In the rush to fill every moment of our children's lives with structured activities and digital distractions, we often overlook the profound value of one simple practice: independent play. This seemingly simple concept is more than just a way to keep your child occupied—it's a catalyst for creativity, resilience and self-confidence.
The Hidden Power of Boredom
As parents, we often feel an urge to keep our children constantly entertained. However, occasional boredom isn't a predicament to be solved immediately - it's an opportunity. When children experience boredom, it drives them to engage their minds in creative and imaginative ways, leading to independent play. It's during these moments they discover interests, develop problem-solving skills, and learn to enjoy their own company.
Toys that Inspire Independent Play
Our aim is to offer toys that are so interesting that our children lose track of time and get lost in their imagination.
It won't happen straight away. Independent play is like a muscle that has to be strengthened. The gains are real but they take time. Have courage, keep offering the right materials and your child's confidence will soar.
Wooden blocks: Building blocks are a classic toy that encourages creativity and problem-solving. Children can create various structures, enhancing their spatial awareness and fine motor skills.
See wooden blocks.
Dolls and doll's houses: These toys allow children to engage in pretend play, fostering their social skills and understanding of the world. A doll's house is the perfect forum for a child to revisit the day's events, of the day in order to make sense of them.
Puzzles: The best toys for independent play are often open-ended. That means that they are full of possibility and have almost limitless permutations. On the face of it, puzzles are the complete opposite. Once you have completed them, they offer no further challenge. And yet children return to them. Why? It's because children like to practise skills and mastery doesn't happen on the first attempt. And this makes puzzles engrossing. Your child will return, again and again, in search of the most efficient solution. Corners first, then sides, then the middle. Group colours and patterns together. There's a lot to learn.
See wooden puzzles.
Play kitchens and tool benches: Children love to imitate their significant adults. The things adults do seem important and worth of study. So pretend meals and DIY projects hold a special significance for children and they will persist with this type of play for a long time.
Examples of Activities for Independent Play
Playdough: A classic open-ended toy, manipulating playdough is a sensory experience that calms and engages children. Make your own to maximise the fun, adding colours, glitter, scents and textures. Learn more about the benefits of open-ended play.
Forts and dens: With some pillows, blankets and furniture, children can create a world of their own to inhabit. As the build progresses, they bring in more and more objects from around the home, using their imagination and problem-solving skills along the way.
Nature: Go outside, find some grass and sit down. How much time can you stay there for? What could you do for entertainment? Take a look down and just observe. At first you see nothing. But then you wait a while and soon enough an ant appears. Then another, and another. You notice a daisy, a buttercup, a millipede. You take a twig and scratch the earth. What is revealed? Pebbles? Mud? Clay? You drill a hole into the ground with your stick. One of the ants goes inside to explore. This gives you the idea to create a home for the ants, a new nest. And so you set about building tunnels and caves, walkways and bridges.
At first, there was no plan, only nature. But look how much fun you had - and how time flew!
Craft trolley: Offer pencils, paper, tape and glue, stickers, stamps, felt and foil. What will your child create? For children under five it's about the process not the product. Scissor skills, pencil grip and other fine motor essentials evolve naturally from repeated practice with these materials. And they are brilliant - and engaging - fun.
Books: While reading might not seem like play, it sparks the imagination, inspiring all kinds of activities. Who wouldn't want to be Robin Hood or Matilda after reading their stories? Discover our selection of wooden bookshelves.
Create the right environment for independent play
The space children play in can teach. A room where people come and go encourages dialogue. A room with a number chart encourages counting. A room with labelled drawers full of toys encourages reading.
And so, a room where toys and other materials are easily accessible encourages independent play. It can also be messy, but over time children learn to put things away. In fact, tidying up is a learning experience too.
Fostering an environment that encourages independent play doesn't require an elaborate setup. A safe, child-proofed space with age-appropriate toys is a great start. Rotate toys regularly to maintain interest and keep playtime fresh and engaging. Remember, the goal isn't to create a miniature classroom but a space where your child feels safe to explore, create, and learn at their own pace.
Screen time :(
We all do it.
And we know we should do it less.
Screen time - and apps in particular - give our children a little dopamine hit that's hard to replicate in real life. Nothing is quite as much fun.
And if you're on a screen, you're also not using your body. Your posture weakens and your fine motor skills don't develop.
Independent play is the antidote. It teaches our children to be ok with boredom, to make their own fun.
Removing all screens is not realistic but, if you can, try to minimise your child's exposure.
Good things will follow.
Independent play is crucial to your child's development. It fosters creativity, cultivates problem-solving skills and builds self-confidence.
You are creating an independent self-starter who makes their own fun.
And that's a great prize.