Independent Play Time by Age: A how-to guide for how long and what activities to do! 

Independent play time by age

If only independent play was so straightforward for every kid! Having three boys ourselves we know how with each age, each child demands such different independent play time and activities. 

In this guide, we will go over what you need to know for how long to provide independent play at each age.  We will also go over what activities to do at each age as the interests of your children change.

We will share some activities we have used at each age and others we have learned.

Before you know it, you will be a pro! 

Quick Guide for Independent Play Time by Age

Newborn-3 months

newborn on play mat

Time: 2-3 minutes 

The earlier you start independent play the better! It will get you and your little one used to the idea and create a routine for success! 

Even babies, who are pretty much 100% dependent on us, can have a minute or two at a time of independent play! This will allow them to start to get comfortable with being okay and not having you hold them 24/7. Trust us, that will pay dividends as your baby grows and starts to sleep independently! 

One simple independent play idea we have used for the 0-3 month stage is a play gym. These are great to use while initialing tummy time, and they often provide many different items that move and make sounds to capture the interest of your new little one. Mirrors and black, white, and red toys are a great start for newborns. Experts say infants are not able to see further than about 12 inches for the first few months of life, so being up close to these items will help. At this young age, newborns have not developed the ability to differentiate colors yet, therefore black and white toys are best because they show drastic contrast.

Make sure you place your baby in a safe and comfortable environment, like a playpen/play gym or on a soft blanket on the floor. Always keep a close eye on your baby during this time. Neck strength is still developing, so they should be closely monitored while on their stomachs. Especially if you have older kids because you don’t want your baby to be a part of your 3-year-old’s race track. We have been guilty of that! 

4-6 months

baby playing with toys

Time: 5-10 minutes 

At this stage, babies start to become more interested in their surroundings and can hold and manipulate toys. You can encourage independent play by providing soft toys, rattles, or toys with music and lights are great! Our little ones loved this baby Einstein light and music toy.

Start with just a few minutes at a time and gradually extend the duration as your baby becomes more accustomed to it.

This is also the stage in which babies typically learn to roll over. It is important to stay close to keep an eye on them while they play independently.

Babies typically still enjoy a play gym at this stage since they can reach for and interact with the toys attached.

7-12 months

baby crawling

Time: 10-15 minutes 

As your baby becomes more mobile and curious, independent play becomes more critical. Provide toys that encourage exploration, such as stacking blocks, soft books (we like the books called indestructibles), or sensory toys like toys with lights and music. Babies of this age may engage in independent play for 10-15 minutes at a time and then steadily increase in duration and frequency. 

By this age your child is very mobile so you have to keep a close eye on them! Choose an area of the house that is childproof and safe for your baby to explore!

1-2 years old

baby stacking blocks

Time: 10-20 minutes 

Toddlers are often eager to explore the world around them. You can encourage independent play with age-appropriate toys like building blocks, puzzles, and stuffed animals. This stage is also a big time for your toddler to develop fine motor skills. Our 18-month-old loves using his fingers to pinch and pick up toys. He has fun stacking blocks or buckets, or even crawling in and out of cardboard boxes.

Our boys have always liked music toys as well. It’s fun at this age because they start dancing! There are so many toys and even books that make sounds and music. These make for great solitary play activities!

You can even start introducing toys that teach letters and numbers!

 Independent play sessions can vary in length but typically last 10-20 minutes.

3-5 years old

boy building with blocks

Time: 20-30 minutes 

We have two boys in this age range and they are busy! As children hit ages 3-5, their imagination is in overdrive. Toys that allow a child to be the director of their own play are great. Think about LEGO sets, art supplies, and action figures. Children are like little artists, chefs, and superheroes all rolled into one. Pretend play is their jam.

We have a craft drawer that has paper, crayons, stickers, kids’ scissors, tape, and other random art supplies that our boys have free range with! This works wonders for independent play at this age!

Another family favorite is our Storypod! It allows our kids to independently interact with stories, music, and trivia! There are other great kids audio players that we recommend including Yoto and Toniebox. Check these all out on our other pages as they each have amazing features!

Additional independent play ideas for this age include so many simple things you can find around the house. Toddlers love being creative and it wouldn’t take much more than some pipe cleaners, paper towel tubes, a cardboard box, or other random items for their imagination to run free! We often joke that we shouldn’t buy our boys toys because some of the things that entertain them the most are random items that cost relatively nothing! Get creative with your child!

Another idea is Montessori method type play which is great at this age! Learn more from our Montessori method at-home guide.

6-8 years old

young girl reading

Time: 30-60 minutes 

By ages 6-8, children are becoming independent with most things. Arts, crafts, and Legos are still great choices for this age. They will probably also enjoy puzzles or games!

