How to Start Independent Play Time With Your Child

May 20, 2019
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Independent play time is such a helpful tool!

Just image having 20 + minutes at least once a day where your child happily entertains themselves and you can finish a pressing job or feed the new baby in peace.

Some children are born with the ability to entertain themselves for hours, while others require a little more encouragement. 🙂

That’s where independent playtime comes in.

It is without a doubt one of my favourite parenting tools.

If you’re wondering how to foster a love of independent play in your child, then watch the video above for my steps on how to implement it.

If reading is more your thing…keep scrolling.

Toddler on rocking horse

I’ve listed the most important points in detail, but for an easy reference guide just download the Independent Play Time Checklist below.

Why Independent Play Time is So Great

I don’t think many parents underestimate how wonderful it is to have a child that is capable and happy to entertain themselves for at least a small amount of time.

While it is wonderful to be able to spend quality time with your child, there are also times when you just can’t. Or, you may just need a break.

These are just some of the benefits of independent play for your child:

  • They develop patience
  • They will also develop problem-solving skills
  • Your child’s attention span will increase
  • They will be given the opportunity to develop their imagination
  • Your child will be content with fewer toys
  • It allows them the opportunity to have time without a huge amount of stimulation

For the parents, some of the benefits include:

  • A break!
  • Time to get things done (i.e. phone calls!)
  • A child that doesn’t have to be constantly entertained by you

Another great thing to note is that Independent Play is great for both introverts and extroverts.

For introverts, it allows them some much-needed alone time, while for extroverts it’ll give them the opportunity to learn how to be content in their own company.

How To Get Your Child To Play Independently

How to Get Your Baby to Play Independently

You see, some babies naturally play on their own a lot better than others.

There’s no real ‘trick’ to getting your child to play on their own. Instead, it is something that has to be taught.

How to Teach Baby to Play Independently

Teaching your baby how to play independently is something that takes consistency.

There are several steps that will make it easier and give you a guide to follow.

Infographic about difficult toddler behavior
What To Do When You Have A Clingy Baby || Use these tips to get through those super challenging phases of separation anxiety that many babies go through. #motherhood #parenting #babies #independentplay #baby #babywise #momsoncall #routine
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#1 The Right Time of Day

Choosing the right time of day will go a long way towards a successful independent playtime.

Think about it, you want your child to be well-rested, well-fed, and in the optimal mood to be content to play by themselves.

Although I know that some moms do, I’ve personally never had my kids do their independent playtime in the afternoon.

That time of day is a typical fussy period for my kids and never really seemed successful for us.

Instead, ours is worked into the morning.

When my babies are younger it’s usually after their first nap and after they’ve been fed.

Once my kids drop their morning nap, I replace that time with independent play. That way I get a chance to shower and get ready in the morning in peace.

Ultimately, you know your child and their temperament best. Figure out when they are their most content and try an independent playtime session then.

Another thing to take note of is not to plan independent playtime too close to nap time or you’ll risk your baby/toddler falling asleep.

My youngest was particularly susceptible to this!

baby having independent play time in her crib

#2 The Right Location

This is a super important point!

Making sure that you set things up in the right location really can make or break whether your child is happy to play independently.

First of all, your child needs to be in a place where they can not see you.

They may find this difficult initially, but they will adjust. One of the great benefits of introducing independent playtime is that you can work on things like separation anxiety in the comfort and security of your own home.

If you’ve been a mother for any length of time, then you’ll likely concur that most children happily play on their own until you come into sight.

Once mom is spotted, the games up!

So, find somewhere that your child can play safely and won’t be able to see you.

When my babies are little we use the crib.

Once we move them out of the crib, we transition to either their bedroom or the playroom.

A playpen is also a great option.

You can read more about how we transitioned our kids into beds here –> How To Transition Your Kid Into A Big Bed Super Early

How To Get Your Child To Play Independently

I know that some people have a concern about cribs being associated with playtime and therefore inhibiting sleep.

Personally, that has never been an issue for us.

Playtime looks very different to naptime in both light, sound, and setting.

The second point you need to keep in mind is safety.

This is especially true if your child isn’t having their playtime in a crib or playpen.

Make sure that furniture is bolted to the wall, outlets are covered, loose cords are secured, windows are latched, and ideally, you are able to monitor them in some way.

We have used video monitors from day dot, and find have found them to be a great parenting asset!

clock on the wall

#3 The Right Length of Time

You might be wondering what times are appropriate for your child.

In all honesty, it really is very individual, but here are some times just for frame of reference.

Newborn: 5-10mins

I’m putting the newborn time down, just in case anyone wants to implement it formally, but in all fairness in those early months, ‘independent playtime’ was usually a case of me needing to use the bathroom or get in the laundry.

