Independent Playtime

Independent playtime is when your baby or child plays alone for a predetermined amount of time. Read about the benefits and how to implement it in this post.

Child playing independently

First off, I call independent playtime “solo playtime” at my house, so if I call it “solo playtime,” you know what I am talking about.

Solo playtime is something with so many, many benefits to your child (read all about the benefits of Independent Play here). For many of you, especially those doing Babywise for the first time, the idea of adding this to everything you are already dealing with may seem overwhelming. If that is you, that is okay. You can add it later when you feel more up to it (you can read up on how to start independent playtime late here).

That said, I would encourage you to add it as soon as possible. The sooner, the better. The sooner, the easier time your baby will have with it.

My history of solo playtime starts like this. First, I started it with Brayden in the playpen around 6 months. He was not an easy playpen time person (i call it solo playtime). He hated to be alone for more than a few seconds. He was one who cried at first. I worked him up to 20-30 minutes once a day. He did really well with it until he started to pull to a stand by himself. This happened around 9 months. For some reason, it really angered him to be in there once he could stand. He wouldn’t last 2 minutes. I decided to hold off on the solo playtime.

We moved when he was one year old, and by 13-14 months I decided to give it a go again. This time, I decided to go for roomtime instead of playpen time. We slowly worked up to it (described below) and before long he was playing in his room alone. These days he asks for solo playtime, he tells me to leave his room if I linger too long (though he is nice about it), he tells me to have fun for my solo playtime, and he would likely stay in there all day happily if I left him.

With Kaitlyn, I started independent playtime from birth really. I was wiser this time and never let myself become her sole source of entertainment. She has always done well so far and we have had no issues with solo playtime. With Brayden, I worked up to the desired time. With Kaitlyn, she just does it.

With that history lesson behind us, lets start with the motivating factors behind solo playtime in case you aren’t sold. I will include benefits for baby, mom, and family. We all reap the rewards.

Benefits of Independent Play

  • Baby will learn to solve problems alone–I tend to jump in and interfere before the baby really has a chance to try. Also, with mom or dad there, baby is less likely to try to figure it out alone. And why would he? That seems to me to be human nature. I know, for example, I don’t try nearly as hard to open a jar if my husband is home. He will do it for me! If he isn’t home, I keep working on it until I get it or the jar doesn’t open.
  • Baby will learn that his own company can be fun and is good enough.
  • Brayden is honestly much happier and obedient with solo playtime than he is when he misses it. In talking with people, I have found this to be true of all children who have independent playtime.
  • Mom gets some time to get things done around the house without regard to how noisy she is.
  • Once your toddler drops the morning nap, you still have two chunks of time a day where baby is occupied.
  • Siblings have time to spend with mom or dad one on one.
  • When you have a second child, you have an older child who knows how to problem solve, knows how to entertain themselves, and has an extra period of time a day that they are occupied to give you more time with the new baby.
  • Once your child drops the morning nap, he may lay down and sleep when he is tired (if you do solo playtime in the morning). That has happened with Brayden a few times. Just yesterday I walked in and he was laying on his bed. He sat up and said, “I’m just laying down and resting.” He would never do that if he was playing elsewhere, but left to himself, it does happen.
  • Children who can work independently are at a great advantage in school. It is completely logical. It is a skill your child needs to learn.

Acceptable Mediums for Independent Playtime

Of course I need to take the opportunity to point out the obvious. These are my ideas of acceptable mediums. I am no expert, just experienced. Here are things I have done:

  • When the baby is really young, I do independent play in the form of a bouncer or gym. You could even do a swing. I put the baby somewhere with things to look at and bat at. I stay right there, but try to be out of direct sight (which is quite easy with a young baby). It is independent in that I don’t sit and talk to the baby and play with the baby. I just let the baby do her thing. I do this for about 10 minutes a couple of times a day. Waketimes aren’t really long enough to allow for longer periods.
  • As baby gets older, I continue to leave the gym and bouncer as options and add the jumperoo.
  • Once baby can start to hold toys, I add the playpen to the mix. I lay the baby down and give a toy. You could always to the playpen if you have a mobile or something to look at. I will also put a stuffed animal or something fun to look at. Use safe ones, of course. I still stay in the same room and just out of site.
  • A blanket with toys in reach is acceptable–keeping safety in mind.
  • Once baby can sit up supported, you could use a bumbo and put baby in it with a basket of toys to grab at.

