As for how we encourage independent play, I found great advice in an article that recommended giving your child your full attention for about 5-10 minutes and interacting in their play and then doing your own thing. I find that they don’t really care if I play legos for a whole hour or 15 minutes, as long as I have given them some purposeful attention. Once they are really playing, they get into their own world and usually come find me an hour later. Or I bring my own project to work on with them while they play. Kids of a certain age (under three) don’t really play together, they just like other bodies near them.
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