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Fun for One

Tired moms of toddlers wonder: "When will he play alone?" If your child is 2, the answer is "Now!" But he'll probably play by himself for only about ten minutes at a time. A 3-year-old can manage 20-minute chunks (with you nearby). The real payoff will come later if you help him now, says Jane Kostelc, a child-development specialist at the Parents as Teachers National Center in St. Louis. To do that:

Group toys in "stations." When he tires of blocks, he can go to the dress-up area without you.

Set up a messy activity. Try homemade play dough or a baby bathtub filled with dry rice and a few cups and spoons.

Praise his progress. Most toddlers want to hear that you appreciate their "work," so make a few well-placed comments.

Let him lead. When you do join in, try not to take control. If he can initiate his own fun, he won't rely on you to be the Entertainment Machine.