At around 18 months to 2 years of age, a toddler is ready to transition to room time instead of playpen time.
What is room time? A time each day that is set by Mom or Dad when a child plays in his room for a period of time determined by the parent. Do not confuse room time with a child choosing of his own volition to spend time playing in his room. This is a time chosen by you, with toys chosen by you, for the length of time chosen by you.
Tips for successful room time:
- Try to arrange the room so that you can check on the child but he can’t see you.
- Start with 10-15 minutes and work up to longer time periods over several days. Even children who have been contentedly spending an hour in their playpen need smaller time increments to start with. This is a new freedom and you want to be able to praise them for their success in staying in their rooms and making wise play choices. Once the transition has been made and all is running smoothly you can increase the time again.
- Get the child started on an activity he enjoys before you walk out.
- When beginning the room time transition, hover. Check on children frequently and deal with situations before they get out of hand. Remember, the purpose of starting with a short time period is to finish while it is going well and praise, praise, praise!
- Plan room time at a similar time each day
- Set out the toys you want a toddler to use or provide a limited selection of toys for an older child to choose from – not unlimited access to everything in the room.
- Introduce cleaning up from day one of room time – demonstrate, then help, then transition to independently cleaning up. Have an easy storage system such as clear plastic bins on low shelves.
- The success of room time depends on the focus and control that you are modelling and teaching throughout the whole day. A child who has too many freedoms and will not obey you during the day will not suddenly obey you when it comes to room time. Using a gate in the doorway can be useful for little ones during the initial transition and takes away the temptation to leave the room. However a child who is not being trained in obedience will find a way to get out if they REALLY want to, despite the barrier.
Transitioning from playpen time to room time:
- Put the playpen in the bedroom to begin with.
- Use a mat or blanket under the playpen that will become the designated play area in the room once the playpen is removed.
- When you remove the playpen, explain to the child that he needs to play on the mat or other area you have designated.
- Continue to choose a few toys for him to play with during room time.
- Remove any treasures or fragile things in the room that shouldn’t be touched.
- Have a set place for toys to be returned to when cleaning up. Teach how to pack away every toy in its designated spot.
- Try to ensure that household traffic is not passing by the door of a child who is having room time or he will be constantly distracted and more likely to want to come out.
- Keep activities that sound like a lot of fun away from the sight and hearing of a child in room time. If he loves to paint and you use this time for the older children to paint, it is much more difficult for him to be content playing in room time, knowing what he is missing out on.
- Make sure that the toys are age appropriate, interesting, and provide enough stimulus to last the whole time. In my household, older children are given their own desks or workspaces. We give them a mini set of drawers stocked with all manner of craft and drawing items, scissors, glue, and construction paper and they have a wonderful time creating with these every day. Construction toys are pretty much essential for boys and good books are great for all.
Having room time for everybody every day leaves me with a chunk of time to recharge and gives the children a much-needed break from each other. They are often refreshed and in much happier moods when they re-emerge. Those personality types who crave time alone are rested and recharged and the more sanguine children benefit from learning to be by themselves and using their time in a worthwhile fashion. Room time benefits the whole family!
Angela Pascoe is a Christian wife and homeschooling mother of 9 who seeks to live and raise her family, alongside her husband, to the glory of God. She and her family live in Australia. Her first introduction to GFI was as a classroom teacher. After seeing how good the material was, she and her husband took classes in preparation for their own children and spent so much time telling other parents about it that they decided it was time to start facilitating classes officially. They have been running several classes a year for over 10 years. Angela leads a GEMS group with a bunch of wonderful mums and enjoys being a Contact Mum. Angela blogs at angathome.com