Independent Playtime: A Simple How To

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There are many amazing, awesome parenting tools to take away from Babywise. Obviously, my personal favorite is the sleep scheduling. But I also am SO thankful for the concept of independent playtime. Allowing your children to learn to play on their own and entertain themselves has endless benefits. Not only are you able to get things DONE during that time period but long term it helps the child to have a longer attention span, be less likely to struggle with separation anxiety, and have the gift of enjoying time alone. 

I’ve utilized independent playtime with all of my children and start at a very early age. Here are my personal “How To” tips for successfully implementing independent playtime. 

Start Early

Even in early infancy, I will set up a play mat in my baby’s nursery. I will lay them on the mat (mine has overhanging toys) and sit a little distance away from them. I will be perfectly quiet and will be out of their line of sight, but still able to fully see them. I do this just for 5-10 minutes a day and slowly add in more times each day. This gets them used to the concept of playing on their own and makes the transition to the pack and play for that time easier. 

Usually at around three months old I move to the pack and play for independent playtime. At that age they are better able to handle longer awake times and have a more set schedule throughout the day. 

You Decide When

I’ve heard many parents confuse independent playtime with playing independently. They are not one in the same. It’s wonderful if your child will play on their own at any time of the day. But if they choose when those times are, then it’s just playing independently. When the parent chooses the time (and place!) for this to take place, that’s when it’s independent playtime. 

When mine are little I like to have independent playtime right after eating. This helps ensure they don’t fall asleep during that time and keeps with the eat-wake-sleep schedule. Fully bellies = happy babies!

Choose a Location

I keep a pack and play set up in our dining room. It’s in a corner of the room where there is a wall on two sides and a buffet table on another. It’s a room that is far enough from our kitchen where the child can’t see me but close enough where I can hear them and easily sneak around to peak at them without being noticed. The less distractions the better to allow your child to focus on their time and not spend it all crying for you to come get them. 

Keep Siblings Away

Siblings can be the biggest distraction during independent playtime. I try to make sure my older children are well occupied too during this time. Since my oldest has his independent time during naps, I encourage my older two to play outside together or to have some room time in their rooms while the youngest has her independent time. This is also a great time to get some quality one on one time with your older child! 

Have a Timer

Once I transition to the pack and play for independent playtime I use a timer. I like to have a cute one and have that timer only be used specifically for independent playtime. Setting a timer that they can hear is a good reminder to them that they are not in charge. You decide when the playtime is over, not them. 

You Decide the Length of Time

As I mentioned, it’s not up to the child when independent playtime ends. When I’m just starting with my children I set the timer for 5 minutes. Then, once they do well with that, I go for 10. Then 15. Usually I like to stick with 2-3 independent playtimes a day with shorter increments each until they are older. My current 2 year old now does 40-45 minutes of solid independent playtime once a day. 

Praise Like Crazy

Making a BIG deal over anything makes it exciting for kids. When that timer goes off, I come right away with a big smile on my face and a loud cheer on my lips. I do this so much that as my kids get older when they hear the timer go off, THEY start cheering right away too 😉 We clean up the toys and then they are done! 

I find that having something fun planned for after independent playtime makes it a smoother transition as well. As with my current 2 year old we do independent playtime then we have movie time. She loves getting to watch her movie time so it’s almost a reward for playing well in the pack and play and she will be excited for that playtime knowing she’ll be getting to see Mickey Mouse after it’s over!

Choose Toys Wisely

Obviously it’s crucial to have age appropriate toys for your child. When they are infants and cannot sit yet, I put the whole play gym in the pack and play with my baby. As they get older, I start incorporating more toys to keep them occupied and entertained. Personally I like to use sound toys in the pack and play. This way I can hear them playing and know they are ok (silence makes me nervous!). Board books are also great. I like to have things that challenge them as this allows them to build concentration and focusing skills. I don’t rotate my toys very often as I like for them to be set toys that they only get to play with during independent playtime. This gives them something to look forward to! 

Be Consistent

Just as being consistent with naps is important, it’s also important to have independent playtime on a regular basis. When mine are little, and most of our days are spent at home, it’s easy to fit it in 1-3 times per day. As they get older, and we’re on the go more (especially as they begin dropping naps) I aim for at least 3 times a week.

Wanting to read more about independent playtime? 

Today is our Babywise Friendly Blog Network Day! We’re all sharing on the topic of Independent Playtime:


Hey Guys, I’m Emily! I’m a stay at home mom and consider parenting to be my passion. Disney is my happy place and I love making memories as a family together. I’m a big believer in transparency and share all of my real-life moments as a mother of four.

My work has been featured on Today Parenting and Chronicles of a Babywise Mom. I’m also honored to be a member of the Babywise Friendly Blog Network.

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