Why is Independent Play Important?

(and how to encourage it with your kids)  

toddler boy putting away his clothes in his wardrobe.

It’s no secret that play is an important part of childhood. It is, afterall, how young kids learn best. Incorporating creative play into your kids daily routine is important, but what about playing independently?

There are countless benefits to independent play with preschoolers- from boosting confidence to developing problem solving skills to giving the family a small break. 

 

Independent play is so essential that you will find it incorporated into almost any preschool around the world- especially the Montessori method. 

 

To help you understand the value in independent play on a daily basis, here are 8 key benefits to independent play for children ages 3-5. Ready to learn all about them? Keep reading… 

 

What is Independent Play? 

 

Independent play is the opportunity for children to play on their own. Oftentimes, there are a few open ended toys and a special place for them to explore. 

 

It’s that simple. 

 

Encouraging independent play is so simple that- considering just how many benefits it provides preschool aged children- its something that should go into every daily routine. 

 

Ready to learn the benefits of independent play? Here are the top 8 benefits for independent play with your preschooler…

 

8 Benefits to Independent Play

  1. Develop Independence

 

Following its name, one of the most obvious benefits for encouraging independent play is that it encourages the child’s development of independence. 

 

The skill to play independently is one of the best life skills that you can give your child. For the rest of their lives, that independence will help them cope in almost any situation. 

 

When kids play independently, they learn how to solve problems without any help. How to roll up a worm with playdoh? Fix the tire that fell off their car? Independent play provides the opportunity for your child to solve this problem on their own. 

 

This is a skill that you will be grateful that your kids have as they age- trust me. 

  • Encourages Imagination

One of the key elements to fostering independent play in your children is to provide opportunities for open ended play. 

 

This means that you provide a few toys and let them create whatever world their little minds can dream up. To the mind of a preschooler, a wooden car isn’t just a mode of transportation, it’s the main character in a new story. 

 

I love watching my kids come up with a new way to play with something. Allowing your children to explore new worlds through imagination is one of the best ways to help develop their creativity. 

  • Give Parents (and kids) a Break

Children playing alone can bring a sense of calmness in the home. Traditionally, I relied on screen time for this, but that can’t always be the answer.  

 

Even if it’s just for a few minutes, young children playing independently can help everyone reset and finish out the day on a high note.  

 

Not only does it give parents a break so that they can get other things done, but it also allows the child a moment to process the world around them. 

 

Solo play with open-ended toys will eventually lead to a long time of playing alone- trust me!

  • Helps Children Process the World Around Them

In this fast paced world that we are living in, children need to sit down and process everything that they are learning. At the age of a preschooler, research shows us that it is a lot. 

 

One of the best ways for them to process is- you guessed it- through letting the child play. When children are given passive toys like a few dolls and the freedom to act out scenarios, you will be surprised how often they will replicate their own experiences. 

 

Whether it be a conversation that you had with them, an interaction at the park, or something that happened in a dream. 

 

This simple act of play helps them process the world around them and solidify certain aspects of the world around them. 

 

This can be true for older children as well and is a great way for them to process.

  • Build Problem Solving Skills

Oftentimes with play, when adults are involved it is common for them to solve any challenges on their own. While watching is one form of learning, when you remove the adult from the challenge, then your child must learn to solve the problem on their own. 

 

When they have alone time to play, you and your toddler will learn just how great the child’s ability is. Not only will you both develop the confidence to try new things, but the alone time will encourage more fun. 

 

This goes without saying- but make sure you have a safe place for your kid to play alone- especially the sneaky older toddler!

  • Teach Patience

Children that are able to play independently often are seen as more patient. Why? Because they know how to entertain themselves. 

 

When you provide independent play time in your daily routines, when the time comes for them to sit and wait with you at the DMV will be a hundred times easier. 

 

Social independence is a life skill that will pay off for their entire lives and you will both be grateful for it in the end.  

  • Boost Confidence

Being able to entertain oneself in any situation is one of the greatest gifts that you can give your child. 

 

When you send your child into new and uncertain environments, having the essential skill of not needing consistent entertainment from others will boost confidence. 

 

When they play outside, for example, they will know what type of play to try because of their time with the sensory bin. 

  • Explore New Interests

When children are encouraged to play on their own, oftentimes it gives them the ability to explore new ways of play that they otherwise might not have experienced. 

 

Oftentimes, when play is facilitated, kids will lean into whatever they are comfortable with. With the endless possibilities of independent play, however, they have a freedom to explore new ways of play. 

 

Finding your child’s interest in their independent play time will make unstructured playtime one of your favorite things! 

