I know Mama, sometimes you just need a few minutes to get dinner started, switch over the laundry, or sip on your morning coffee. We all cherish those calm and quiet moments, when our little ones are wrapped up in something fun, giving us a chance to accomplish something on our to-do list. There is nothing wrong with some independent play! In fact, when your baby or toddler has the opportunity to play on their own, they start to develop skills like problem-solving, imagination, persistence and patience.
There are a few activities you can set up, with things you probably have lying around your house anyway. Sometimes, you just need to present these activities in a new way, to build up some interest and excitement. Also, consider each of the following activities and modify as needed for your own child and his/her interests and abilities.
- Stickers: Put stickers on paper or paper towel rolls, use letter stickers to spell words, provide stickers of animals/outdoor scenery and have your child create a scene/story
- Puzzles: Introduce a new puzzle or one that hasn’t been seen in a while, wrap puzzle pieces in aluminum foil for your little one to unwrap and find where it goes, do puzzles on the floor/table/in a fort
- Kinetic Sand/Playdough: Introduce new molds/colors, add some new small toys/manipulatives for your child to play with, ask your child to create a certain scene/letter/number
- Books: Have your child read with a flashlight/in a fort, read to a sibling/stuffed animal, introduce new books or old favorites, pretend to read the book upside down
Creating an independent play activity for your child really can be as simple as presenting it in a new or different way. Sometimes just doing an activity in a new place, or on a blanket on the floor, stirs up enough excitement to keep your little one engaged in the activity long enough for you to take a breath.
Still looking for more inspiration? Stickers and playdough just might not cut it for your little one, or those ideas might be things you do often enough and you just know won’t work for that “independent play.” Below are some simple ideas that will stir up enough excitement to keep your little one entertained and engaged while you focus on whatever you need Mama. Use all of these ideas as stepping stones, and make adjustments as you see fit.
Simple…effective. Plain and simple. We use tape all the time, there is nothing special about that blue painters tape to you or me, but to your baby? It might be the coolest thing in the world! Put tape on the highchair or wall, even put small manipulatives in a cupcake tin, tape them in and let your baby peel the tape away to access the toys. There is not too much involved in this activity, and not only will it be fun for your little one, it is also great fine motor practice.
Stuff The Oball
Every baby has some version of this classic oball, it is easy to hold and babies seem to find them so entertaining. Step it up a notch and fill the oball with something soft, like play scarves for your baby to pull out. If you don’t have scarves, even napkins or socks would work as well. This added element gives your little one something to focus on, while also strengthening their hand eye coordination and finger muscles. This is another good example of how fun and effective activities don’t need to be too complicated!
Sensory Bin/Busy Bin
You can call these whatever you would like, but the concept is the same. Find a small plastic tote and fill it with things that your little one can touch, pour, pick up, dig around it, etc. Add manipulatives to help encourage some imaginative play and watch your little one explore and keep busy. You can fill these bins with anything you have around the house or browse the dollar store for items for a specific theme.
Changing the placement of a particular activity, like adding it to a wall, adds an extra element of fun and increases your little ones engagement in the activity. There are so many different directions you can take this sticky wall idea to work for your child.
If your toddler is a little bit older, extend this activity by creating a few different sticky walls, maybe split up by colors, and your little one has to put the correct color objects onto the correct color wall. The goal here is to find an activity that gives your child the opportunity to play independently, so move the activity from the floor to the wall, and there will be instant interest!
If you are interested in buying something rather than creating an activity yourself, a sensory toy like this one is sure to still do the trick! Your baby will enjoy pulling at the attached pieces or popping (maybe even chewing on) the pop-it portion of the toy. Give your little one the chance to explore and you will be giving yourself a few minutes to yourself.
Again, if you are looking to make a purchase to grant yourself those few minutes of solitude each day, this is a great choice for your toddler. With so many different pages and activities, this is sure to keep your little one busy for a while. I also love the educational basis of this toy, because adding in some additional learning to your child’s independent play is never a bad idea either!
Challenge your child to complete a page or two, or depending on the length of time you are trying to fill, maybe even the whole book. Again, have your child do this somewhere fun and different, for an added sense of excitement.
Oftentimes children feel the need to be entertained by mom or dad. They are looking for you to come up with an activity or sit and play with them all day long. While we as moms love to play with our little ones, and it really does warm our heart, sometimes you need a few minutes to yourself.
Even if you are someone who only does your housework when the little ones are napping or in bed, and you spend every moment with your children – the opportunity for independent play is also so important. Use this list as inspiration for the next time you are looking to have your little one play all on their own.