Top Benefits of Independent Play for Babies & How to Begin

A comprehensive guide to independent play time for your child.

If you just became a parent, then the concept of independent play may seem far off. But the truth is, the benefits of independent play for babies begin early, which is why we want to show you not only how to begin building in independent play time for your baby, but how to help it grow along with them.

Believe it or not, play has a strong learning component to it. With young children, we often mistake it as something to simply occupy the time, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

If you are a Babywise mom, then you already recognize play as one of the three key components of your babies day: feed-wake-sleep. It's what your baby does during that waketime that can help lay the proper foundation for future success.

It should go without saying but is worth the mention: waketime activities have a greater purpose than simply Baby passing time between the last feeding and the next nap; they can promote numerous opportunities to learn.

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Waketime Activities and Independent Play

Waketime activities during the various babyhood transition phases must be understood in terms of a child's developing mind and his need for the proper and productive stimulation of the senses.

While waketime activities should be a family affair with interactions between Mom, Dad and Baby, there should also be some alone time for Baby, allowing him to be totally absorbed in his own world of discovery.

So how do you create a consistent environment of learning and what do you need to understand as a parent when it comes to your baby's waketimes? Let's dig deeper into what independent play for babies truly consists of:

Parents as Proactive Teachers

When parents act as proactive teachers, rather than staying completely 'hands-off', they create opportunities to learn in every environment: from the highchair to the playpen to the living room. Babies simply need guidance from their parents and, whether that guidance comes from direction or restriction, what parents are providing is purpose

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All learning must be purposeful to have meaning and to encourage the formation of developing patterns of logic.

Independent Play Time: Why Your Infant Needs It

As you are intentionally playing and building a bond with your little one, you are creating a secure environment for exploration and discovery. But, from an early age, children can begin to play by themselves for short periods of time to learn valuable skills and investigate their world without distractions.

There are 4 reasons independent play is so important:

  1. Promotes healthy growth through social stages
  2. Provides an atmosphere without over-stimulation
  3. Blanket time and playpen time offers structured environments for independent exploration
  4. Sets the stage for future quiet time

Start small and increase the length of independent time as Baby grows. You will give him opportunities to develop essential life skills and, at the same time, give yourself a chance to breathe and complete necessary tasks around the house.

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Go deeper, read the full article: Independent Play Time: Why Your Infant Needs It

Independent Play Time: How to Get Started

As you know, babies can have varying temperaments. But even the clingiest babies can learn that independent play time is good for them.

Starting a quiet independent play time is ideal when baby is around five months old. At that age, he is generally able to hold his head up and manipulate a toy on his own, but is not yet mobile. While that is the optimal time, children of all ages can be taught to play quietly on their own.

Tips for when and how to introduce independent play into your day: 

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  1. Make sure baby is rested, fed and has had ample time with a parent before beginning.
  2. Be close by at first.
  3. Stick to just a few developmentally appropriate toys.
  4. If baby cries, go over and gently soothe and re-introduce the toy.
  5. Start with just 5 or 10 minutes of alone time and then gradually extend the time.

Creating space in your day to provide a stable and safe environment for your child to explore his ever-expanding world is a benefit to all in your family.

Go deeper, read the full article: Independent Play Time: How to Get Started 

Independent Play Time Through the Stages

When we provide an environment that stimulates growth and development, our children learn valuable skills. By giving them a quiet, unstructured time to explore their world, free from distractions and input, we encourage discovery and spontaneous interactions with their surroundings.

Here is an overview of what independent play looks like through the different stages of development:

  1. Age: 0-6 months: Practice Play
  2. Age: 6-18 months: Sensorimotor stage
  3. Age: 18 months – 3 years: Language and Social-Emotional Development
  4. Age: 3 – 5 years: Extended independence

One final note about independent play, regardless of the stage your child is in: TV or screen time should not be considered part of independent play time.

Go deeper, read the full articleIndependent Play Time Through the Stages

Babies are like kaleidoscopes, reflecting the light of their developing world. Parents bring light into their child's world by thoughtfully managing what and how their child learns.

While this is just an overview of the benefits of independent play, reading the linked articles will give you more in depth information and show you how to begin independent play time with your infant. 

Even if your child is older and has moved out of the blanket time or playpen time, these principles still help lay a foundation for independent room time in older children. 

All children need direction and guidance from their parents, including structure for how and when to begin the developmental gift of independent play.

Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman is the co-author of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” She is a former kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who enjoys traveling, hiking in the mountains, and creating memories together with her husband and little girl.

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