Independent play helps children feel confident, builds a sense of capability, concentration skills and creates many opportunities for discovery and learning.
While children do not need intricate and overly elaborate toys or play opportunities to develop well, offering diverse play materials and new opportunities is a great way to help children enjoy their independent playtime. This is also a fantastic way to rotate toys that have been a bit forgotten and introduce new materials.
So, a play invitation is simply setting out a specific play activity or a few toys on a surface that is easily accessible to the child, such as a small table or a blanket on the ground. Whatever toy or activity it is, it should be something the children can:
- Play without assistance and low supervision
- Play without directions or corrections (i.e. if you overhear dogs meowing, numbers being skipped etc…it’s ok to not correct that!)
- Play without abrupt interruptions
Play dough and various accessories are one of my children’s favorite independent play activities. A recent invitation to play with playdough, scissors and pipe cleaners was a great success:
Some play invitations I often set up are:
- colorful stock paper, scissors and a glue stick
- a box of corks and bells
- pipe cleaners
- a bunch of empty egg cartons
- building blocks
- a bin of stuffed animals
- pompoms and cups
- feathers and foam shapes
- paper plates and cotton balls
- a cardboard box, crayons and a flashlight
Here is another example of an invitation to play: A plate with various items and an empty bottle. My daughter spent a long while pinching, sorting and dumping items from jar onto plate and back again, grouping items, comparing shapes and sizes and making up stories along the way.
One of the most special things about independent play is how much we can find out about our children by simply stepping back, observing and listening. When children play alone they often take it as an opportunity to exercise the skills they are working on. For example, you might hear a child counting out loud to make sense of her number ordering, or stacking things as they practice balancing, or singing and creating stories as they explore their imagination.
Independent play is also a fantastic tool for self regulation, working out frustrations and exercising patience. When children play independently, it also gives us parents a chance to work on something else, a window of time for self-care or time to connect with another child.
If you would like some inspiration for play invitations you can also check out these wonderful resources:
Peace & Be Well,