10 Toddler Learning Activities For Independent Play

10 Toddler Learning Activities For Independent Play

Looking for some fun and easy learning activities a toddler can do alone?

Toddlers love to play. Play is a toddler’s way to learn and explore about everything and anything. Toddlers love to play with their caregivers but they also thrive playing on their own.  Independent play is a wonderful way for toddlers to start mastering the world around them. So go ahead,  step back and watch your child play and learn.

Even if/when a toddler gets frustrated and struggles for a bit, try not to rush in, sometimes, it is that very moment between struggle and accomplishment that magic happens. Toddlers find just how clever and capable they really are. Those moments of overcoming a challenge hold true learning!

Whatever activity you choose to set up, make it irrisistable, meaning fun and engaging and make it safe.  Try to follow your toddler’s lead, when they are bored or done with their task they are likely to start asking for attention or something new to do.toddler learning activities


Here are 10  activities that promote learning and independent play for toddlers:

1. Busy bins: Filling up a plastic bin with dry pasta and hiding some fun objects for a tot to discover and play with can keep her really busy. I love to prepare such a bin when I want some time on the computer to study or write. I pull up a table close by so I can still be close but my tot can walk around the bin, throw the pasta, scoop it up with cups and when she is done we can clean up together.

2. The magic drawer: One of our drawers in the kitchen wasn’t really being used so I transformed it into a magic drawer. The drawer has a few with play things, some are toys and others are repurposed items like empty yogurt cups, lids, fabric squares. From time to time I rotate the items in the drawer to keep it interesting, hence the idea of it being magic because sometimes the funniest things show up. Not too long ago I stuffed all of our mismatched socks from the laundry bin (clean of course!) in there with different objects stuffed inside them.

3. Bag of books: Most Toddlers enjoy looking at board book with captivating illustrations. I usually fill up a cloth bag with board books. Bella will spend time dumping, looking through, stacking and saying words of objects she recognizes.


4. Jobs: Toddlers usually enjoy imitation and having a chance to participate in the household tasks they observe. Giving a tot a job related to what you are doing can be a big success. For example, when I fold the laundry, I make a pile of wash cloths and Bella likes to deliver them, on her own to a designated basket in the bathroom. She also likes to dust with a damp cloth when I am cleaning, this is self directed and there is no right or wrong way to dust, wipe, mop etc..
5. Stickers: Bright colors and silly shapes, stickers seem to grab the attention of any toddler. Handing Bella a sheet of stickers, some paper and two or three crayons keeps Bella quite busy. She loves to do this activity at the table near me when I am writing, this way I can see that she is not tasting the stickers and sticking them (mostly) on paper. At the end of the day, these creations also serve as wonderful gifts for Papa.

6. Sand-box: Toddlers can learn and explore so much in the sandbox. Even a small plastic bin with clean play sand works well. Having some cups, shovels and other sand toys so a toddler can explore and play work well. For us, independent sandbox play comes in handy when it’s time to mow the lawn or rake leaves. I have even been spotted with the ironing board; iron and extension cord right outside so that a lovely day would not go to waste just because clothes needed tending to.

7. Blocks: Stacking, moving, sorting, toddlers when exploring blocks are learning about logic, physics, reasoning, balance and much more. Bella will spend a lot of time with Lego and wood blocks on her own. Usually I will start out playing with her and once she is immersed in her play I can let her know I am going to read or change bed sheets, make phone calls etc… for 20-30 minutes before she needs something else to do.

8. Magnetic Play: Using an old cookie sheet or a magnetic board and some soft magnets toddlers can stick and unstick the magnets, drive them around, and also look for other places around the room that will “stick” or “not stick”.

9. Bowls & Spoons: I really enjoy baking and cooking with Bella but sometimes I prefer to speed right through something like chopping onions or sometimes it’s not safe like handling boiling soup. Giving Bella a mixing bowl or three and some spoons entertains her while still feeling included in the kitchen. Throw a dry shower curtain or plastic table cloth on the floor and add some colorful water if you don’t mind a bit of a splash.


10. Play-dough: A batch of play-dough and some cutters can keep Bella busy for up to an hour. If I set her up to play near me at the dining table she becomes really self-absorbed pounding, shaping, poking, trying to cut and making me creations. This is a great activity for tuning fine motor skills and creativity.

I love playing with Bella but I know she enjoys her independent play time a whole lot. We try to do a good mix of both to keep our connection while respecting her desire to explore uninterrupted.

Does your child like to play on his own or are you struggling with a clingy tot? What kind of play or activities does your toddler like to do on his own?

Peace & Be Well,


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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

5 Responses to 10 Toddler Learning Activities For Independent Play

  1. I’m not so much struggling with a clingy tot as much as one that *won’t* play with me. He’s a PRO at independent play, but we are working with an occupational therapist and an SLP to cultivate some simple social play. These are great ideas though; I might incorporate some busybins into our play to see what we discover together and maybe encourage some more interesting interactions! 🙂

  2. Alexis,
    I hope working with OT and SLP will bring some changes you are hoping for in the coming months 🙂 Does your little one like snuggles and reading? that is a really gentle but connecting activity 🙂 The busybins really are fun – the possibilities are endless and it can really lead to some social interaction 🙂 Thank you for sharing your experience!

  3. How do I encourage my 20 month old, who can be very clingy, to play independently? He will play on his own when coaxed but it usually takes me telling him that I need to do something (cook, clean, etc) at which point he fusses or cries for 30 seconds and then moves on. Is there a more constructive way to get him to do this?

  4. Jennifer,

    sometimes toddlers just really cling! One thing that works well is to start an activity together, wait until your child is fully immersed in the play and then explain that you will be going somewhere and be right back. the more specific the better ” I will go to the kitchen now, wash the dishes and be back in just a little bit”. then keep your promise, come back and check in, I find the more i follow through the longer stretches of time I can create. if the crying is really just 30 seconds to a minute it’s just a way for your tot to express his feelings since he lacks the verbal command to say “but mom i wish you would play with me ALL the time” so it sounds like it’s really alright. hope that helps! I do have a post coming up next week on clingy toddlers and how to deal!!

  5. […] *Independent play is a really important self-care skills, like any other skill, children reach this at varied ages so the time one child may play alone is different from another.  Having nearby supervision but not interference is the goal here. Children make amazing discoveries when immersed in independent play. (More about that from Janet Lansbury here) […]

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