What is Independent Play for Kids?
Feb 4, 2022 Do you know the secret to raising independent kids? It may be as easy as encouraging independent play activities starting at an early age. Fun independent play has benefits beyond teaching future independence.
In This Article
- What is Independent Play?
- What are the Benefits of Independent Play?
- How to Encourage Independent Play
- Independent Play Activities
What is Independent Play?
Independent play or solitary play is a developmental stage where a child can play by themselves. While each child will develop independent play at different ages, the age range for most children is between 0 to 2-years-old. According to the six stages of play (Mildren Parten Newhall), the first three stages all involve solitary play.
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The first three stages of play include:
- Unoccupied play: Babies interact with the world around them mostly through observation.
- Solitary play: Babies begin to interact with their surroundings by reaching for objects.
- Onlooker play: Babies start to recognize others around them and will watch but not participate with them during play.
Independent play is an important developmental stage that sets up success for independent kids and is also a building stage for future parallel and interactive play with other children once they enter preschool.
What are the Benefits of Independent Play?
Solitary play teaches babies and toddlers the following skills:
- Fosters creativity and imagination
- Helps children learn to problem-solve by themselves
- Builds self-confidence
- Helps children build a solid foundation for learning self-regulation (emotional regulation).
Many parents think of independent play as ‘quiet time.’ But independent play activities are not always quiet. Once a baby begins to babble or a toddler starts talking, playing independently is no longer quiet! Early babbling sets the foundation for later toddler conversations and many toddlers create imaginary friends to play with. This is a normal and healthy part of raising independent kids, so don’t be upset if your child no longer wants to stay in one area or plays loudly!
How to Encourage Independent Play
While independence will develop naturally as your child moves through the developmental stages of play, there are always ways to encourage play and future independent kids. Here are some simple tips to help encourage independent play!
Start with Small Blocks of Time
Some children do need constant attention and reassurance when playing. If this is your child, start with small blocks of independent play. This works best by picking a household chore to do for five to 10 minutes and have your child play independently with new toys until the task is done. So, just make sure you return to their solitary play area when you say you will to foster healthy emotional development. Using small blocks of time for independent play development works best with a timer!
If your child tends to play with the same toys, try switching toys! Also, it may be that your child simply needs a change in their independent play routine to encourage further independence and increase creativity and problem-solving skills.
Try Parallel Playing
Parallel play is a way of modeling how a child can play by themselves. Simply hand your child a book and grab your own book to begin reading independently. You will be surprised at how eager your child is to model this behavior.
Independent Play Activities
For Babies under 1
Babies who cannot sit up independently yet can be encouraged to play alone by placing them underneath a baby gym with toys. This will increase their interest to begin interacting and reaching for the hanging toys to improve fine and gross motor development.
Touch and Feel Books
Touch and feel books combine reading with sensory touch. These types of books create a fully immersive experience for your child to learn new concepts and increase interaction for solitary play.
This is best for babies who can sit independently. Large wooden puzzles with chunky pieces and knobs help keep your baby entertained while improving problem-solving and fine motor skills.
For Children over the Age of 1
Have your toddler experiment with tracing utensils, crayons, and markers (with supervision) to create colorful pictures of animals, shapes, letters, and numbers.
Peeling stickers and placing them onto paper is an excellent way to develop the pincer grasp!
Kitchen utensils like pots, pans, wooden and plastic spoons help a toddler with hand-eye coordination and experimenting with sound. Yes, it will be loud but it will encourage fun independent play.
Play-doh is a hands-on sensory activity combining creativity and independence. Include fun Playdough objects like cookie-cutter shapes and a small Playdough rolling pin and even laminated paper stencil sheets to help encourage your child to create different shapes.
Future independent kids learn early on that solitary play can be fun and rewarding. Independent play activities not only give parents a break but gives babies and toddlers the confidence they need to play by themselves and eventually play with other children.