Top tips to encourage independent play in toddlers – play tips for kids

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November 28, 2022
3 min read

Through play, your toddler learns:

  • Problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Turn-taking
  • Sharing
  • How to communicate

And, they develop their:

  • Fine motor skills (small hand movements like when playing with LEGO, DUPLO, or drawing etc.)
  • Gross motor skills (large body movements needed for riding, jumping and climbing etc.)

Play is absolutely essential for your toddler’s healthy development, but it can be time consuming if you need to facilitate the play yourself! 

Encouraging your toddler to play independently can be a struggle, and some are just more keen to do it than others. 

Tips to encourage independent play:

TIP 1: Tap into your child’s interest

  • Tapping into your child’s interests (e.g. dinosaurs, cooking, puzzles, soccer) and innate sense of curiosity can foster independent play
  • Whatever they are passionate about help foster this 

TIP 2: Keep it novel 

  • Keep toys or materials novel to motivate your child to play independently rather than giving up after five seconds! 
  • Have a toy rotation so some toys hide away for a month or toy, when they reappear they will feel like new 

TIP 3: Screens away

  • Put the screens away if you want your child to be successful at independent play

TIP 4: Create specialised areas

  • Set up an area where they can play independently with materials that will engage them 
  • Usually these are things that relate to areas of interest
    • E.g. if your toddler is keen on dinosaurs, set up some dinosaurs, play doh, other figurines and perhaps some containers – and see how they go. 

TIP 5: Make it regular

  • Make independent play a regular part of your child’s day so they come to expect it and have more opportunities to practise it. 
  • This means they’ll get ‘better’ at it sooner!

TIP 6: You can keep it close by

  • If your child likes to be near  you, you can encourage them to play nearby but without your direct involvement. 
  • This is when I think about the pots and pans all coming out of the cupboard while the parent is in the kitchen cooking! 

TIP 7: Be realistic 

  • Independent play could last between 5 and 10 minutes, 
  • Don’t feel disappointed or discouraged if your child isn’t playing alone for an hour initially! 
  • They’ll get there one day, but they need opportunities to practice.

TIP 8: Try the ‘set and forget’ idea 

  • where you play with your child for a few minutes before you move on to something else
  • explain to them that they can keep playing etc.

TIP 9: Use a timer

  • Use a timer if your child is reluctant to engage in independent play and stay nearby if needed

TIP 10: Keep interaction low

  • Try not to interject into your child’s independent play by commenting on how great their playdoh mountain is looking for example. 
  • This shifts their focus out of their own world of play and can discourage them from continuing with their play.

TIP 11: You don’t need to spend a fortune

  • You don’t need expensive toys to encourage independent play
  • In fact, too much choice will overwhelm your child and make it hard for them to know what to play with and how. 
  • Borrowing from a Toy Library is a great option, as is encouraging your toddler to play creatively with household items – the pots and pans can make for a lot of fun for a toddler!

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