Teach your toddler to play without you! Independent Play Ideas

Teach your toddler to play without you! Independent Play Ideas

Its such a relief to see our toddlers play independently for some time. What? Did I say Relief?? Well actually, yes I did. Being a mom, who needs to be constantly on her toes,it definitely feels like a relief. What do you think? Tell me in the comments below. 
Did you know, that teaching children to play on their own, isn’t just necessary for us (adults to get solo time) but it also helps foster creativity and critical-thinking skills. Building this new Habit of Independent Playtime, often takes time and patience on our side. Some children are naturally more independent than others and they have a tendency to entertain themselves from a very early age. As adults, we often like to show them,how a toy is played or how things should be done in a certain way leaving very less room for letting them explore first about that new toy,that you bought for them. Next time, when you buy a new toy, or rotate an old toy from your collection, just leave that toy on the table or in your play room, where the child can see and feel that he is welcomed to play with that toy as he pleases, unless its a safety issue like a choking hazard. Then you have to be careful in choosing the types of toys for Independent Playtime.
I have three main Suggestions that I’d like to give you , if you want to see the child play independently for a long time.

  1. Start giving them the permission to play. Don’t play for them. : As grown-ups we feel its our need to show them everything, or show them how perfectly this needs to be done, and how this toy has to be played this way and not that way… hush.. Just Breathe and let the child BE. Letting the child explore the toy and see for himself the different ways it can be played with is damn amazing.. Our children are free minded, and they don’t understand the logistics behind everything, so they put on their creative thinking caps and start to play with that toy in their unique way. If the child asks for help, THEN ONLY HELP. Or just leave him alone with the toy. LET THE CHILD BE!🙂
  2. Understand your Child’s Interests. : When we provide them with suitable toys and materials to play with, according to their age and difficulty level, it encourages them to play independently for more time. If you give them toys and materials which are either above(very difficult to understand and play with) or below(very easy to play, which can be done in a couple of minutes) their difficulty level, the child gets frustrated and won’t play for more than two minutes. Toddlers attention span is anywhere between 3 to 7 minutes only. So it they toys you give don’t interest them in the first couple of minutes, then its not going to work and it will only lead to frustration. Now I don’t want to scare you off by saying this, and make you wonder, what and how to buy new toys again and again. If you know me already, you know how I like to keep things simple and doable for any mom(working or stay-at-home). I’ll give you 15 ideas to play independently(or with the child,both are fun!),using the materials that you might already have lying around your house. Intrigued? Keep reading the post!!
  3. Limit Screen Time. : In today’s day-and-age we can’t completely avoid the screen-time(if you do zero screen-time,kudos to you!) but we can definitely LIMIT the screen time, in different ways. For ways to limit the screen time, read my post on 

SCREEN FREE PARENTING ? HOW TO MANAGE SCREEN TIME WITH KIDS?

Now let’s see the different materials that can be used for Independent Play Time. If you decide to use any of the following ideas, please share a picture on Instagram and tag me (https://www.instagram.com/ourjourneyathome_/) in it,and use the hashtag #ojah_independentplaytime Or you can write a post in my facebook group (Our Journey At Home – Deevyanka Pawar) for other moms to get inspired to do these following activities.

Blocks / Shapes blocks : This is one of the best Open-Ended toys that you can gift children. Just pour a few blocks in a basket or a tray, and let the child play with it. We have Jhenga blocks, Shapes blocks in two different kinds : One is Plastic and the other one is Wooden and they are small like Tangrams. We love to play different games with all these blocks. I like to rotate most of my toys, periodically, otherwise Ridhima gets bored of it. And I think even you should start rotating the toys, if you don’t do it already. If in the first week, I give her Jhenga blocks to play with , then in the next week I give her the wooden blocks or the plastic ones. Jhenga blocks can be stacked,constructed and deconstructed, while the other ones are shaped so, she can be creative and can make different objects using those shapes. 

Tissue Paper or Crepe Paper : So much can be done with these tissue papers or crepe papers. Give them for Paper Crumpling, or cutting with scissors, or ripping the paper apart with hands. Next time add a blank recycled paper or newspaper to paste their ripped paper, contain this in a tray or a basket. The next time give the same paper to paint on. Or draw a simple shape for the child and ask the child to cut and paste or rip and paste or crumple the paper and paste inside that shape. If you want more challenging, ask the child to paste outside the shape. Or you can add some sequins also, to make it more fun. Keep the materials very limited like just 2-4 materials at a time, so not to overwhelm the child. Keep everything together in a basket or tray and leave it open for the child to explore. 

Sensory Bin with Rice : Just use our regular rice which we have at home, and put it in a small container. And hand it over to the child. You won’t believe how entertaining this is, along with all the benefits of the sensory stimulation they receive while playing with it. Later you can get creative and add food colouring to the rice or can make 2-3 containers with different coloured rice. When you rotate this activity once again, you can add one spoon to it , or add two different kinds of ladles, or one spoon and one glass/bowl. Just keep it simple but add one fun element to it, everytime you repeat the activity. Keep a gap of 8-10 days in between minimum, so they get equally excited for the activity as they were for the first time.

