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Why children need independent play

One of the common laments often heard in conversations with fellow parents is:

“My child can’t play independently on their own”.


Other related remarks include…

“She has a very short attention span.”

“He needs me to sit right next to him all the time.”

“She’s just not very imaginative”


I came across this quote in this article which said…

“Kids don’t need adult playmates, they need parents”.


Although it sounds rather extreme, I think there is an element of truth in it. Looking back on my own childhood, I certainly don’t recall my parents being at my beck and call to entertain me or constantly try to find things to amuse me. Sure there were many times when they did jump into our games and plays, but inside I always knew that they were my parents with their own things they needed to do. And I was perfectly content with that.

For the most part of my childhood, hours of play were spent outdoors, exploring the neighbourhood with my two brothers. We cycled to the playground and played with other children there, or we would wander through the bushes and trees in the open areas around our house.

Even indoors, I would be constructing whole towns and castles from Lego blocks, creating my own make-believe world with made-up characters using the various toys we had. Sometimes my arms would be sprawled across the table, doodling and drawing all sorts of stories and characters from my head. And for hours on end, I would be nestled happily among the pillows and cushions on the sofa with my nose tucked in a book, .

Yes, as parents, we do need to make an effort to spend as much time as we can with our children during these precious fleeting years. And yes, we should often get down to our child’s level, step into their world and just follow along with their play (though take note that the operative word here is “follow”).

However, I believe we also need to recognise that our children are growing into independent self-sufficient individuals. And as part of this development, children need to have plenty of uninterrupted time to explore their own inner world, make their own magic and discover themselves.

Allow me to borrow this excerpt from the article I mentioned (which is really worth reading)…

Children do NOT need a parent to play with them every minute of the day.  Children need to acquire the inner resources to entertain themselves.  Most kids own enough toys to stock a store; put the kid in there and tell him he's on his own because you've got grown-up things you simply must do.  Be sure you can keep a close eye on him, if he's tiny, but make him do some exploring on his own, for crying out loud.

A child who doesn't have the inner resources to entertain himself becomes an adult who requires outside stimulation at all times because they don't have what it takes to sit quietly and dream, or think, or draw, or read, or open the damn toy box and find something to play with.  Requiring your children to learn to entertain themselves encourages them to become imaginative and creative.

I don’t claim to be an expert in this area. But I personally do believe in the importance of independent play. I’ve made my own mistakes and also learnt from others in my own parenting journey and discoveries in my early childhood education studies.

So I thought I’d share five simple tips and keys I have learnt and tried to apply in our own family. I’ll be sharing on this topic in three parts every Tuesday for the next three weeks:

  • For Part 1: I’ll be sharing on the best toys and materials for open-ended play and how to use them
  • For Part 2: I’ll be talking about how to be your child’s story teller
  • For Part 3: I’ll cover off some tips on managing screen time
  • Bonus Post: Two tips on how to allow open ended play to happen

>> Click here for the full series on Independent Play


Linking up to Jess for IBOT


  1. I couldn't agree with you more! Children need to be encouraged to entertain themselves, to dream and to grow. One of my favourite parts of being a parent is standing back and watching this process happen. Nothing warms my heart more than seeing my boys lost in their own little world. (Née Say)

  2. I really needed to read this today because my boys are great at entertaining themselves but my first born isn't - maybe because she was here first and got all the attention and we probably gave it to her. Thanks for making me feel better about not always playing with my kids - GREAT post xx

  3. My daughter does a lot of independent play and I didn't even have to force her into it. I guess I kind of follow her lead as far as my parenting 'style' is concerned and sometimes she just crawls off on her own and goes and sits with her toys and talks to them herself (in baby babble). She also picks up books and things herself and pretends to read them. We're doing a course about their emotional and mental development and it says its very important to let them explore the world by themselves too.

  4. Oh I look forward to this series. It's very timely for me. I have a little boy who constantly whines all day long for me to come and look at what he's doing, for me to play with him, for me to set up an activity for him.... but mostly just wanting me to play with him full time. I'm continuously asking him to play independently and explaining I have jobs that I need to complete. I too agree that independent play is soooo important. It's something we need to work on so I will read your posts closely :)

  5. Thankfully Punky is very good at independent play. Sure there are some days when she just wants me to play with her all the time, but they are often the day after she has been at pre-school or after I've been out most of the day and I think she just wants to fill up her Mummy-time tank again. I try to make time in the morning to spend an hour or so dedicated to playing and hanging out with her and then the rest of the day encourage independent play and it seems to be working so far. I'm looking forward to reading your posts because I could definitely do with some new ideas for her and Zee as she gets older too. #teamIBOT

  6. Totally agree here Serene and so true I have no recollection of my Mum and Dad playing along with me as a young child. I get worried I am not doing enough with my boy. So it is good to read this as he is great at playing alone since he was very young I would just let him roam and pull the cupboards apart. I look forward to reading your series !

  7. Today I was feeling guilty that I don't play with my daughter enough! She is excellent at in dependent play and often when I do play I get frustrated because she has a whole world happening, and I can't get in on it properly.
    This was a great encouragement to me; but I know that I do need to try harder too.


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