That high priority changes, however, when the child enters school daily.
When we are in half-day school (Kindergarten for us), we often still have independent playtime. It does decrease from a definite daily thing and becomes more sporadic. We will miss it if we have a friend over to play. We might miss if rest time is needed instead. We might even miss just because we are spending time together. What we used to do in a full day is now in a half of a day, so there are days when we just need to cut something. We still do it most days, but it isn't absolutely every day. I am very flexible in missing it. It is still our norm, but we are fine missing it.
Once we enter full day school, however, independent play becomes the exception rather than the norm. We do not do it on school days. My kids are in school all day long. They are also getting older and more involved in things, so they have things like lessons or practice or games in those evenings they are home each day. We also have homework, dinner, and family time to work in, so independent play takes a backseat--like, third row backseat. We do still do it every Sunday consistently. This is very handy for my husband and I in getting ready for church. We will do it on Saturdays if they ask (but Saturday is an optional day for pretty much all ages over 2 so this isn't different). It is just no longer a part of our every day routine.
If you homeschool, I imagine independent play would be invaluable to you. It could be used as a time for one child to be away and occupied while you work with another or as a time for the older child to be away and occupied while a younger child naps so you can think a coherent sentence without being interrupted. If I homeschooled, independent play would be a part of our norm each day.
Independent play is a great tool in the summer months and long school breaks. Just because you don't do it regularly through the school year doesn't mean you can't reinstate it when you need ti. Having independent play each day during summer and long breaks helps separate children and cuts down on the chances of them bickering and complaining of being bored.
Despite the fact that we don't do independent play daily with our older children, I am so glad we put the effort into it with our younger children. It is still a tool we can call on when we need to. Since it was a part of their daily life for so many years, it is no big deal now. It also was a great avenue for them learning so much. The benefits of independent play are real and I have seen them come to fruition. Beyond benefits I have talked about, I have seen that it really helps my children be comfortable in their own skin. They are content being in the company of themselves. They take with them to school that confidence, along with their focusing skills, sustained attention spans, creativity, and more. So it was absolutely worth all of the effort we put in with them as babies and young toddlers.
As life changes, your daily schedule changes. Continue to use tools as necessary, but don't be afraid to change those tools or shelf tools as needed, either.
For more on independent play, see these posts:
Independent Playtime Overview
Benefits of Independent Play
Benefits of Independent Play
It is Babywise Friendly Blog Network week! You will be hearing from these lovely ladies this week, all on the topic of play: