The benefits of independent play

13 March, 2023

When children play, it may look like they’re just having fun. But research shows that play – in all its forms – is a crucial part of childhood. It’s how our children learn.

Independent play is one of the earliest stages of play, evolving as children grow. It is simply time spent alone (supervised, of course) with the freedom to explore, problem-solve and develop their own likes and dislikes.


Why is independent play important?

Playing independently gives children the opportunity to use their imaginations and develop their creativity and self-confidence. Children learn how to make decisions, solve problems and experience the sense of accomplishment that comes from their success.


At what age should a child play independently?

Babies can start showing a desire to play independently as young as two or three months old. They may reach for toys and interact with them, cooing and giggling. As children grow and develop, they progress through stages of play. Toddlers playing solo may stop what they’re doing to watch another child at play. As they get older, you may notice children playing alongside each other. At around three to four years old, children will start talking to other children playing nearby and may interact to a small extent. At around four or five-years-old children start playing co-operatively.


How do you teach independent play?

Create an environment where children are happy to engage in independent play. Put away any distractions – that absolutely means screens – and set up an “invitation to play”, perhaps an activity or set of toys. Mixing things up will give your child a range of learning experiences. Offering toys and activities that children are familiar with will help make independent play a success.


How to encourage independent play?

It may be helpful to have a routine where independent play is encouraged at the same time each day, for example, after a nap or while you’re preparing dinner. This way your child knows what is expected of them. Babies may be comfortable lying on a rug with a few toys or soft books, while older children may like to sit at a child-sized table. Resist the urge to join in or make comments about their play so children can develop their independence.


What is an example of independent play?

Independent play can be just about anything. Be led by your child and what they enjoy. For example:

  • Playing with Lego or blocks: Children can stack them to see how high they can go, use their imagination to build a castle or group the blocks by size or colour.
  • Drawing or colouring in: This is a lovely activity for calming little minds. Children have to focus to colour in the lines. It’s great for fine motor skills too.
  • Playing with a play set: Children love pretending to be grown-up, so give them a playset or improvise with what you have at home. They may like to be a shopkeeper, a barista or a beekeeper – the list is endless. Role-play is excellent practice for children at how to behave in various situations, which also helps them to regulate their emotions.
  • Play with Play Dough: Most children can’t resist picking it up to squeeze, squish and shape it with their hands.


Building independent play at Edge Early Learning

Edge Early Learning incorporates independent play into our curriculum. Our educators recognise the stages of play in children’s development and the benefits of allowing children to progress through these stages at their own pace. We are conscious not to disrupt children while they are exploring new interests through a period of solitary or independent play and provide educational resources and provocations for children to explore.


Learn more about our approach to learning!


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