Build Your Child Independence Through Play!

From the get-go, one of our main goals as parents is to raise our kids to be blooming, independent human beings. And one of the best ways for our children to learn and develop in their younger years is through play. Playing alone, AKA independent play, is vital for building their confidence and for learning about themselves. Not to mention it’s just fun and easy!

What is independent play anyway? 

Independent play means… well, letting your child play independently! This includes encouraging free play with open-ended toys, where anything can happen with a little bit of imagination. A fort made of chairs and bed sheets becomes a royal castle under attack. Stuffed animals become judges on a national talent show! It’s letting your kid make their own decisions on how they play and create something new in the process.

Why is it important?

When a child is playing with building blocks, choosing whether to build a tower or a house, whether to use multiple colours or just blue, they’re making decisions and learning from them. And how exciting it is for them when they figure out how something works all by themselves! Independent play is important for building self-confidence, encouraging creativity, learning about the world, self-regulating their emotions, and developing motor skills! Not only do they learn about the world, but they learn more about themselves and what they’re good at too. It also frees the parent a little bit to have time to do other important tasks.

How do you promote it through play? 

  • Create their own space: It’s important for a child to know there is a safe space for them - space that can be supervised but free. For example, laying down a play mat marks out a space for independent play within a room that you’re still in.
  • Give a variety of playthings: this gives them the flexibility to explore, combine, and create! From magnets to Chunkie Paint Sticks, there are so many choices to keep them entertained solo!
  • Don’t butt in: Try not to take them off the imaginative track they’re on by interrupting or being too much of a guide to their play. It is independent play, after all! If you and the kids are used to you being an active participant in their playtime, you can slowly transition out of it by joining at first and then backing away for a few minutes at a time, encouraging them to continue while you watch. Do so repeatedly and your kid will get used to playing without your help.

Babies and Independent Play: 

It’s never too early to encourage independent play. Children, even babies, want to engage in things that give a little bit of a challenge - even something like a simple baby rattle will challenge them to figure out how to shake it to make it work. Also, while spending a lot of time holding and cuddling your baby is great, it’s also okay to let them lie down and explore their mobile or their safe space. With children of all ages, the balance of quality time with you and independent play keeps them motivated especially through their clingy phases.

And for the older kids? 

They may get busy with school and extra-curricular, but make sure to always keep time in their daily routine for play, creativity and exploration. Time to just be themselves and develop as individuals. Reading is a great way to build their imagination, making independent play a lot easier and more fun! Take a trip to the library and encourage them to pick out their own books. You can even try setting aside a reading time every night for them to build their literacy and imagination skills.

Independent play builds that confidence in your child from a young age and will give them that strong foundation they need to take on the world on their own one day. They feel respected, capable and content. So resist the urge to teach them everything and let them discover toys, the world and themselves on their own sometimes!

Toddlers doing it solo: 

As your child grows older, it’s important to provide them with playthings that keep up with their age and ability. Open-ended toys like the LEGO Duplo Farm Tractor and Animal Care or moving toys (like Brio Toddler Magnetic Train) are great for coaxing toddlers of any age into creative solo play. And remember, the goal is to make them feel like what they do matters so that they will be more excited and confident to play on their own - so avoid fixing their play or giving too much guidance on what to do and how to do it.