Reading is a huge part of our home! We have a vision of one day having this cool tree house style reading nook! We feel that reading helps kids learn and grow in so many ways. Once your kids are 6-8 years old they may be able to start reading on their own! Provide a variety of different books. One of our favorites is PaperPie (formerly known as Usborne) books. There are hundreds of books for all ages that are not only great stories for very interactive and engaging! Check it out!

Kids are also starting to become more athletic at this age and often enjoy sports. We have a Little Tikes basketball hoop, a small soccer net, baseball gear, and footballs! Our boys also love to jump on the tramp (which is a fabulous way for them to get some energy out!)

9-11 years old

boy playing soccer

Time: 1 Hour or more

From here on out your child should be able to do 1 hour or more of independent play! Although we don’t have any of our kids at this age yet we are both the oldest of large families (Jessica has 4 siblings and Alex has 6 siblings) so we have helped our parents with our younger siblings. Bigger project-type activities seem to work great for this age and older. One activity we want to try is subscription boxes like KiwiCo. These provide age-specific activities that often include projects where kids build a toy that they can then play with! This is a great way to learn science and entertain at the same time!

Other independent activities include sports, trampoline jumping, and of course our favorite…reading! Reading is such a crucial part of a child’s development and it is so important time for this is provided throughout your child’s life!

12 and up

boy playing trumpet

Time: Greater than an hour!

If you are at this stage, congrats! You have made it to the point where your child is independent! Although the hardships of parenthood are just beginning, or so we have heard! 

Often kids at this age have developed hobbies that you can help foster. Invest in things to help your kids develop their current hobbies and develop new ones! 

Technology is huge at this age! We would just caution you to set limits and guidelines on technology use in your home! Make sure to get your kid’s input when creating the family technology limits and guidelines! Kids at this age want to feel empowered to make their own decisions, so include them! 

Other activities could be playing an instrument (Jessica learned to play the piano as a child which we enjoy in our home now!), and can you guess…reading!!! 

Keys to success

kids playing play kitchen

1. Individualize!

Every child is different and will need all sorts of variations in time and activities! I know, nobody likes to hear that answer but it is true! This will be very clear to you if or when you have more than one child! All three of our boys are SO different! Make sure, especially as your kids get older, to provide activities focused on their interests! 

2. Consistency!

Our kids thrive on routines! Independent play will start to become a habit for you and your kids. When you are consistent your kids will start reminding you that it’s time for independent playtime! 

3. Open minded!

We are always on the lookout for new ideas, activities, kids’ toys, and ways we can be better parents! Try to keep an open mind and learn from multiple people! We love sharing our insights and opinions but know that we also are always learning ourselves! 

4. Toy rotation!

This idea is huge for success. Children tend to get bored with the same activities and toys. Try packing away some of your toys and then pull them out again in a few months. It’s like Christmas morning again! Our boys love seeing a toy they remember but forgot we had and then they become captivated for hours.

What are the benefits of independent play?

girl pretending to be a teacher

Independent play offers several benefits for children, including:

1. Creativity and imagination: It allows kids to use their creativity and imagination to come up with their own games and scenarios.

2. Problem-solving skills: Independent play encourages children to solve problems on their own, fostering critical thinking and decision-making.

3. Self-confidence: Successfully entertaining themselves can boost a child’s self-esteem and confidence.

4. Emotional regulation: It helps children learn to manage their emotions and cope with boredom or frustration.

5. Independence: Independent play promotes self-reliance and independence.

6. Concentration and focus: It can improve a child’s attention span and concentration.

7. Fine and gross motor skills: Activities like building with blocks or playing outside enhance motor skills.

8. Time management: It teaches kids to manage their time and activities.

9. Relaxation and stress relief: Independent play can be a calming and stress-relieving activity for children and is helpful for parents to have time to get things done.

Conclusion 

girl playing independently

Independent play is such a key role in your kid’s development! We are in the parenting trenches with you and know just how hard it is to try and figure out how to best teach and entertain your kids! 

Keep up the hard work and keep learning! You will have some amazing experiences as you watch your kids learn new things all on their own! It is some of the most proud parenting moments we have in our home! 

To learn more about how to encourage independent play with your kids read our how-to article!

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes! The earlier you start the better! However, babies should only do independent play for a couple of minutes. Babies need more cuddling, singing, and social interaction. The older they get the more they will develop motor skills and naturally want to play independently. 

We feel the answer is yes! Although independent play is important too much can lead kids to feel less concerned and will inhibit their social development. Try to balance daily independent play with quality time with others such as playing with friends, siblings, and parents!

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