My point here is that anything can work. You want your baby to be content playing without your interference for 10-20 minutes a couple of times a day. Safety is the key issue. Put baby somewhere safe and in earshot. You do need to move out of line of site once baby can look for you and realize you aren’t playing along. I would encourage you to start as early as you can and be creative and adapt solo playtime to you and your baby.

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Methods of Implementation for Independent Playtime

  • Many methods are listed above in Acceptable Mediums.
  • Pick a consistent time of day. There is no right time. Do it when it works for you. Be wise in your choice. Pick a time of day baby is happy. You will have more success that way. I do mine in the morning.
  • Once the child can sit up well enough, I move her to the playpen. I have decided the best way to describe sitting up well enough for me is that when she falls over, it is controlled and slow. They don’t land with a thud.
  • Give some toys and keep them rotated and fresh. Also, keep them safe for playing with alone. Another thing to consider is age-appropriate toys. Not only for safety, but your child’s frustration. You child will be frustrated if playing with a toy that is too old for her.
  • Figure out the correct number of toys for your baby. A friend of mine, Raegan, shared this about her baby, “[I do] not put too many toys in the pack-n-play, play yard, whatever. I thought “I’ll put lots of toys in there so if she gets bored with one she’ll have more options”. Every time I do that it backfires. She seems to do so much better with one basket of a few toys and seems to be over stimulated with too many toys to choose from.” I have heard from other moms, though, that the more toys, the better. So find out what is best for your child.
  • Leave the room but keep her in earshot so you know what is going on. You could put her so she isn’t facing the doorway so you can peek in. It is really fun to watch. The good thing about the playpen is you know they are safe in it.
  • If your child is happy with the whole situation, start with 10 or 15 minutes a day. Then move it up slowly.
  • At some point, you move to roomtime. You will have to decide the age for your child.
  • When I started roomtime, I first started by playing with Brayden in his room at the same time every day. We would play with his toys together.
  • Over time, I started playing less. Eventually I just sat on the bed in the room and did not interfere. I just watched him play and move about the room. This way, I was sure the room was Brayden proofed and safe.
  • After a month or two, I started leaving him in there alone. We started with 10 minutes a day. Then 15. Then 20, etc. Work it up to desired time.
  • When playtime is over, have your child help clean up. Even if your baby is too small and young to physically help, clean up in front of her. Tell her it is clean up time. I like to sing a clean up song. Brayden started helping at a young age, and these days it is not uncommon for me to go get him from solo playtime and find his toys are all put away. On days he doesn’t want to help, I tell him if he doesn’t help that I have to put the toys up where he can’t play with them for a while. He has always helped and has never had to have toys put up.

When Brayden was a baby, I felt guilty if he was alone at all. You don’t need to feel guilty; it is perfectly natural to spend some time by yourself each day. It is healthy. It benefits both mom and baby. You can start independent play no matter the age of your child. 4 month old or 4 year old, you can achieve success. Yes, it is easier to start them young, but it is always worth it to start, no matter what the age. Treat it as a CIO–be consistent, be diligent, be firm. Good luck!

Independent playtime is when your baby or child plays alone for a predetermined amount of time. Read about the benefits and how to implement it in this post.

More Posts on Independent Playtime

Reader Advice for Independent Playtime:

  • kristin said…
    Hi Im new to this blog. My son Caden is 1.5 yrs old and I am a dedicated Babywise/Toddlerwise mom who goes to a great mom’s group in SE Michigan to share tips with and learn from other BW mom’s. I just want to add that it helps me a lot (since Caden is at a very active age) to alternate independent playtime with focused time with him. So each day I have a consistent routine of 30 min with him, then 30 min of solo playtime in one of several “stations” like:1) High chair time with playdough or other activity2) Playpen time with cars/trucks or puzzles3) Crib time with books (use music and lights on to delineate from sleep time)4) Play yard time with larger toys like blocks, etc.I also try to get him out once a day to a place where he can run and get physical for about 30 min to work out some energy that may otherwise manifest into some inappropriate behaviors at home (like climbing on furniture, throwing things, banging on stuff, running where its not safe). I use an egg timer so Caden knows that I decide when activity starts and ends (not his whining, which he rarely does now that we are well into this routine). I give him big praise when the timer goes off for playing solo and/or being patient. And he gets very excited because he knows “now I get to play with ___,” or “now mommy is going to play with me.” There’s something new coming his way when the timer goes off.Thanks for this great blog!
    January 25, 2008 9:35 AM

