independent play preschoolers

Independent Play Ideas for Preschoolers

Independent Play Ideas for Preschoolers

Playing on one’s own is absolutely essential, especially for preschoolers. These children are in the most formative years of their life and the way they play helps determine how that development will continue. Today, independent play is a common concept that is discussed among parents. 

Often, independent play can appear counterintuitive. Shouldn’t we spend time with our child? Help them in every capacity? In short, nope. Although kids absolutely need constant support and love from their parents, they also need time to be independent and play as such. 

This independence teaches them a variety of important skills that are ultimately extremely important to their development. Therefore, independent play is something that should be part of a child’s routine day to day in their play schedule. 

Ok, so what is independent play? 

Independent play is something all children need. More specifically, it is when a child plays by themselves without needing another person to prompt them along. Independent play can include a variety of things, such as a child coloring on their own or even a child simply reading independently. This act of playing alone is extremely beneficial to a child in a variety of ways, as will be mentioned below! 

Why is independent play important? 

So, we know what independent play is; however, how could playing independently benefit my child? 

Independent play promotes creativity and imagination. Imagination is critical to a child’s development, especially the younger the child is. Imagination helps children solve problems on their own which ultimately helps kiddos see that there are endless possibilities depending on a given situation. 

This could be a unique way to handle a problem or even a way of better understanding the world around them. In addition, independent play also promotes just that, independence. Kids learn how to play on their own, thus they are able to act without the prompting or help from others.  

Independent play also helps kids self-regulate. This falls right into hand with their newfound independence. Self-regulation is a really essential part to conflict resolution and by being independent, kids are able to learn how to regulate their emotions and actions. By being by oneself, you are able to understand yourself better. This is true for kids as well! As much as  adults value their “me” time, kids’ value and need it as well.  

Benefits of independent play for preschoolers

How do I encourage independent play? 

So now we know that independent play is really important, right? However, how, as a parent, are you able to encourage independent play? 

You can do this through a variety of methods. First off, is helping set up play with your child and eventually removing yourself so your preschooler learns to be independent. This is a great strategy as it helps the child feel supported but also gives them room to act creatively and, eventually, independently.  

Another way in which parents can encourage independent play is through giving children time and space to independently play. Parents often feel a need to overcompensate by spending a plethora of time with their children; however, it is important to keep children on a specific play schedule. This should include an hour or so in their day of independent play. This is not only beneficial to a child’s development, but it is also incredibly beneficial to parents and giving them a few moments to breathe and get work done around the house. 

How do you teach independent play? 

In the same thread in which we encourage independent play, you can teach it. Kids do as they see. If they see their parents being able to do things on their own, it can often encourage your child to do the same. You are able to help your child see that independent play benefits them. 

Furthermore, parents can also teach independent play by giving their child space and room for growth. If a child expresses a desire to do something independently, encourage this. It eventually will help them accept independent play.  

At what age can a child play independently? 

Finally, a child can start playing independently as young as 18 months! At just 18 months a child is perfectly able to sit on a play mat and play independently, especially if you as a parent allow them to. By encouraging this from a young age, it encourages independence from right off the bat. Therefore, by the time your child is a preschooler they will be perfectly comfortable with independent play as well as group play if you provide that as part of your child’s play routine.

independent play activities


14 Independent Play Ideas for Preschoolers 

1. ToyVentive Toys 

ToyVentive has the perfect combination of independent play toys. Although they can be used with a parent, they are also perfectly age appropriate where a child could absolutely work independently with these. For example, our wooden activity cube is a great example of a toy children can quite easily play with independently. Therefore, ToyVentive provides a fantastic line of toys that promote independent thinking and play.

Read our Guide to Wooden Activity Center to learn more about how to choose the best cube for your kiddo!

wooden activity cube


2. Coloring 

Coloring is a great independent activity. Give a child some crayons and coloring pages (which you can easily print off from any website or purchase an old-fashioned coloring book!) and your kiddo is set for hours of fun. Coloring is such a great way for children to embrace creativity. A person can be bright blue, and a dog can be hot pink. Coloring allows a child to create their own version of reality and promotes a large amount of creativity and independence.  

3. Puzzles

An age-appropriate puzzle is a great way to help kids learn spatial awareness. Puzzles truly are  a wonderful pastime, and they help a child feel a sense of completion and accomplishment. 

This is really important because kids being independent and logical are great skills to develop during this period of time. ToyVentive has a great example of a young child’s puzzle that provides this opportunity for children to practice these skills.  

wooden puzzles

4. Pretend Play

We’ve talked about pretend play plenty, but it is a great independent activity for a preschooler. Pretend play can be done in a group or independently. Children and their imaginations truly  benefit from time spent in their own world.  

5. Exploring

Give your child some boundaries, watch from afar, and let them explore their very own  backyard! Exploring is a great way to get your kiddos up and moving even if it is on their own.  

Independent play does not mean a stagnant activity!

6. Cardboard boxes 

A cardboard box can truly turn into anything and if you give your child one, they will likely turn it  into anything. It could be their one-man spaceship or even their castle guarded by an invisible dragon – whatever they dream up. Cardboard boxes are just another great example of an object  that can promote pretend play.  

7. Sorting and matching games

Sorting and matching games, similar to puzzles, provides kids with a great opportunity to use logic and their amazing brains. These matching games can also definitely benefit parents. Maybe their matching game of the day could be the cluttered pile of Tupperware you have in a drawer or making sure all of your spices are color coordinated. These simple chores can be turned into independent play!

4 year old independent play toys

8. Word Games

Word games, for some of our older kiddos, is a great way of practicing what they’re learning at home and at school. These could be having kids write out words, participating in a simple crossword, and so much more! 

9. Dress Up 

Dressing up, as a kid, was my absolute favorite pastime! My mom put me in my room, and I went to town in my closet and my bucket filled with costumes. I tried on every combination of outfits and styles I could find. I could have spent hours doing so. Therefore, a box of costumes and your kiddo could allow for hours of fun. It may even inspire some pretend play! 

10. Crafts 

A simple craft is a great thing to hand over to your kiddo for some independent play time. Some simple popsicle sticks, and glue can turn into just about anything. Even some finger paints or  tissue paper can provide an afternoon’s worth of fun. 

11. Music and dancing 

Dance like nobody’s watching! 

Turn up some age-appropriate music and have your child show you their moves! A good dance party can give any child a good time. Music and dancing provide a great physical outfit for kids.  

12. Drawing 

Drawing is a great way of allowing your child to be creative and imaginative all at once. If you are able to give a child a blank piece of paper and some creative materials, I can guarantee you they will come up with something magnificent. Not only that, but you may also have some new décor for at home! 

13. Build a fort 

That feeling of climbing through what appears to be a mountain of blankets and pillows is pretty much the best thing ever as a kid. Therefore, you can spend some time with your preschooler and help them build the fort of their dreams and then let them have at it. As a child, they can spend hours coming up with scenarios and worlds in their little piece of the world.  

14. …bubbles! 

Let’s be honest, a little soap and water is pretty much the greatest thing in the world to a kid. Give a kid some bubbles and they have fun for days! 

All in all, independent play is incredibly important for your preschooler and their development. By providing independent play, children are able to expand their imagination and live far more creatively. In addition, it gives them the ability to be far more independent in not only their play, but also with more activities in their life. Parents are absolutely encouraged to help their little ones be independent and one of the best ways to do this is through independent play. So, the next time your child says “I can play by myself!”, give them a chance to do so! 

independent play activities for 3 year olds

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