How do I encourage my child to play independently at home?
Independent play has lots of benefits – it can help foster creativity, build problem solving skills, grow confidence, help your child hone in on their skills and interests, and foster self-regulation, to name a few! Not to mention, if you’ve set up a safe space and are within supervising distance, it can give the caregiver a chance to step away to start dinner, change the laundry or put their feet up. It may take repeated exposure and opportunities for your child to get used to independent play and to learn what works for them.
Independent play is child-led, but there are a few ways you can intentionally set up your child and your home to get the most out of independent playtime.
- Create a child-safe space: Create an environment that allows for your child to be curious and for them to explore their toys on their own. Make a designated play area with your little one’s toys and remove other distractions and safety hazards. Having the safety and security of this safe space allows them to fully engage in play and tune out their surroundings.
- Stay close by, but let your child play independently: In the toddler stage, your little one will still need some supervision to make them feel safe and secure. You can start by sitting with them for a few minutes and then transitioning to another location within eyesight or earshot to let them play on their own!
- Switch it up: Swap out your little one’s toys every few weeks to keep things fresh and interesting! Your little one will love discovering new objects and ways to use them. This can be as simple as adding in new household items like a cardboard paper towel roll or a sponge that will introduce them to new sounds and textures.
- Avoid commenting on how your child chooses to play: Allowing your child to play without interruption will help their creativity flow! Allowing children to self-direct their play provides them with the satisfaction of having choices and learning the consequences or results of that choice.
- Let your child guide you: While it might be tempting to select the toys that look best in your home, it is important to let your child’s unique (and ever-changing) preferences and curiosities guide what products excite them most. Let the play be spontaneous, not scripted. The unknown outcome allows them to develop flexibility in their thinking and decision making.
- Choose stage-appropriate toys: The most important part of independent play is making sure you’re choosing toys that are the right fit for your child’s unique age and stage. Take our quiz to help determine your little one’s current stage and which play items may be the best fit for their current developmental stage, unique skill set, and interests, not just their age. Keep preferences and interests in mind when determining what toys are developmentally appropriate for your little one. Open-ended toys can grow with your child as their skills and interests change.
This article has been reviewed by our team of experts.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article does not constitute medical advice. If you have concerns about any health or medical condition, diagnosis, or treatment you should consult with your pediatrician or a licensed healthcare provider.