 

dos and don’t of independent play

 

Independent playtime is one of the most valuable activities that we can provide the younger children in their lives. 

It fosters creativity, boosts self-esteem and gives parents a break from having to entertain their children. It is so important that almost every preschool in the world incorporates it and is even one of the core values of the Montessori Method. 

 

While teaching your child independent play is a valuable tool, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Luckily, there are a few simple tips and tricks that will help you get started. 

 

Ready to learn the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of independent play? Keep reading…

 

DO provide plenty of opportunity to play independently

 

Solitary play will come naturally to most preschoolers- if you allow it to happen. 

 

Creating simple opportunities for your child to play independently throughout the day is key- even for a couple of minutes. 

 

If you are chopping vegetables for dinner, for example, there is nothing wrong with pulling out a special box of toy cars that can hold their attention for a little while. You will be surprised how much fun different things can seem.

 

DO add in Independent play into your routine

 

By the time your child is at preschool age, it is easy to understand the benefits of a routine. Not only does it keep the home running smoothly, but it helps your 4 year old feel like they have control. 

 

Whether it is in the morning while you get ready for the day or a 20 minute quiet time in their room, make independent play part of their day, everyday. Depending on the child’s age, you can adjust the period of time so you’re able to do a load of laundry or finish that cup of tea. 

 

DO remember the different types of play

 

Different parts of the day will call for different energy levels, which is where different parts of play can come into your day. 

 

Reading picture books, for example, will help calm your child before bedtime while active play is perfect to burn energy after a meal. 

 

You will be surprised at how often they will enter a deep flow of play just by doing an activity that matches their energy level. 

 

DON’T ignore your children all day

 

When many parents hear about independent play, they assume that ignoring your child is the best way to encourage playing on their own. 

 

Interestingly enough, it is the exact opposite. 

 

If you are intentional with your young child and spend intentional time together with sensory play, when opportunities to play alone are presented they will be much more willing to dive in. Remember- they are a 

 

Think of it this way, if your child feels content in your relationship, then they won’t feel a need to ask for your attention. Sit with them and read a book, go on a walk, or eat a meal uninterrupted- you won’t regret it. 

 

Children sense when they feel unwanted, so adding time together will help independent sensory activities go even smoother. 

 

DON’T overwhelm your child with too many activities at once

 

Always remember that with imaginative play- less is more. 

 

If you want your son to sit and play in his special play space, only set out 1 or 2 open ended toys- nothing else. 

 

Think about when you go to the grocery store and you know that you need to buy a bag of chips. Looking at the entire aisle with hundreds of chip options can feel overwhelming. First, you need to narrow down the type of chip you want, then take other options into account like your favorite brand and price. 

 

Unfortunately, preschoolers don’t have the ability to narrow down a lot of options into 1 or 2 on their own, so you need to help them do that. Oftentimes we will offer 4-6 toy options to encourage play and that is hard for little minds to create new games with. 

 

In the beginning, stick with 1-2 play options of their favorite toys- trust me. 

 

DON’T discourage their interests

 

Independent play is most successful when you lean into your child’s interests. Laying out toys that will naturally draw them in will encourage more play. 

 

Whether your child is obsessed with dinosaurs, rainbows, or sweeping the kitchen floor, you can set up opportunities for independent play easily. 

 

DO start off Slow

 

It is important to keep in mind that preschoolers’ minds can only focus on new tasks for a few minutes. With that, it is key when introducing independent play into your daily routine, only try it for a few minutes at a time. 

 

In the beginning, keep it flexible. If you are working on folding the laundry, set up a sensory box. 

 

DO change the scenery

 

Like you, your preschooler needs a change of scenery every once in a while. Changing up your childs ‘special spot’ can be a gamechanger in keeping play new and exciting. 

 

Whether they play with their car toys on the bedroom floor, the kitchen table, or a kids table in the living room. Sometimes making a new ‘special spot’ is all a child needs to keep playing. 

 

DO remove distractions

 

When you are teaching your child a life skill as valuable as playing independently, this means that you will have to remove some distractions. 

 

Distractions can look like: 

  • Older siblings
  • Screens on
  • Loud music

 

Removing these distractions by putting on calming music, turning off the television, and sending the older kids to their room for a little bit are all ways to help eliminate distractions. 

 

In Summary

 

There is no doubt that there are countless benefits to independent play and that incorporating it into your daily routine with your child is smart. 

 

Keeping these simple tips and tricks in mind will help your child develop the essential life skill of independent play for a lifetime. 

 

    

 

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