Reader Comments on Independent Playtime:

  • Salina said…
    Thanks for detailing this out. I’ve been working on this. Some days my son (8.5 months) is fine playing in his playpen alone for 20 minutes. Other days, at the same time, he cries. I need to be more consistent with this to make it a DAILY thing, but I seem to not want to work on this, especially if I’ve had to hear him cry at naptime. I appreciate your blog! I don’t know how blogs work, but I hope this is around when it’s time for my second child!
    January 8, 2008 1:20 PM
    Plowmanators said…
    You are welcome! I do plan to leave this up–part of my reason for making it was to help myself with #3! Doing it daily will help the resistant come to accept it and the non-resistant continue to enjoy it!
    January 8, 2008 1:42 PM

Reader Questions about Independent Playtime:

  • Kate said…
    Hello again.I was curious… Currently my 4 month old boy spends his solo playtime in his happy hippo gym or on a blanket with some toys. I put him in an infant seat when he watches me cook or clean. He has loved his infant seat since he was born, but now seems to be frustrated with being “reclined” in it. I often see him trying to lean forward in it attempting to sit up more. Because we have such a small apartment, I’d only want to invest in one type of seat that he could also use for his solo playtime. Would you suggest an exersaucer, bumbo, jumperoo, or something else? Thanks!
    January 9, 2008 9:36 AM
    Plowmanators said…
    From my experience, here are my thoughts on the items:1-Jumperoo–my first LOVED this item. He was such a jumper. If your LO is a mover and a jumper, he will love it. The Fisher Price Jumperoo has toys with it and you can use links to attach other toys also. My second has enjoyed the jumperoo, but it wasn’t her favorite. If it were for her, it wouldn’t be the ONE item I would get. For my first, it might be.2-Exersaucer–my second enjoyed this–they have lots of stuff. But it wasn’t her favorite and it would have severely annoyed my first to be so stationary. I think new jumperoos are more like exersaucers but jump, and maybe some exersaucers jump now.3-A bumbo is nice and small, but it is of little value to a baby if you are going for something to entertain. I really like the bumbo once they can sit and play with toys but you don’t trust them to sit alone without crashing to the floor, but for both of mine that happened around 5 months and by a little over 6 months they could sit quite well. 4-Highchair–you could use the highchair in the place of a bumbo. Some even have toy bars. You could put toys on the tray (some have toys attached). If he loves to watch you in the kitchen, this might be a good thing. Plus you will get one anyway. My second spends a lot of time in the highchair watching me in the kitchen. She is an observer.5-Walker–Both of mine have really enjoyed the walker. There is controversy over walkers (makes them walk later), but the same controversy and reasoning behind it applies to the exersaucer and jumpers. The walker can be really cheap. I got our at Babies R Us for about $30. It has a toy bar that can be removed, but you can also link things to it so toys don’t go flying. My first LOVED the walker. The walker is also smaller than an exersaucer and a jumperoo, and can be easily folded up and made smaller.You will have to decide what your son’s personality is and what would make him happy.
    January 9, 2008 10:03 AM
    Kate said…
    Thanks for your thoughtful and detailed response!
    January 9, 2008 12:00 PM
  • susie said…
    I computer is not letting me go to the blog page today for whatever reason! I read your blog page daily. It is sooo helpul. I love all the topics. I have left several comments before, so I am not new to this, just my PC ascting crazy today. ANYWAYS, my daughter is 7 1/2 months and we have been doing playpen time for a few weeks and has done fine with it. Before playpen, we used a floor gym for her alone time and she did fine. Well for 2 weeks now she HATES it. She gets hysterical when you even put her in the floor to play! I know she is teething but I make sure I give her teething tablets before playpen time to see if that helps. But it doesn’t. Her naps are going well. What do you think is going on? Do you think it may be just getting used to mom/dad around and doesn’t want to be alone? What do you do?Thanks, SusieMarch 21, 2008 10:58 AM
    Plowmanators said…
    Susie, She might be experiencing separation anxiety. If this is the case, she should grow out of it at some point. My son did this once he could stand up in the playpen. Before that, he would play for 30 minutes happily. After he could stand, he hated it.I would continue it. Start with only 5 minutes a day and work up from there as you can. If you stick with it, she will do it, but be aware that it might take months before things are at a good point. It will come!
