Children benefit from playing on their own and using their imagination. Read the reasons why, and how to encourage independent play with your children.
I decided early on that I wanted my son to learn and enjoy how to play on his own besides playing with others. Sure, alone time provides me a breath in a normally busy day. But the benefits extend most importantly to my toddler.
The benefits of independent play
Without a watchful eye, kids are free to play without fear of embarrassment or judgment. My toddler even pushes me away or asks me to go back to where I was so he can continue playing in private.
Playing alone provides kids the chance to focus, especially when learning a new skill or how a toy works. My toddler kept practicing how to close a particular box by sliding in its plastic cover from the side. I could’ve jumped in and solved his problem. Instead, I wanted him to figure it out on his own and ask for help if he needed it.
Adults are less likely to jump in and hijack kids’ play and determine a certain direction. Alone time provides them the opportunity to create their own world no matter which way they want.
Kids won’t outside stimulation from parents and caregivers. Those who play independently can entertain themselves in almost any environment. My toddler isn’t usually bored thanks to the ability to entertain himself. (Except clothing stores. Is this a guy thing or what?)
The other day, he stirred his “meatballs and pasta,” which is what he calls pipe cleaners and puffs. He scooped the meatballs into the colander and even “tasted” his meal to make sure all was cooking well.
And where was I? I was sitting a few feet away on the couch, writing notes and reading a book, trying not to hover over his task.
Although independent play is at its root played… independently, parents can still encourage kids to play on their own.
How to encourage independent play
Provide them with props.
Yes, kids will learn how to manage their own boredom. But we can encourage independent play by providing props to get them going.
For instance, if you want them to play with kitchen utensils, you’ll need to give them the materials to do so. Your child may not be able to reach up the cupboard to grab the colander. Or sift through the drawers to find wooden spoons.
Stay nearby even if your child is playing by himself. In case he has a question or needs guidance, you’re nearby to answer or show him how.
Praise your child.
Let your child know you appreciate and encourage independent play through praise. Keep praise subtle and stick to descriptive praise rather than evaluative. “Looks like you’re enjoying your meatballs and pasta.” You don’t even need to say anything.
Sometimes running your hand through her hair or giving her a kiss is all she needs.
I know when my toddler is done with interactive play. He’ll come up to me, call me over or start talking more than when he’d been quietly playing.
Playing with others has its own benefits as well. Parents, adults and other kids are necessary to develop social skills and handle emotions.
But as parents, we feel obligated to play with our kids all the time. I know I’ve felt guilty for washing the dishes while he plays at his little table once in a while.
Independent play isn’t lazy or neglectful parenting. Don’t feel guilty when you’re not interacting with your kids all the time. Independent play offers many benefits for both parents and kids.
Get more tips about how children learn and play:
- Why Commercial Toys Aren’t as Bad as I Assumed
- The Benefits of Open Ended Toys (plus a List of My Favorites)
- The Benefits of Pretend Play
- Small Habits, Big Results: 8 Long Term Benefits of Reading to Your Child
- Why Technology Is Unnecessary for Your Kids (Even In These Modern Times)