How To Encourage Independent Play At All Ages 

21 Jun. 2023

From fostering creativity and self-regulation to increasing concentration and focus in little ones, there are so many benefits of independent play for babies, toddlers and big kids alike. It’s such an important skillset that we can help cultivate from the early days on to help our kids become confident self-directed learners. And real talk, as parents it’s nice to get a break sometimes (even if it’s just to run to the restroom or have a sip of coffee in peace).

So what exactly is independent play? It’s basically just what it sounds like—a child playing in a safe environment alone or simultaneously with friends or siblings, while a parent supervises from afar or gets a few things done nearby. Sounds like the dream, right? If your kiddo struggles to play without being attached at your hip or dragging you back into the room (read: totally normal baby/toddler/big kid behavior!) we’ve got a few tips to help encourage independent, imaginative play.

  1. Choose the right toys: It’s important to pick developmentally appropriate toys for your child. Otherwise independent playtime could be over before you know it. Make sure you’re stocking your play space with age-appropriate toys that they know and love—MagnaTiles, trucks, blocks, dolls, play food, or whatever they’re super into lately—so they stay engaged and excited.
  2. Move first: Take 5 or 10 minutes to get their wiggles out first, whether it’s a quick run around the yard, some jumping jacks or tickle monster time. This can help kids burn some energy and focus better during subsequent independent play.
  3. Snack time: A hangry kiddo is unlikely to listen or cooperate with anything you say, let alone play independently. Offer a snack first so they’re happy and well-fed. (Same goes for a tired kid!)
  4. Model it: Show kids exactly how to play solo by getting down on the floor with them and playing next to them, but not necessarily “with” them. Playing in parallel helps them to feel confident and less reliant on an adult for help.
  5. Let ‘em play! As tempting as it may be to praise her awesome block tower or his elaborate fake meal, try not to interrupt them while they’re in the zone. If they’re having trouble with a toy, give them time to get creative and figure it out on their own before jumping in to help out. They might just surprise you!

We hope these tips do the trick for your little one and you both can reap the benefits of independent play, even if it’s just a few minutes a day!

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