Paper Clips : Give them all kinds of paper clips and show them how to use it. Give a stack of 2-3 papers and a few clips, leave it in a tray for them to explore. Link the two paper clips together and then leave a bunch more for them to play/link them in two’s or three’s. See the picture below to understand what I’m saying. For this activity they might need some help at first, so help them when they ask. 🙂

Measuring Cups : I know they are just lying in your kitchen drawer, waiting for their turn to be used.:; So take them out and give them to your child to play with. They can be stacked one inside the other, they can be stacked vertically(as shown in the picture below). They can be used with the Rice Sensory Container. Other time, you can give two unusual items together, like may be Measuring cups and Toy animals, or measuring cups and Blocks, These unusual items boosts children’s Creative Thinking Skills, and they stay put on one place for a long time.

Craft Sticks : Another simple material to play with. And great for young toddlers. Make shapes(2D and 3D), make different crafts. Tie a ribbon to the craft stick and make a wand, Paint them, color them, sort them, write on them, draw on them, stick pom-poms, crepe paper, or sequins on them. Or you can also make a catapult.

Straws and scissors : Oh, so much Fun !! Just give straw and scissors to them, or if they can’t use scissors, you cut for them. And see their faces lit up when the straws go everywhere,when cut. And with the cut pieces you can use them to string into a ribbon/shoelace, or make different letters and shapes, or give an empty bottle to put the straws in and out. Make bracelets with them using the string/wool and straw pieces. Straws can become a choking hazard, so give this activity when you are going to be in the same room with your child.

Pom-Poms : Ridhima used to love pouring them in and out of the container. Simple activity, no-mess but very engaging and fun activity. You can use pom-poms to slide over a tilted surface, or push them in and out of bottles or use them in crafts. Pom-poms always attracts the child’s attention.

Ribbons : Ribbons are a great material to play dress-ups along with a few scarfs. They can be used to teach how to tie knots or how to wear scarves, They can be worn as head-bands, or tied on wrists, or can make necklaces, leave the creativity part to the children. They’ll surely enjoy playing with it.

Rubber Bands : Rubber bands come in all different sizes, For toddlers I would prefer the bigger ones than the normal ones which we use at home. These bigger rubber bands can be used to put around bottles, or jars/cans, or cardboard. It can be used to make shapes using some toothpicks and thermacol. Just insert a few toothpicks into the thermacol and let the child use the rubber bands to put around those toothpicks. What a great fun!

Balloons : This had to be in the list. Just blow up a few balloons, and leave the rest to children. To add variety, add a few different colors, or in different sizes, or put it on a stick, or make water balloons or add some small thermacol balls in it. Just add a fun element to it, so the children enjoy playing with it for a long time. 

Pots and Pans : If you have a small kitchen set, then great. Just put it out for them to play and explore. Add some rice, puffed rice, or lentils to add the fun element to it. If not, then just use some light-weight pots and pans from your kitchen, and give some ladles and spoon to play with. Child will be engaged for a long time and you can have scrumptious meals made by your children. 

Plastic / Paper / Steel Glass /Cups : These are so much fun to play with. They can be stacked or knocked on. They can be used for pouring water / colored water. They can be used to play Hit-or-Miss. You can add some fun elements such as pom-poms, ribbons, colored rice, or lentils to it. 

Stickers and Recycled Paper : Pretty simple. But stickers can keep the children engaged for atleast 20 mins. Give some old newspaper or printer paper or recycled bills, and some stickers. And then let the child explore. Sometimes, add a marker or scissor to it. Or add a small notebook. Or use reusable stickers, on glossy papers from Magazines and Newspaper. 

Clothespin and Cardboard : Leave these materials open in a tray. Cut some shapes out of cardboard or leave the recycled box as it is and add some clothespins. And let them have fun with it. Its such a simple activity, but requires a lot of attention and concentration. 

These are a few materials and toys that I keep at hand and at easy access, so whenever I need some free time from Ridhima, Instead of making her to sit in front of the TV, I grab some of these materials and put it out on a table or mat, depending on the activity. Its open-ended, and she can do whatever she want with those supplies. Ah, so much freedom for them. :; It hardly takes two minutes to grab these and put it out for her, but it gives me atleast 30-40 minutes of free time, now that she is older. But when she was around 2.5 – 3years old, i could get minimum of 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the activity.


One more thing to keep in mind, Independent Play doesn’t mean unattended or abandoned play. Please don’t make such an impression for the child, be there with them but just don’t be involved in the play. If they come to you, just let them politely know, that you’re busy and they can play for themselves, and you’ll join them once you finish your work. Give them some hope to look forward too. Or you can also set alarm for 10 minutes, and tell your child, that once alarm goes off, we can play together again until then, play on your own. I am almost always in the same room or the room next to my toddler when we are both doing independent activities. If I know, I’ll be working in the kitchen, then I’ll set her play there on the floor on a mat. So she can see me around. And I can also keep a watch on her, for her safety. Not for intruding in her play. Be very clear and let them know that they are doing their work and you need to do your work for a few minutes. And this should help you get started in your Independent Play Journey.

I hope you found this post helpful, and got a few ideas on what you should and shouldn’t do for encouraging Independent Play-time with your children. Please comment below with your thoughts and ideas and what you do to encourage Independent Play-time at your home?



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