Supporting Independent Play

With most of us working, living and playing in the same space 24 hours a day, we are all trying to find ways to carve out a little personal space, and even your child can use some alone time. One of the best ways to encourage your child to be independent and “do their own thing” is by creating a space just for them to explore and play independently. Little people only need little spaces. Here is how you can set up this special play space for your infant, toddler or preschooler with a minimal footprint.

  • Find a low level shelf or floor space to designate to your child. If using the floor- use non stick painter’s tape to mark off the area.

  • Consider creating this space close to your work space. Many children cannot immerse themselves in play unless they feel secure that their caregiver is within sight.

  • Keep this child level space simple, free of clutter and devoid of stuff from other family members and with limited activity choices available on the shelf at a time. For infants, it is suggested that you put one activity box out at a time. For toddlers and preschoolers- two choices are enough. You do not have to change the activities daily. Repetition is how children master of skills and concepts. By taking this “ less is more” approach children will be less distracted and more apt to stay with an activity for a longer period of time.

  • Think of this space as an extension of your home. Personalize the space with a few photographs and a piece of your child’s artwork- just like the artwork or photographs in your home- but in this sacred space they are at the eye level of your child.

  • Once you figure out the space, make your rotation activity boxes with open ended supplies that your child can use independently. For instance for infants- a ball box, square box, squishy box, rattle box, stuffed animals, etc. For toddlers and preschoolers- a lego box, car box, writing box, counting box, etc. Clear plastic shoe boxes and open small containers work best so you and your child can see what is in the box. Also for toddlers and preschoolers you can add a folded blanket in case they want to rest.

  • Store the boxes you are not using out of sight of your child so when you give them to your child the materials are new and appealing.

  • Each time you make an activity box- label it with a picture and name of the material to support the reading process.

  • Keep the activity boxes developmentally appropriate with materials they can manage on their own. Keep more challenging toys for collaborative play.

  • Separate screen activities from independent play to support your child diving into imaginary exploration.

  • If you think your child is not interested in playing on their own, think about how you are communicating independent play. Are you hovering over your child? Are you just expecting your child to begin this play themselves? It is suggested that you cultivate independent play by helping your child with the setup of the activity before moving away from this space to do something else.

With time and encouragement, your child will gravitate towards their personal space to support their self sufficient development, as well as providing you with a few minutes for your own independent time!