How do you get kids to play by themselves? Every mom asks this question, right? Well check out this article for 5 real solutions to get your kids to play by themselves (without screen time!)!
I am a firm believer that independent play is important and vital for YOU. You need to be able to leave your kids and know that they will be fine by themselves.
This is important for all moms – stay at home moms, working moms, and work at home moms.
But independent playtime is also important for your child. Your child needs to be able to tap into their creativity, find amusement in a plain room, get them out of a bored rut, and just enjoy being alone.
Not sure how this works? Keep reading!
- 1. Play Together First and Start Small
- 2. Independent Play For Babies
- 3. Independent Play For Toddlers (12 To 24 Months)
- 4. Benefits of Independent Play
- 5. Five Free Activity Ideas
- How do YOU get kids to play by themselves?
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How do you get kids to play by themselves?
One of the downfalls of the “Screen Age” is that kids everywhere rely on screens to entertain them. Videos, photos, random commercials…they prefer any screen over a box of crayons, or a puzzle.
Don’t get me wrong! We are PRO-SCREENS in my house. But, we are also PRO-CREATIVITY. And sometimes as a mother, that takes work to establish.
Kids don’t naturally prefer books. Or a doll baby. They will always choose the movie over a puzzle. (It’s like a mom that says, “my kids only want cake for dinner!” And I say, “OF COURSE. What human being is going to choose broccoli over cake?”)
But, that doesn’t mean that broccoli isn’t really good for them. Or quiet. Or peace for them to have their own thoughts. All of these things are important…they just take work to establish.
Both of my kids (ages 3, 6) play independently really well. And the result of these periods of play, is that they create stories, and plays, and “movie puppet shows”, and anything else that comes out of their heads.
I love this so much, and I never want these creative streaks to end!
1. Play Together First and Start Small
Your child won’t know how to just “go in their room and play” if you first demonstrate it. Think about it. Do you just know how to “go in the kitchen and cook” without instruction?
So, first practice “creative play” to your child so they can mimic it by themselves!
Some of my favorite memories of my husband and son are when I’ve walked into his bedroom and seen them on the floor together playing with his Little People and their Little People House. My husband has the patience of a saint, and could play with the children for hours on end. These “small” interactions teach kids how to play when they are by themselves.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t always have the patience of a saint, and often I just put my kids in their rooms and yell, “Just find some toys to play with!” Again, I’m not perfect.
But that really doesn’t teach ANYTHING.
Instead, if I took 5 minutes, pulled out the ABC puzzle, and showed my son how fun it is, it would work wonders!
Also, start small. Even 10 minutes at the beginning is GREAT. Those 10 minutes teach your child that solo play is fun, valuable, and that spending time alone is NORMAL.
Keep reading below to see how to integrate child’s play into your daily routine.
2. Independent Play For Babies
I think the amount of time is totally up to the parent. You know your kids best. So anything I say here PLEASE adjust to your family (or disregard all together!)
But, I also believe that every age can learn independent play. Like this amazing article says “Stop the mom guilt! It’s ok for your child to play alone!”
I start teaching my kids to play by themselves with then are 6 months old. YEP – SIX MONTHS OLD. What to know how this works? Keep reading!
I like to start nurturing independent play when my babies are 6 months old. This is when they aren’t even sitting up yet – but they are able to lay on their tummies for a few minutes at a time.
I put them in their room (very near me) on their tummies with some toys in reach. I usually leave them for 5-10 minutes, or until they get cranky. If you are a few feet away, definitely use a baby monitor!
I do this once a day or so, just to teach them that I don’t need to be available all the time. This shows your baby that they can be by themselves and it’s ok. Try it!
3. Independent Play For Toddlers (12 To 24 Months)
For your toddlers and younger kids, independent play is all about trickery.
You want your younger kids to THINK they will have more fun by themselves in their play area. This can happen with a new rotation of toys, new music, new ideas…anything that gives them excitement when they play.
When my kids turn 1 years old, they are playing by themselves about an hour everyday. Sometimes it’s more. Sometimes it’s less – but they are capable of 1 hour.
This is the time to pull out big (but independent) toys – Lincoln Logs, trains, big blocks, imaginative play…anything to keep their attention for a long period of time.
When my kids turn 2 years old, they can play by themselves for 2 hours. I usually check on them a few times, help with changing toys or getting out some new crafts.
But, this is the time to make their surroundings appear SO FUN that they don’t want to miss out.
