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Encouraging independent play

A parent is reading one child a book on the couch, while another child plays independently with a toy microphone.

Independent play, without help from adults, can give children opportunities to make choices, focus attention, and play in their own time and in their own way.

Some children will play independently for longer periods of time than others.

There may be times when children need to play independently from an adult, such as while the adult is on a phone call, helping another member of the family or completing work at home.

Some ideas to support children to play independently

Take care of basic needs

Make sure your child is comfortable – they have a clean nappy, are not upset, have eaten and are not tired.

Children will find it hard to play if they are uncomfortable and have unmet needs.

Always ensure you can supervise your child appropriately and that the play environment is safe and free from hazards

Set up an environment that encourages independence

There are things for the child to play with at their own height such as pots and pans, a toy box, or some books.

You could make up your child’s lunchbox and drink bottle or a snack and place it where they can reach it so they can have an independent snack.

There are interesting things for children to explore, perhaps things they don’t see every day, for example, a rainy day box.

Talk with your child about independent play

Even if your child is very young, you can let them know what you are thinking. For example, “I want you to play by yourself for a little while – I’m just over here, but I do need to make this phone call, so I won’t be able to play for the next ten minutes.”

Screen time

It is best for young children to spend only a small amount of time in front of a screen such as a television, a tablet, or computer each day.

Every family needs to make the best choice for their family and situation, which may be no screen time, or some screen time.

You can download the Ministry of Health Active Play guidelines, which includes screen time advice, for more information.

Here are some resources.