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How to Encourage Independent Play

Though we’re huge proponents of socialization and providing little ones personalized attention at The Malvern School, there are also a host of benefits children can realize when they learn to play independently. When children play solo – in age-appropriate doses – it does more than take the pressure off parents. It also fosters creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and independence in other areas of life.

To set your child up for success with independent play:

Balance independent play with quality adult time.
Children are more likely to explore independently when they also get enough attention and quality time engaging with Mom, Dad or a loved one. Make sure to balance both and start with small, gradually increasing increments of independent time, if you need to.

Focus on providing an environment where exploration is encouraged.
Environment is one of the biggest factors to consider for both safety and psychological reasons. Parents are often telling their children what they can’t touch or play with (usually for good reason) – but when you want your child to play on their own, you’ll want to make sure it’s in a space that’s safe and somewhere they know they’re encouraged to explore.

Point your child in the right direction.
While there’s a lot to be said for self-directed play, sometimes children need a gentle nudge to start engaging with an independent activity, whether it’s building with blocks, exploring a sensory bin, coloring or journaling. Taking a few minutes to ease your child into independent play and getting them pointed in the right direction can go a long way. 

If you’re looking for new, engaging activities that inspire independent focus, here are some activities designed for friends who are preschool-age and older:

–Box Drawing: Give your child an empty cardboard box and some markers or crayons. Let them draw all over the outside and/or inside and make it into a community store.

–Open-Ended Art with Paper Strips: Provide your child with strips of colored paper and some tape or glue. Then, sit back as they create their own paper masterpieces.

–Measurement Scavenger Hunt: Provide your child with different lengths of paper. Show them how to measure things using the paper and send them off to search for different items in the house that match the lengths of the paper.

–Fun with Tubes (*this activity is safe for children who no longer put small items in their mouths*): Save some cardboard tubes (paper towel, toilet paper, wrapping paper, etc.) and use painter’s tape to adhere them to a wall, so that when a ball is dropped through them, it will travel through multiple tubes. Provide your child with a ball that fits in the tubes. Let them explore dropping the ball through the tubes and catching it in different sized containers. Let them move the tubes around to try different angles.

–Lego Replications (*this activity is safe for children who no longer put small items in their mouths*): Print out a picture of a simple Lego creation (Google is your friend) and have your child try to recreate it.

–Fort Escapades (*best for older children – pillows and blankets can cause an entrapment issue for younger children*): Use blankets, sheets and pillows to build a fort. While inside, your child can read books with a flashlight, eat a special snack or draw a picture for someone special.

With your child’s creativity, the possibilities are endless!

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