so she would start to associate my words with the routine.
We started at square one: “For the next five minutes, you need to stay on this blanket and play with just these toys. Once you hear the music, then you can come off. Ready? Go!” I started the timer and sat nearby, watching her closely. Every time she tried to crawl off the blanket, I picked her up and placed her back on, repeating, “You need to stay on the blanket during blanket time!” This happened maybe eight times before she really got the idea. Soon, time was up and my alarm went off. I picked her up, dancing to the music, and said, “Okay, that means blanket time is over. You can come off now!”
The next day, we repeated this. She already seemed to understand she was supposed to stay on the blanket. She crawled to the edge a couple times, looked at me, and tried sticking an arm or a leg out beyond the blanket a few times. Each time, I would move towards her saying, “Stay on the blanket during blanket time!” Before I could nudge her arm or leg back onto the blanket, she would yank her limb back in and giggle to herself. She was just testing the boundaries, and once she knew I was going to consistently call her out on it, she stopped doing so.
On Day 3, we did the same thing, but this time she only tested the boundaries twice before moving on to play with toys. Excellent. On Day 4, I added a minute to the clock. I did this every day following until we reached 15 minutes, moving a little further away from her each time– sitting near the blanket, then sitting on the couch, then sitting on the couch reading a book, then over by the table. By 15 minutes, I was working in the kitchen and she was playing on the floor. We finally got to the point where I didn’t need to be in close proximity for her to continue to follow the rules of blanket time.
During this time, I also noticed that she learned new skills very quickly. This is when she really mastered the stacking ring toy, started to “read” through whole books quietly on her own, and finally start to figure out the shape sorter. When we had played with those toys together before, she made slow progress, only giving it a few attempts before moving on to something else. During blanket time, though, she had nothing else to do but keep trying, and her skills really developed quickly during this time! I also make it a point to keep her Blanket Time toys separate from her other everyday toys, so they are still novel and special.
We eventually worked our way up to 45 minutes, where sometimes I wasn’t in her line of sight at all. Every time I poked my head in to check, she was still squarely on her blanket every single time. She didn’t even think about moving off until she heard the music to signal the end of blanket time. Sometimes, she smiles and says, “Yay!” when the music alarm sounds, but most of the time she stands up and hands me a book she’s been studying and asks me to read it to her. I am always happy to oblige!
Sometimes, I’ll sit in the same room as her and do my own independent activities while she does hers. She’ll look up at me every so often and smile or wave or say, “Mama!” and I’ll smile or wave back. It’s a sweet time. It reminds me of how my husband and I often work on our own projects while sitting side by side in our office. Every so often, we pause and smile and interact, too. Then we get back to work.
Blanket Time Outside the Home
This past weekend, I took her with me to a bridal shower. Every time someone else offered to hold her, she’d quickly turn away, grab on to me, and say, “No!” She also wouldn’t let me put her down without whining about it. She was being super clingy, and I was feeling super tired. Finally, I remembered that I had stashed away a little 3’x3′ blanket and some books and toys in the trunk for occasions such as this. I carried that clingy toddler alllll the way back to the car, got my Blanket Time Bag, and came all the way back.
Please work, please work, please work! I thought to myself as I spread out the little blanket in a far corner of the room. If she was going to throw a fit about it, I didn’t want it to be in the middle of everything! As soon as she saw me laying out the books and toys, she squealed with delight and walked right over, plopped herself down, and started playing! GLORY BE! I could have danced a little jig! Instead, I acted casual, walked away, and joined a circle of gabbing ladies like it was a perfectly normal thing for a toddler to quietly play by herself in the corner of the room.
She did wonderfully. She stayed and played and didn’t mind being by herself. She was quiet and happy and I was free and happy. I kept an eye on her the whole time (especially because there were uncovered electrical sockets nearby!), but no longer had to hold and bounce and otherwise appease that little girl. I’m sure there are more mommy things I need to get on top of, like how to train your toddler out of whining and stuff, but… well, one thing at a time, right?
Anyway, I’m counting that as a major victory. Now that I know that blanket time is portable, there are so many possibilities! Visiting a friend who has no children? Bring the blanket! Long church service with no nursery? Bring the blanket! (If it seems appropriate and there is space). Going to great-grandma’s and worried she’ll pull things off the shelves? Bring the blanket! Whether it’s one of the dozen baby showers I’ll be attending this year or visiting someone’s home, I am now armed with a super helpful baby-occupier! Hooray for blanket time!