No two children are the same, and it is important we engage our children in structured play activities that aid their cognitive development. However, we also believe there is developmental and emotional value in allowing them to play on their own from time to time. We have compiled six tips for encouraging independent play in toddlers and allowing their creativity and personality to come to the fore.
1. Find Toys That Are Engaging
While flashier, battery-operated toys can be stimulating for a child, they often only have one function and don’t allow for active participation. Even basic household items such as cups, blocks and boxes can be utilised to develop a child’s creativity. These items have multiple uses, and as such can help keep your child occupied for longer than single-use products. Toys that encourage active participation like dinner sets or train sets often prove popular. By allowing your child to engage with toys without input, their ability for problem-solving and persistence can be increased as they experiment with different things until they find a solution.
2. Take It Slowly
When we say independent play, we don’t mean to leave your toddler alone in a room. Start out by sitting beside them as they play without joining in, before moving to another part of the room as they become engrossed. It’s a matter of progression and age – don’t expect them to immediately take to independent play. A twelve month old might only be able to play independently for a few minutes before losing interest, but in time that attention span can grow. Try not to ‘hover’ over your child as they learn to play independently – we think it’s best to ensure they are safe and then retreat to a few metres, so it is not so easy for your child to demand attention.
3. Try Not To Interupt
There is naturally a limit to the amount of structure you can put on your child’s independent play time, but we think it is important to take their activities seriously and avoid interrupting as much as possible. Allow them as much time as they need to complete a task if they are engrossed in it – children can become conditioned to being easily distracted if their activities are consistently cut short. While it is easier said than done with a toddler, setting aside a period of time when you are likely to be free from distraction can be helpful.
4. Try Parallel Play
For those who don’t know, parallel play is the tendency of children between 12 and 24 months to play alongside another child without ever really engaging with them. If your toddler is still attached to you, you can try playing alongside them while setting boundaries about how you plan to do so. For example, you could encourage your child to start building a tower with some blocks while telling them you will be over to the side playing with some plastic animals. This can be reassuring for your child and allows them to strengthen their independence without being completely alone.
5. Follow Their Interests
As parents, it is absolutely necessary to tell children not to play with certain ‘toys’. For safety and sanity reasons, we often have to stop our kids from playing with the things they are naturally drawn to. However, you can allow your child’s fascination with your lipstick aid their development without finding it smeared all over your mirror. Children are natural mimics, so it might be an idea to give your child a clean makeup brush and allow them to simulate putting on makeup without the mess.
6. Switch It Up
Switching toys out from time to time can be helpful in engaging your child and preventing them from getting fixated on certain ones. Hiding playthings away for a matter of weeks can make them appear more novel to your toddler when they reappear, and can encourage your toddler to play with them independently. Giving your toddler access to several toys at once can be overwhelming to them, and they will be much more likely to fully engage with a plaything if it is one of only a few.
Help your toddler unlock their potential with Educational Toys Online
Here at Educational Toys Online we understand the value of educational toys in supporting healthy development. We have more than 300 items available in our toddler section, and offer free shipping for all product orders over $150. With products from renowned brands such as DJECO, HABA and ALEX toys, you are sure to find toys that your toddler will cherish for months. Contact us on 1300 33 11 13 or use our online contact page.