Friday, 27 October 2017

It is ok to be alone!

I prefer a child who knows their own mind and doesn't others to enjoy playing somewhere. 

"No one will play with me"
"X won't play with me"
"Y keeps following me"
"I have no one to play with"
"I want to sit beside X"
"I don't want to sit beside X"
"X isn't my friend anymore"

Anyone who works with preschool children will have heard these phrases and many other variations throughout the school day. The children in nursery are aged between 3 and 2 months and 4 and 2 months when they start school in our system in N. Ireland and sometimes we, the adults, forget that is a very short time to have been on this planet and that there are so many new emotions and experiences to be had once they are in a much bigger group of peers. many of the children in my class come into nursery straight from being at home with a parent/grandparent or carer, some will have siblings, some won't and others will have been with other children in daycare or with a child minder but I can guarantee none of them have been in a group with 26 other peers and just 2 adults for the majority of their day.

We begin our day outdoors and more often than not the children run out into the playground and begin playing immediately - they are excited to return to play with resources they had enjoyed the day before or to explore new ones for the first time. Sometimes parents will stay and watch to see how their child is settling in to the class and it is usual to have a parent ask 'Do they not play with the other children?' when they see their child head over to an activity where there are no other peers whilst ignoring another one that may have a crowd of children at it. They might also ask 'Do they have a friend yet?' or "Who do they play with?'. When a parent asks the former question I always ask them to actually observe the group of children for a short while and they we talk about how most if not all of that group are playing alongside each other rather than together. I try to explain about the different stages of play that young children move through as described by Mildred Parten in the 1920's. (There is a good article describing them on this site - 
I feel that anyone can enjoy these stages of play at different times of the day and not just as a set stage they move through as they get older and solitary play has its place in life even as children become older. 

We usually hold parent/teacher meetings in late October/early November and I always stress how important it is when a child is happy in their own company and knows what they want rather than having to rely on others before they choose to play somewhere. It is a truly great quality to have already realised at the age of 3 or 4 that you are responsible for your own happiness and contentment rather than waiting for others to fulfil it.
Sometimes it's good to be alone in your own thoughts when you are surrounded by a large group of peers. 
In fact it can be more of an issue if young children make very firm friendships that exclude others or totally rely on each other and are lost if their friend is off sick or doesn't want to do exactly the same thing as them. So often that "X isn't my friend anymore' refrain actually means that X wants to play in the sand but Y doesn't. Or another child has managed to break into the previous solid twosome. 
When a sympathetic adult teases through some of those familiar refrains, it is more likely that the child claiming no-one will play with them, hasn't yet acquired the skills to know that you have to ask people to play with you or have the skill to know how to join in an already established game. Parents might watch a group of children all running around 'playing together' and wonder why their child is over playing on their own but in fact if asked none of those running around could tell you what they are playing, they are just caught up in the game of chase!

Some children will make firm friendships very early on in nursery and it might well continue as the children progress up through the school whilst others will peter out as the children get older. In fact it is more common for young children to have very fluid 'friendships' as they test out most of their newly developed social skills. 
Here is another helpful article on the minefield of friendships with young children:


  1. Great post. Looks like my parents' week in review is sorted. Thank you.

    1. Well, you have helped me often enough so I suppose it is time I reciprocated :)

  2. Fantastic and thought provoking blog as always - I can't get the link to the stages of play to work for me though?

    1. Hi & apologies, it won't me just copy the link directly but I've rewritten it to say you need to put 'Stage of Play' into the search box & it will then take you to the article - thanks for pointing that out.

  3. *It is a truly great quality to have already realised at the age of 3 or 4 that you are responsible for your own happiness and contentment rather than waiting for others to fulfil it.* Genius. Thank you so much

    1. Hi Maria, thank-you for taking the time to leave a lovely comment.


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