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How to Encourage Independent Play


Ask Octavia and Vicky:

I am having this issue with my son.
He doesn’t play on his own, not even 15 minutes.
I am having a hard time getting things done around
the house or finishing up dinner. Any advice ?? Thank you, Saly

Hi Saly! Thank you for your question, I hope I can help you out with a few tips:

~ Start small. If your child has never enjoyed playing alone try showing them how to play by themselves. Set up an irresistible activity, show them how to play, then explain that you need to go and do something. Go for five minutes, then come back and check in with them for five minutes. Then try leaving them for five minutes again. A timer may help visualise this for your child – try a five minute sand timer.

~ Stay close. Set up activities close to where you need to be. If you’re doing the dishes, the washing, working on the computer – set up the play near you to encourage independent play, without leaving your child completely alone.

~ Find play in the every day. When I need to get on with cooking or cleaning and Pebble NEEDS to be with me, I try and include her in what I am doing. If I’m cooking she loves to play with the spice bottles, if I’m doing dishes she stands next to me and helps rinse,  if I’m hanging out washing she loves to play with the pegs, if I’m cleaning she uses a cloth to help me dust (but if I’m vacuuming she hides! LOL).

~ Keep things fresh. Rotate the toys and activities available regularly.  I find the days that Pebble plays on her own most successfully is right after I’ve rearranged her toys and brought out activities that she hasn’t seen for a long time.

~ Busy bags. I only recently started using Busy Bags after joining in a Busy Bag swap, and I’m totally hooked! A busy bag is a little bag or box with an easy but engaging and open-ended activity for your child to do by themselves.  You will need to think about the age and interests of your child to find out what suits best. Try searching Pinterest for ideas.

~ Break it up. I find that straight after Pebble and I have spent an hour or so playing and crafting, or playing at the park, that I can much more easily get a little break to catch up on jobs I need to get done. I try to give her a big dose of Mummy, then a little break by herself (20 minutes or so) with a fun activity, then another little dose of Mummy.

~ Create Invitations to Play – There are lots of fabulous ideas for invitations to play on the interwebs. Try these posts from The Imagination Tree, Teach Preschool, Pinterest, Childhood 101,  Learn with Play at Home, Play at Home Mum LLC.

I hope these tips help you get a little space and time to get things done. Good luck!

Dear readers, do you have any tips for Saly? How do you encourage your little ones to play independently? 


  1. Great post….i have this problem at times too and with twins it is a nightmare so i tried hard to encourage independant play. Sometimes i actually set up a few things for the girls then close the baby gate and do my chores etc in the kitchen (can still see them) however if they know they can’t run to me every 5 secs they begin to play with the activities i have put out. It’s wonderful to listen to them do this…and keeping busy with their own company.
    [email protected] recently posted..5 reasons to explore our own Backyard…and not feel guilty!My Profile

    • I think it would be SO much harder with twins BUT I also sometimes wish that Pebble had a play mate. She will soon :)

  2. Such great tips Kylie. Thanks especially for reminding me about busy bags! I agree with you that the key is to start small and then gradually increase the length of playtime. Also, giving them lots of positive encouragement and praise when you do return to them.
    Ronnie xo
    Pink Ronnie recently posted..October projectsMy Profile

  3. This is such a great post! I have been getting frustrated with my little one but I am sure putting some thought into her play and “setting things up” will help! Thanks heaps! Cheers, Mez
    Mez recently posted..Weekend Markets in Geelong and the Surf CoastMy Profile

  4. What great advice. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Good luck Saly!
    Penny recently posted..Hop, Stick and Jump into Animal ClassificationMy Profile

  5. This is a wonderful post and something that all parents and future parents should read. You have listed some really great advice. Well done. Thanks

  6. You’ve got some great suggestions here. My daughter and I went through this phase (and it still happens sometimes that she doesn’t want to play independently)

    I found the only way I could encourage her to play independently was for me to go off and complete a house-working task. Being close to her was just to tempting for her (and fair enough too)
    [email protected] Little Bookcase recently posted..Book Review: The Emperor’s New Clothes Horse by Tony WilsonMy Profile

  7. Some great tips and advice here Kylie….LOVE all your suggestions!!
    Janice recently posted..Scented Spring Play Dough RecipeMy Profile

  8. I would love for you to add this and any other of your posts to my weekly Mom’s Library Link-Up.

    Thanks and Be Blessed,

  9. I’m very lucky that Goblin will play independently most of the time, especially if set up with sensory stuff like rainbow rice or cloud dough. But this post is a really great tool for anyone who’s child is more reluctant. I’m pinning this to the Sunday Parenting Party Pin board.
    The Monko recently posted..The Sunday Parenting PartyMy Profile

  10. Great advice! I have an only child and he often wants me or Dad to play puzzles and board games with him, so we say yes, but only three puzzles, or only three times for a board game, if it is outside we might use a timer for 20 minutes. Now that my son is older, he does homework, so to encourage independence I’m always getting up and saying, “Be right back!” and he’s getting used to me not being there the whole time.

    Enjoyed visiting your blog!
    Lisa Nolan recently posted..Hugs, High Fives, and the Grace of Children {Sunday Parenting Party, More Than Mommies Mixer, Montesssori Monday}My Profile

  11. Hey, thanks for including our invitations to Play! Have only noticed that now, lol. I like the advice of finding play in the every day! I used to have the same problem with my daughter when she was younger. I really just wanted her to play independently and she only ever wanted to play with me. It does change and sometimes they perhaps need to learn about the different ways they can play and be aware of the fun they can create themselves. etc. Great topic and thanks for your well thought out responses.
    Debs recently posted..DIY Kids Room DecorMy Profile

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  13. Featured you in the Sunday Parenting Party today.

    Love the simple ideas. All doable and building on connection. Independent play seems to go through seasons in our house and this is a lovely reminder.
    Melitsa @ Play Activities recently posted..Speech and independence- Sunday Parenting PartyMy Profile

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