My son is almost 4 and still doesn't have any toys that he gets "caught up" in. We've bought him a wide variety of toys from Rescue Heroes™ to art supplies to building blocks, but he takes them out for 10 minutes at the most. How can we encourage creative, independent play? My son is now a big brother, with a very active 1-year-old sister. He is extremely intelligent, and would rather sit with his read-along book and tape sets or use educational software on the computer all day. I am concerned that he is isn't doing any "playing."
It sounds as though you’ve given your son’s situation very careful thought, and I think you are wise to be pondering the reasons for his apparent lack of interest in toys. Certainly all children play, and all children need to spend a lot of time “just playing.” In cultures where they don’t have toys, they will improvise one with a few sticks or a box that they pretend is a truck. You use two important words in your question—creative, and independent. Play with toys does indeed enhance creativity, but that creativity often gets a big boost from social interaction. I would bet that, if you sit and build with blocks along with him, he will stay with them much longer than if you simply say, “Go get your blocks and build something.” What I am saying is that very young children (and your son isn’t quite 4), often need us to play along with them either to get them started or to help them continue at an activity they are losing interest in.
Sometimes just an off-hand remark from you will be enough to keep an activity going. If he is playing with his Rescue Heroes and seems to be losing interest, try saying, “I think I heard somebody calling for help over by the piano. Go and see if she needs you to put up a ladder to her apartment to get her down safely.” Or something like that.
Finally, let me say that your 1-year-old daughter may turn out to be your ally in this situation. Soon she’s going to start trying to get into or take over some of his toys. And there is nothing in the world more likely to increase a child’s interest in a toy than to have another child seem to want it!
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.