TIP: If you keep your toys in a playroom, but ask them to play by themselves in a bedroom with very little toys, then you might not have much success. Definitely make sure they are NEAR the possibility of new fun toys, and they will be much more likely to cooperate!
4. Benefits of Independent Play
Sometimes I try to view the day from kids’ perspectives.
I want their days to be consistent and predictable enough, so they know that after lunch they have naptime and quiet time. (Read my complete naptime guide here to see how to make it work for you!)
I want them to not be surprised when I ask them to play by themselves for 30 minutes.
The key is that kids are always looking for the “fun thing”. They are just waiting for me to pull out the candy or new Disney movie. If there is a chance that at 1 pm I will pull out candy, then OF COURSE they won’t want to play by themselves.
But, if everyday there is no chance of candy at 1 pm, then the option of independent play time by age is a really normal good one for them. They will go along with it. That routine creates discipline…which then because normal for your child.
I also think independent play encourages security.
My kids don’t have a playroom. Instead, their bedrooms are full of their toys, books, legos, blocks, and piles and piles of random things they can pull out. Those are THEIR THINGS. They have free rein.
That personal space gives them possession of their things…which gives them security. They feel safe during play time, because it’s their space. This means a lot to young kids.
Now, you don’t need huge bedrooms or piles of toys to accomplish this. I’ve been to Africa where a child might only have one deflated ball that is theirs. That ball is their security. And asking them to independently play with their ball is a safe place for them. Of course they are ok playing with their ball! That is what I want my kids to feel.
I read somewhere that kids like reading the same book over and over again because it’s predictable and they can count on it to be the same every time.
I think it’s the same way with toys! I think it’s healthy for kids to have limited toys, and to experience the same puzzles over and over again. There is a security in those puzzles that a new toy can’t accomplish.
5. Five Free Activity Ideas
If you are looking for free activity ideas for your babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, check out this list of 5 free ideas for kids!
1. Busy Toddler Activities
If you aren’t following Busy Toddler’s website and Instagram, start following her NOW! This website is full of ideas for child’s play, sensory bins ideas with kinetic sand, and amazing quiet games and activities for while you work and need quiet time. I rely on her site ALL THE TIME, and love that her resources are free and give me active play ideas for independent play time.
2. Library Audiobooks and Books
Remember CD’s? YEP THEY ARE STILL A THING. Especially in my kids rooms!
My kids LOVE this thing! They play cd’s all the time – with books on CD from the library, lullaby’s before they go to bed, old music cd’s that I have found in storage…
At your local library, you can check out audio books on CD, music and even musicals for kids to explore and love!
My favorite way to get free audiobooks, is to use my library card and hook it up to the The Libby App. You can hook up your library card, and download audiobooks for free!
TIP: Get a CD player with Sleep mode. Then you can leave it in their room at bedtime, and it automatically turns off at night!
3. Simon Says with the Baby Monitor
One invaluable tool I use during playtime, is a baby monitor. I use mine all the time – even for my toddler!
I have our monitor set up in my son’s room, and often put both kids in there to play. I watch them from down the hall, and love being able to see their play.
If you have toddlers in a separate room, this is an excellent way to keep an eye on them.
Also – a fun game to keep them occupied is to play Simon Says through the monitor. It’s great entertainment that lets you work and “play” with your kids.
4. Free Printables
Does your toddler or preschool enjoy coloring, puzzles, and cutting and glueing activities? Then before your quiet time, make sure you Google “free printables for kids” and print off a few options for your kids.
My children love these by Sesame Street, and enjoy the “new feeling” of these activities.
5. Toy Rotation
If you bring up “toy rotation” in a moms club, you will have every mom in the world talking about cubbies, and cabinets, and charts, and rotation schedules.
Y’all, that COMPLETELY overwhelms me.
Yes, of course you can have a complicated schedule that lets you rotate toys over and over again to give kids new things to play.
But, if you are looking for an easy way to accomplish this same thing without changing your home organization or buying new toys…you need an easy toy rotation solution.
The idea behind a toy rotation chart is simple. Just choose every week which 3-5 toys your kids will play with. And that’s it.
I like categorizing toys in my head. (Only my head! No need to write this down!) My categories might be:
- Building toys (blocks, Legos, Duplos, Lincoln Logs, Magnatiles)
- Cars and trains (train sets, matchbox cars, pull toys)
- Animals/ People (baby animals, Little People sets)
- Craft cabinet (coloring, stickers, Water Wow, paint)
- Other (puzzles, books, card games, etc.)
Every week just pick one from each category that are your toys for that week. Grab a piece of paper and write down your list!