Hence, the baby was put on a playmat for a couple minutes. 😉

Babies who can roll:

10-15mins (once or twice a day)

Independently sitting babies:

15mins (once or twice a day)

Crawling babies:

15-30mins (at least once a day)

For the walking baby/toddler:

This is where it is very much up to your intuition.

You could do 30mins twice a day or 60mins once a day.

As stated in the video, Jack does 1hr 15mins of Independent Playtime every morning.

There is no right or wrong so long as it is working well for you and your child.

Again, these are just to give you an idea, you are the parent so you get to decide what is right for your family. 🙂

baby toy for indpendent play time

#4 The Right Toys

Choosing the right toys for your child to have during independent playtime will really help to make it a success.

You don’t want too few or too many.

It’s a good idea to give them a variety of different kinds of toys.

And then you want to make sure that the toys that you give them are age-appropriate. If they’re too advanced your child will end up frustrated. If they’re too young for them then your child will get bored.

Below are some helpful toy ideas to get you started!

Toy Ideas for Independent Play

As far as toys go, I like to keep it simple. I want to allow my children to have fun while exercising their imaginations at the same time. Below are some toy ideas for different ages:

Toy Ideas for Newborns

Really, you don’t want to overstimulate a newborn.

Therefore, it is wise to keep it simple. We have loved having a play gym for both our children at this age. Propping up board books for them to look at is also a great idea.

You could even incorporate tummy time. 🙂

Toy Ideas for Rolling/Sitting Babies

By this stage babies usually enjoy things that have texture. I love taggie toys for this reason.

I also like clip-on toys that can be attached to the crib. My kiddos both liked to reach and pull on things. 🙂

Toy Ideas for Crawlers

This is where we are currently at with Annie. She is a huge fan of anything that crinkles, rattles, or essentially makes some kind of noise. She’s also fascinated with balls because she can roll them away from her then chase after them.

Toy Ideas for Toddlers

The choices are pretty much endless when you reach the toddler stage. Toys will vary hugely due to every child being so different.

Jack loves his trucks and tractors as well as his soft toys.

Sometimes he has spent the entire time playing with an empty container. Lately, he has been ‘mixing’ things up in a box. I’m strongly considering getting the kids a play kitchen in the near future.

There is one in our church creche, and he spends the entire time playing with it every week.

#5 The Right Atmosphere

Lastly, you need to focus on creating the right atmosphere.

As I said previously, having independent playtime in their cribs has never been an issue for my kids because we set up the atmosphere very different from that of sleep times.

Wherever your child has their playtime you want it to be light and bright (so, nothing like sleep times!). We also always have music playing.

And lastly, it is SO important to make sure you set up a timer for however long you decide is appropriate for your child.

This serves to teach your child that playtime is over when the timer goes off and not just because they’re protesting.

Toddler playing with sand

How to Get Your Toddler to Play Independently

This section is for the mom that would LOVE for her toddler to play independently, but hasn’t started to formally implement it.

I have an entire post specific to toddlers which you can find HERE.

However, as a brief overview, here are some things to consider:

  • Make sure to use the steps listed above when you start implementing Independent Play Time.
  • Your toddler may protest (LOUDLY) at first. Start with small increments of time and work up. Do NOT go in before the timer goes off unless you know there is something genuinely wrong. They need to learn that playtime is over when mama says it is.
  • For potty-trained toddlers, I leave a potty in the room.
  • It may take a little time to get to where you want to be. When you’re starting in the toddler years it is naturally going to be a little harder. Just stay consistent and you’ll find it pays off.

That about sums it up. As always, if you have questions for me, feel free to leave a comment down below or send me an email. I’ll be more than happy to hear from you.

How to Start Independent Play Time

How to Start Independent Play Time

Instructions

  1. Choose the Right Time of Day - Make sure that you choose a time of day when your baby isn't overtired or hungry. Usually just after waking and having their feed is best.
  2. The Right Location - You want your baby to have Independent Playtime in a safe area where you are not in sight. For young babies I use the crib or playpen and for toddlers a playpen or their room will do.
  3. The Right Length of Time - Be sure to make the time appropriate for your child's age and stage. If you are just beginning with Independent Play Time, you could start with just 5 minutes and build up from there.
  4. Offer the Right Toys - Choosing the right toys for your child will play a big part in the success of independent play. They need toys that are age-appropriate, encourage imagination, and won't frustrate them too much.
  5. Create the Right Atmosphere - Add music and keep the room bright if you have your child in their crib. You want to make sure that they know it is playtime and not sleep time.

Notes

Being consistent and setting clear expectations for your child are two of the most important aspects of starting independent play time.

Aside from illness and teething, it is important that you keep a consistent schedule, especially when you first start to implement independent play.

After a while, it won't be such a big deal, but be sure to stick to it in the beginning.

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