How to Encourage Solo Play

Does your toddler know how to entertain himself? It's a valuable skill—and one that offers many important developmental benefits.

Independent play helps kids develop a sense of self-reliance and self-identity. It stimulates creativity and original thinking. It also gives children the opportunity to interact with the world on their own terms, making important discoveries and facilitating "Ah-hah!" moments.

By about one year, most tots have the ability to entertain themselves for up to 20 minutes. But many toddlers have a hard time amusing themselves (except possibly when they are up to something!).

How do you encourage solo play? Treat it as a process. Begin by aiming for brief periods of independent play—then gradually work up to longer sessions. Here are some easy ways to get started:

  • Don't expect your toddler to choose a single toy from his entire toy box! Instead, present him with one favorite activity that lends itself to solitary play. Nesting blocks and shape sorters are ideal for one year olds; play sets and puzzles will absorb older tots.
  • Begin by interacting with your child, then stop actively playing, although you remain close by. Next time, edge away a short distance —and gradually increase the distance during future play sessions as you child grows more comfortable playing alone.
  • Encourage your child to mimic your activities. Cooking dinner? Offer your child her own bowl and spoon. Cleaning? Give her a "dust cloth."

Eventually, your child will become engrossed in his own activities—and learn that he doesn't need you to supply all his entertainment.

Teach your child to enjoy her own company now—and your giving her a gift that will serve her well for the rest of his life!

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