While blanket time is usually an extension of playpen time training, it is an activity you can begin early on before a baby is mobile. For the crawler/or emerging walker, once you find that he is content in the playpen, you can begin being more intentional in training him to play on a blanket near you. The blanket does provide greater freedom because the defined space does not have walls to hold him in. The training to stay in defined boundaries is being accomplished with your voice and when necessary, getting up and placing the child back on the blanket. By the way, this skill of staying on a blanket is for infants through early elementary ages and like playpen time, a child really does learn to enjoy this activity. Plus, the training for blanket time has great rewards beyond one’s home and is well worth all the effort to establish.
To begin training, place a blanket, towel or rug near you on the floor. The size can be about 4’ x 4’ or larger. During the training process, realize that your main attention is the child and his compliance of staying on the blanket. For the child’s sake you can appear to be involved in something else like reading a book or magazine, or doing something on your IPhone or computer. Reality is, you are watching and ready to respond if he even looks like he’s ready to move off the blanket. After putting a few toys on the blanket, instruct your son that he must stay on the blanket. And if you want to include the phrase “obey Mommy” there is no harm in that, as he is learning a phrase that will be required in future training. Be sure to keep realistic expectations, in that it is not unusual for a little one to try and get off the blanket. When that happens, use loving but firm verbal correction “you need to stay on the blanket”, and that is usually all that is needed, at first, to keep the child on the blanket. If he does not comply with your instructions, then you will need to physically place him back on the blanket, and again in a firm but loving tone “you need to stay on the blanket. If your voice does not yield the proper response, the child staying on the blanket, a little squeeze to the hand or upper thigh will draw attention to the fact that you mean for him to ‘stay on the blanket’. If you begin by keeping the training sessions short (i.e. 5 minutes), your verbal correction is usually all that is needed. By the way, hands or feet are not allowed off the blanket. If you are consistent in the beginning, the child will learn to understand his boundaries and you will not continuously need to be present as the gatekeeper. With continued use, this activity develops self-control and contentment.
Once a child can stay on the blanket while Mom is present, the next step is to train him to stay there when you leave the room. During this stage of training, try to find a location where you can see him, but he does not see you. Because of previous training, your voice command to stay on the blanket the moment he reaches over the boundary with a hand or foot is usually enough to keep him on the blanket.
Now the reward: once your child is trained to stay on the blanket, you can move the blanket to any area you are working (dressing, cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc.) You know where your child is, that he is safe, that he is playing quietly, and that he is not in trouble. Once blanket time is established at home, you can use this concept in public, and find that the blanket is not needed, especially for your toddler or preschooler. Boundaries can be defined by drawing a line in the sand, identifying landmark boundaries (trees, grassy area, neighbor’s driveway, etc.), or simply “on the playground equipment while I visit with Isaac’s mom.”