For children, independent play is a vital part of growing up and developing. It provides them with many skills that can’t be gained from books or in-class learning and is especially vital in the younger years.

In fact, according to Play Based Parenting, independent play isn’t just a useful tool in a parent or teacher’s arsenal; it offers important opportunities for development in:

  • The ability to regulate emotions
  • Capability for social independence away from parents and guardians
  • Improved self-confidence
  • The amount of time the child can concentrate and focus

With independent play making up such a vital part of how children can develop, it’s no wonder that more and more parents and teachers are putting a more significant influence on the ability to play solo.

So how can we provide children with the opportunity and encouragement to play independently?

The Parenting Junkie suggests that it all depends on the child. There’s no one way that’s right when it comes to playtime; it’s more about doing what fits your family or classroom best.

If you’re looking for options to try out to motivate children to play independently, then read on for just a few ways you can set the wheels in motion. Take the time to experiment, try out a few options, and figure out what works best. There’s no one way to do it right, after all; but when it comes to providing a whole class with that encouragement, something more universal is your best bet.

Choose toys that allow your child to entertain themselves

Many modern toys are created to provide children with passive entertainment. Whether it’s video games, toys that dance or sing or even ones that make noises, these types of toys don’t provide the opportunity for children to entertain themselves. This is because the child or student isn’t required to play with, interact with or work with the toy to provide entertainment; it’s all there on a plate for them to consume, no work required. Instead, opt for toys that don’t do the entertaining for your children, and require input and imagination to be enjoyable. This could be building blocks, train sets, or even dolls and figures; anything that requires children to get involved to play independently and actively.

Reduce other forms of passive entertainment around children

With just about every 21st-century home being stuffed with all forms of technology, many families are very used to being entertained around the clock. From smartphones to TVs, games consoles to tablets, the focus on all these products is to entertain passively. If technology isn’t avoidable, then instead of passive learning, children should be encouraged to use screens interactively; whether it’s drawing on a tablet or taking part in active child-friendly educational games. However, the best choice overall is removing screens from specific areas to allow for more space for play, and less time being passively entertained.

Don’t direct children’s play

While in many other aspects of life, it’s a must for children to follow the lead of the adults around them, play is a time when they can be in charge. Instead of dictating and directing the rules or direction of play, allowing children to use their minds to devise new ideas and create new worlds can be highly rewarding – and highly valuable in the long term. There is no ‘right way’ to play – beyond rules such as not harming others or damaging things; children should be given as much freedom as possible to explore and develop their worlds. This freedom can allow children permission to play as they want – instead of playing based on strict rules set out by those around them.

Stop watching 24/7

In the modern world, both parents and teachers have many anxieties and worries about children being unsupervised at any point of the day. After all, the world can be a scary place. But if you can create a safe space in which your child can play and be by themselves, without being under your watchful eye, you can provide the perfect environment for independent play. The temptation for children is to allow their parents or teachers to entertain them while the focus is on what they are doing. Monitoring your child 24/7 doesn’t offer them the freedom they need to learn to be their own person, which is one thing that’s vitally important for their development later in life.

Do you encourage independent play in your students?