Yesterday we discussed some simple tips to help your child play independently.
Today I am sharing some of my favorite simple independent activities that my kids have enjoyed as toddlers.
For me to be able to use them with my kids, independent activities need to be easy to set up, low on the messy scale, and adaptable. When I’m working on making dinner I don’t want to have to keep leaving the stove either, so I typically don’t use independent activity ideas that end with me scrubbing walls with a magic eraser or cleaning glue off the kitchen table.
Here are nine of my favorite independent play ideas.
I’d love for you to share your child’s favorite independent activities in the comments as well. We can never have too many!
1. Looking at books
I call this independent reading time. It may sound overly simple, but it is actually amazing how many kids don’t know how to look at books independently by the time they come to kindergarten. Being able to sit and look at the pictures in a book is an important skill!! We have a simple little reading nook set up with a basket of books next to it and we go and look through them. When we are practicing, we both choose our own book to look at and sit nearby one another looking at the pictures. Sometimes I have my son model for my daughter how to look at books quietly. We rotate the books so that there are new and interesting ones to look at.
Stickers are my favorite independent activity. I can sit next to my daughter and answer emails while she does them, work on the dishes, or prep materials for my son’s school teacher. Since she is still working on learning how to pull stickers all the way off by herself, I lift each sticker up a little bit to help her out and then she can do the rest. Sometimes I just stick a bunch of stickers on the edge of the kitchen table so she can easily grab them and stick them herself… or her big brother helps her. I give her scraps of paper, boxes, homemade books, easel paper, etc. and she just adds stickers and creates. The reusable stickers are great because they can be moved around a lot!
Just open your spice drawer or put a few spice jars out in an accessible spot. This works the best if I just leave the drawer slightly ajar… so my toddler thinks she is being sneaky. Kids at my house are always really creative when they are playing with objects they don’t think they are supposed to play with 🙂 Before you put these out make sure the lids are tightly screwed on! Spice jars are fun to stack, roll, shake, etc.
4. Toy Puzzles
Trace a few toys onto cardstock and then have your child match the toys to the outline. I like to use this activity when I am putting laundry away in the kid’s rooms because I can join in occasionally and mention what different objects are called. I always love finding simple ways to teach new vocabulary words (or reinforce old ones).
5. Laundry hamper play
If I leave a hamper filled with clothes anywhere in the house it is guaranteed that all the clothes will be dumped out and the hamper will be used as a tunnel or basketball hoop. If you can’t beat them… join them, right? I love to fill up a hamper when I need to get something done and it doesn’t take long before the kiddos are tossing clothes and peeking out of the hamper and I have a free twenty minutes. I have several of these collapsible hampers and they provide loads of fun.
6. Sticky Walls
Contact paper with the sticky side facing out is such a great versatile way to let your kids create. I tape the contact paper to walls, doors, windows, or tables and then vary the materials that we stick to the sticky wall (pom poms, pipe cleaners, ribbon, tissue paper, etc.). You can find some sticky wall activity ideas here.
7. Sticky Sorting
Sticky sorting combines stickers and sorting. I just grab a roll of art paper, some markers, and foam stickers and can quickly set up a sticky sorting station. The one pictured above was a shape sorting activity, but I also do color, number, alphabet, animal, and flower sticky sorts. For shape sorting my daughter found a shape on the floor and then stuck the foam sticker to the corresponding bigger shape on the wall.
8. File Folder Activities
I like to use file folder activities to work on visual perception skills, though you can use them for much more than that. These take some prep-time to create, but then can be used again and again and again! Someday when I have more free time I will make more. They are great for airplanes, church, etc. I love using velcro to help materials stay stuck… which leads to less frustration for the little ones.
9. Sensory bin scavenger hunts
I like to hide things inside sensory bins and then have the kids find them! Sometimes we use cool tools for digging in the sensory bins and sometimes we just use our fingers. We also vary the size of the sensory bin and the materials we use. Having a task to do is a great way to get kids started playing with sensory bins… and then usually you can’t get them to stop playing. Sensory activities are my one exception to the mess-free independent activity line up. I like to put a plastic tablecloth on the floor (which I remember), play on top of it, and then shake it out in the garbage or recycling when we are done exploring.
Now that I’ve shared our favorite independent activities with you, do you have any favorite independent activities? Please come share some in the comments!