Updated: Aug 25, 2022
Toddlers are oh so fun and oh so exhausting. Toddlers often crave interaction with others and seek out parents or other family members to play with. Of course, there are times when you can't play. When you're getting work done, cleaning, or simply need a few minutes to yourself, it's incredibly valuable to have activities your child can do independently. This may not happen overnight but with some support and gradual fading of your presence, your little one can learn to occupy themselves for at least a short time without direct interaction from another person. As you're working on developing independent play, try the following ideas for activities your toddler can do on their own.
Let your little one's creativity shine with stamps. I definitely suggest washable stamps though! Set up a station at the dining table with papers and stamps and let them go to town.
Playdoh, Sand & Slime-Oh My!
I know some parents shy away from the messy stuff, but let's be honest, the messy stuff is fun! My 3-year-old loves playing with playdoh and sand. He's recently started getting into slime a bit more too. There are endless creative possibilities with playdoh, making it an excellent option for independent play. If you're worried about the clean up, try this Mess and Play mat for keeping things contained.
Of course, if your little one is in the mouthing phase, playdoh might not be the best option for limited-supervision independent play.
Blocks and legos are another great way to let your toddler get creative. Try pattern blocks for older toddlers and preschoolers. These can support visual perceptual skills. But really-Any blocks, legos, or other stacking items would work!
Magnetic blocks are fun too, though they can be challenging to manipulate. I have found this to be frustrating to young children, so those may be better suited for interactive play with an adult's support.
Sensory bins offer endless possibilities for independent play that is individualized to your child's interests. First, identify a container to use for the bin. Any small tote would work, or a water/sand table. Next, add sensory materials. Finally, let your child explore!
Here are a few ideas for sensory bins:
Dirt and rocks (+ construction vehicles)
Rice and beans
Cotton balls/pom poms
Water with measuring cups
Letters or numbers and a fishing net to "fish" them out
Put items like measuring cups, spoons, other toys, etc. in for them to explore the sensory materials with.
If your child is in a mouthing exploratory phase, please take caution to ensure no choking hazards. And as always, ensure your child has proper supervision given the nature of the activity.
Busy binders or file-folder activities are pre-academic readiness activities. These may include tracing pages, matching, drawing, and more. You can create them yourself or purchase them. Etsy and TeachersPayTeachers both have large selections of busy binder activities!
Feel free to leave a comment with your favorite independent play activities! What do your children, students, or clients enjoy playing independently at this age?
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