How to Encourage Independent Play
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably found that there are many, many types and forms of play. Some with lots of structure and others, like independent play, that emphasize your toddler taking control. If you haven't read about independent play before, it is a form of play that eliminates rules and emphasizes creativity. Truly, the benefits of independent play are endless!
Intrigued? Keep reading to learn more about these benefits and to gain a better understanding of what independent play exactly is!
What is the definition of independent play?
Independent play is allowing your toddler to play without a set structure. Giving your toddler the ability to act without limitations helps inspire their creativity and sense of independence.
Independent play allows your baby to experiment with their environment. They get to stack, pull, push, color, and create with the toys and resources around them without being told exactly what to do.
It’s important to note that independent play does not equal passive play or your toddler doing nothing. If your toddler is watching a movie or sitting on the couch with a game console, that is not independent play. Sure, it’s relaxing and your toddler is getting a break from their busy life, but your toddler is not engaging in independent play.
Independent play requires an element of action, whether your toddler is running, biking, moving around, sitting on the floor stacking blocks, etc. Your toddler must be actively engaged in an activity of their own choosing.
With that being said, independent play is a way for your toddler to choose their play without your influence, relying on themselves to find a form of entertainment to engage in!
Independent play vs. structured play
Unlike independent play, structured play has rules your toddler must follow. One easy example of structured play is the completion of a puzzle. Your toddler is given materials that must be arranged a certain way in order to complete the puzzle and see the overall image. With our 6 puzzle set, your child will have options to choose from including: shapes, vehicles, fruits, letters, numbers and animals!
Structured play is great as it helps your toddler learn about rule following and understanding what it is like to feel a sense of achievement.
Independent play is great because your toddler is in control! They are playing how they want to play based on their decision making skills.
Despite the differences between independent play and structured play, both are beneficial, though in different ways.
Why is independent play so important?
In life, kids need structure. In fact, their lives are pretty much run by a schedule of nonstop activities. Independent play allows your baby a break from the structure of life. They are able to relax and simply be themselves.
If your baby can learn to prioritize play early on, they can take this mentality into adulthood. Too often as adults we forget about our own enjoyment and that we too need independent play in our lives! Start your baby young in understanding the importance of time spent doing what you want!
Your toddler also works on their creativity! To an adult, it may seem easy to use the objects in the room around them; however, it’s not as easy for kids!
Instead, when left alone to play, they may sit there at first. But, after some time staring at the toys around them, they begin to use their imagination and find new ways to play with the toys they’ve become very familiar with.
Suddenly, their lion puzzle piece is alive and roaring across the living room floor. Independent play gives your toddler the opportunity to embrace and expand on their creativity!
As a perk, independent play keeps your toddler on the go, making physical play an important part of their life! Staying active is so important and independent play makes sure that your child is always moving!
Advantages of child led independent play
Unlike other forms of play, independent play alleviates any pressure from both you, the parent, and your toddler during play time. Independent play allows you to simply be present, watching your toddler play with his/her/their toys and environment.
Independence is a critical skill to have no matter your age. In independent play, your toddler works on their sense of independence, relying on only themselves to figure out how they will play. If a toddler is able to gain a sense of independence early on, they will take this with them as they grow, helping them to have a strong and defined personality and sense of self.
In addition to independence, your toddler also learns to collaborate and work with those around them. Independent play can be applied during play dates where two or more kids are given the freedom to play without the regulation of the parents telling them what to do!
During playdates such as this, your toddler is now working with another, if not more, person to figure out what they want to do and how they want to play. They must express their own wants and work on compromising to make both of them happy!
How to encourage independent play
When it comes to independent play, your toddler may find themselves unsure of where to start or what to do. Encourage them!
In encouraging them, you don’t have to tell them what to do! Rather, if they say an idea with some hesitancy, encourage that idea! Say, “That sounds like a fantastic idea. You should try it out!” Sometimes a child needs some reassurance before they try something new. Be that reassurance for them!
Prompt them by asking questions about what they are currently doing if they appear to be stuck. If you see your toddler start to slow and appear somewhat confused, ask them what's up. Try to get them to talk about what they’re doing because when they go through their process, they often come up with new inspiration!
Suggest something you loved to do as a kid! Rather than telling your toddler what to do, offer a suggestion from your own childhood to help inspire them in their independent play. Simply say, “When I was a kid, I loved playing with chalk outside!”. Through this you give them an idea that is open ended where they can still be creative and put their own twist to your suggestion!
Try to give your toddler some time to find an activity before stepping in. Boredom is actually good for your child and can encourage their creativity! There are many benefits of boredom for children, your toddler won't always have someone to play with but if they master independent play than this won't be a problem.
Independent play inspiration
The thing about independent play is that it's free, making it somewhat difficult to provide examples and part of us doesn’t want to provide examples in the spirit of independent play! Be creative!
But, you may want some ideas of independent play to help you further understand the concept and clear up any confusion.
If that's the case, here are some ideas to inspire future independent play!
- Provide art supplies! Art supplies are great for independent play as your toddler can draw, sketch, paint, and color anything that they want! Their creativity is truly able to take off!
- Go to a local park, children’s museum, or playground! Find an environment that has resources for your toddler to play without your guidance!
- Work on pretend play! Whether or not you have a dress up box, suggest your toddler take on a new identity and world that they live in!
- Provide your toddler with toys that encourage independent play! Toys that can be used in more than one way are great for independent play because your toddler can explore them for longer and use their creativity. A Wooden Activity Cube is a great example. Your toddler will love exploring the many different activities on the cube!
But remember, independent play is all about your toddler choosing their own play and living in the moment. Let them take their environment in and decide what they want to do! Check out our blog post on independent play ideas for more inspiration!
After reading this, we hope you see that there are many, many benefits of independent play especially in early childhood. Independent play is possible with one child or with many! It fosters creativity, independence, emotional regulation, collaboration, and teamwork! Let us know below if you’re excited to try out independent play!