As a follow up to my recent post about fostering independent play with babies, here are some of my suggestions on how to support independent play with toddlers!
How much time?
As I mentioned in my article about fostering this skill with babies, you’re really looking to start small here and build. In the beginning, your one-year-old may barely last five minutes playing independently, and that’s okay! I would wait for a moment where your child looks really engaged in what they are doing, and start by stepping away to another part of the room.
Creating A Safe Space
In my classroom, anything that is accessible to the children is open for use. Items that are unsafe are put up high or locked in closets, where the students cannot get to them. How can we expect a toddler to play on their own if we have to constantly be on top of them telling them they can’t touch things! It is so important to create a space that your toddler can explore in safely, like their bedroom, a playroom, or even an area of the living room. Obviously, this is difficult, especially if you live in a small space, but having a secure, childproofed area where your toddler can engage on their own is a key element of playing independently.
Materials and toys that are more open-ended are a great way to foster your child’s creativity and independence. They can decide whether or not a bowl is a bowl, for example. Maybe, to them, it’s a hat or even a spaceship. Open ended toys like blocks or boxes are great options. Another idea? Start by setting up a fun exploration for your toddler. Get creative here… is there a cabinet of pots and pans he/she is always trying to get into that could inspire an activity? Find materials, even unconventional ones to help foster creative play and independence. This might mean breaking out something that isn't a conventional toy!