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17 Screen Free Ideas that Encourage Independent Play for Toddlers

Independent play for toddlers is insanely important! Not only are there so many benefits to independent play but it will also allow you to get a few things done without plugging your kids in to watch something. 

This post is all about screen free and low prep independent play for toddlers!

independent play for toddlers

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Independent Play for Toddlers

How do you encourage independent play for toddlers?

  • Give them your full attention for play before sending them to play independently
  • Even if your kids say they are bored after a short amount of time, give them a chance to figure something out themselves. Boredom has to come before creativity can! Boredom is not bad!
  • Make sure the toys are age appropriate. Otherwise they will get frustrated and end up running to you for help. 
  • Stay nearby to help them feel comfortable and safe to explore. 

How much independent play for toddlers is too much?

Kids need a balance of independent play and also playing together with others. While independent play will encourage your toddler’s creativity and allow them to explore their interests, playing with others is also very important for your child’s development and social skills. 

I recommend making sure your child gets at least an hour of play time with you every day. I’d also encourage you to let them help around the house when possible by giving them age appropriate chores. This will allow you to spend additional time together, give them pride in helping, and also teach them how to be more responsible. On the flip side, an hour is also about the max most children can independently play by themselves in a single sitting. 

Ready for the best activities to allow independent play for toddlers?!

1. Water Painting

My toddler can sit and do water painting books for an hour or more. He paints every single page and then goes and gets another book. My favorite part is that you can close the book and put it away while the pages are still wet. And the next time you pull it out, the pages are completely dry!

If you are looking to get outside, we also love buying paint rollers at Dollar Tree and “painting” the fence and house with water too!

2. Building

My toddler loves building with anything and everything. Whether it be canned food or actual building blocks he is going to build a tower with them. Our personal building favorite is LEGO Duplos but we also love Megablocks too. 

3. Water Play

Kids love playing with water in all forms. Whatever way you choose, your toddler will approve I’m sure. Here are a few ideas to get you started. 

  • Fill up a squirt bottle and let them aim at toys or things you put in the shower
  • Grab this functional play sink we absolutely love. My toddler can literally play with it for hours at a time. (although I do recommend playing with it overtop a towel if you play inside)
  • Experiment with these bath water pipes to create a “marble run” for water! We got these a year ago and they are still a huge hit at bath time!
  • Put all their cars in soapy water for a car wash

4. Magazine Collage

Grab an old magazine, glue stick, and a pair of these safety scissors that won’t cut hair or skin. (scrapbooking scissors are also a good first scissor that is very hard for them to cut themselves with if you don’t have safety scissors.) Let your toddler go to town cutting and ripping out pictures from the magazine. We did this recently and ended up with a collage of dogs, dino nuggets, ice cream, and fruit. They will absolutely love it!

5. Stickers

Stickers are every toddler’s best friend. Give them stickers and a piece of paper and they will love every minute. And if you want to be able to do this activity over and over again, grab one of Melissa & Doug’s Reusable Sticker Pads. This a great activity for long car rides.

6. Puzzles

Puzzles are great activities to encourage independence and teach your child to persevere. The type and difficulty of the puzzle you choose will largely depend on the age of your toddler. Younger toddlers will likely do best with chunky wooden puzzles. As they get a bit better try out wooden peg puzzles and then slowly move to these simple floor puzzles. You will be amazed at how quickly your toddler will improve at these puzzles and quickly putting them together themselves!

7. coloring

If you keep crayons, markers, colored pencils, dot markers, etc. on hand at home coloring will always seem exciting! Add in different colored paper and to them it feels like a whole new exciting experience. 

8. Bubbles

You can enjoy bubbles both inside and outside. There have been many days my toddler stood outside our tub and just blew bubbles into it and giggled hysterically. It’s the simple things in life sometimes. 

9. Design & Drill

This design and drill pattern toy will allow the little tool lovers in your home to create art with a drill and colored bolts. It also comes with plenty of pattern cards to follow if they need some inspiration. 

10. Cars and a car rug

Cars are a great toy for independent play for toddlers. Having a cute car rug already set up in their room may even lead them to independent play all on their own.

11. Sensory Bottle

We built our own sensory bottles with nothing but a leftover container, beads, and corn syrup! Turn down the lights and shine a flash light in it to make it even more fun.

12. Sensory Bin

The options for sensory bins are truly endless. I truly recommend you head over to Pinterest and search for sensory bins surrounding your child’s interests such as cars, dinosaurs, princesses, etc. I’ve also listed a few below to get you started. 

13. Lacing and Beading Toys

Playing with a lacing toy or stringing beads onto a piece of string are both great independent play for toddlers to practice fine motor skills.  To create your own lacing toy just punch holes into a paper plate and grab a piece of string/yarn. If you want to go the bead route, these chunky wooden play beads are a good place to start. 

14. Pipe Cleaner Bracelets

If your toddler isn’t quite ready to navigate and manage a string, putting beads onto a pipe cleaner can be a bit easier for little ones. Turning it into a bracelet afterwards will make them enjoy it even more.

15. Reading

One of the best ways to encourage your toddler to read independently is to create a reading nook or reading corner that they love. A small tent, a bean bag, some string lights, or cute pillows make all the difference in making reading fun. 

Even before kids can read, encourage them to look at pictures (plus they probably have a lot of books memorized). We also have a set of books with a reader so that he can press the buttons to have the book read to him all by himself. 

16. play kitchen

Imaginative play is one of the best independent activities for toddlers. Purchasing a play kitchen for Christmas was a decision I definitely do not regret. The key is to get a small one. Don’t fall for one that has a massive fridge or completely separate stove and washing machine. 

We love our small wooden kitchen. It came with a pot, pan, utensils, salt & pepper shakers, and cuttable food that are all wooden as well. 

17. Doll House

I remember playing for hours with my doll house as a kid. Buying doll house furniture to put in it can make it even more enticing for independent play. 

18. Playdough

Playdough is a create toy to encourage your child’s imagination and creativity. It’s super cheap to buy at the dollar store and it’s also insanely easy to make your own. Here is the recipe we use

19. Suction Toys

These suction cup building toys work on any flat surface like tables, windows, bath tubs, etc. They are great versatile toy for anytime and also great for independent play. 

20. Marble Run

A marble run is an independent play toy that never gets old. While I used to be hesitant to buy my toddler a marble run because I was worried his little sister would get hold of a marble, I found this marble run with oversized marbles to make it safe for little ones. 

21. Life Size Self Portrait

Trace your child on a large poster board, butcher paper, or on a large cardboard box. Then give them plenty of art supplies to create a life size self-portrait! 

This post is all about equipping you for successful independent play for toddlers. With the very best tips, toys, and activities you’ll be well on you both will be well on your way to enjoying some quiet time!

-Beautifully Busy Mom

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