    March 22, 2008 10:30 PM
  • susie said…
    Ok, now my computer is working. I left a similar comment under “waking early from naps” due to computer issues. My question is what/how to handle my 7 1/2 month daughter hating to be left alone and therefore HATES playpen time???HELP! I love this blog site. I feel like everytime time I am having issues with training, I can look here and find answers!!!Susie
    March 21, 2008 11:19 AM
    Plowmanators said…
    Susie, I responded to the other one, but here it is again in case you don’t see it: Susie, She might be experiencing separation anxiety. If this is the case, she should grow out of it at some point. My son did this once he could stand up in the playpen. Before that, he would play for 30 minutes happily. After he could stand, he hated it.I would continue it. Start with only 5 minutes a day and work up from there as you can. If you stick with it, she will do it, but be aware that it might take months before things are at a good point. It will come!
    March 22, 2008 10:31 PM
  • Angela said…
    I’m a little confused between the difference of roomtime vs. blanket time vs. freetime. What is the difference? They all sound the same to me. My 15 month old son has learned solo time. At this point he can do 30 min. in his playpen with 4-5 toys. He does whine once or twice at the 15-20 min. mark, but I find that if I ignore it then he just gets on playing. I do want to move him out of the play pen as he is getting too big for it, but not sure if I move on to blanket time or room time, or are they the same?
    March 26, 2008 12:26 PM
    Plowmanators said…
    Roomtime (independent playtime) is when the child plays on his own in his room. Blanket time is on a blanket. You give the child some toys and instruct to stay on the blanket– has a post on that. Freetime is similar to independent play except the child chooses what to play with. They are all similar.If you want to move from playpen to something, you would replace that with roomtime. Good luck!
    March 27, 2008 1:59 PM
  • Jennifer said…
    I LOVE your blog. I just wish I would have found it sooner. My LO is 9 months. I had soooo many questions (and still do)…so I know this blog will be such a great help. About Independent Playtime…she is now experencing separation anxiety. I just simply walk out of the room and she breaks out in tears. I really want her to have some independent time. Should I just start out slowly? How long does the separation anxiety last? Right now we are giving her a lot of supervised Tummy Time because she has not started to crawl yet. She likes to be on her tummy, but LOVES the fun of rolling over. She seems to have no desire to crawl! Thanks again for this wonderful resource.
    April 7, 2008 6:47 AM
    Plowmanators said…
    Hi Jennifer, I am glad you found us. I would work on independent play with your daughter, but do it slowly. I would start with 5 minutes and do that until she can do it happily. Once she gets that down, move on to 10 minutes, etc. Don’t stress out if she takes a long time to get there–she will do it. Just start with small goals so you can have less stress and more success. Separation anxiety can last anywhere from a minute of the life (or less) to months. Just hang in there and keep working on it. As she understands object permanence more, she should be better about it. But I have a friend who has done BW since birth. Around 19ish months her son suddenly had SA and that lasted for about a month or two. He still did independent playtime well, but wouldn’t stay in nursery by himself anymore. It passed and he is back to normal.
    April 7, 2008 10:36 AM
    Jennifer said…
    Thanks! We are working on it right now! I appreciate your time and help.
    April 7, 2008 2:58 PM
  • lsmith said…
    I enjoy reading your blog for the helpful information! My question is whether time in the car would count as independent play for my 6-month old daughter. We frequently take trips of 20-40 minutes which she spends alone in the backseat in her rear-facing carseat. I hand her back toys occasionally, if I’ve got them in the car. What do you think?thanks!
    May 20, 2008 5:07 PM
    Plowmanators said…
    Thanks! If you need to have that as your solo playtime, then that is good, except you wouldn’t want to interfere. You want to have independent playtime for your daughter to learn focusing and to solve problems on her own. Having it in the carseat might not teach her that. So, if that needs to be it on ocassion, that is fine, but I would also try to have it at home.
    May 21, 2008 11:18 PM