Starting Independent Playtime Late

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I have a couple of posts that give information on what to do when starting late, but no one post that lays it out in a nice step-by-step process. I get enough questions on how to start late that I know my information is lacking, so here it is, a black and white “how-to” on starting Independent Playtime late. From here on out, let’s refer to Independent Playtime as IP. Ahh. Much faster to type.

Pick Your Time
The first step is to choose your time of day. I like mornings. Choose a time of day you know you can be consistent. I find that I am home in the morning hours most days. Consistency is such an integral part of success with IP, so choose a time you know you can stick with it.

You also want your child to be well-rested and not hungry.

If you have more than one child and will be doing sibling play, I find IP to work best if done before sibling play. Then they go from playing alone to playing with siblings rather than the other way around.

Choose The Location
Exactly where IP will happen will depend on your child’s age and maturity level. Any child under 12 months old who can move on their own at all (even by rolling) should be in a playpen. Most children stay in the playpen until at least 18 months old, though some (like two of mine) move to room time earlier. Most children two and older can handle being in a room instead of a playpen; however, if you are just starting IP, you might need to start with the playpen first until the child can do that happily, then move on to the room. Here are some location ideas based on age:

0-3 Months
I do IP at the floor gym or on a blanket. I stay in the room with the child, but don’t interact at all. Since they can’t really see far and don’t look around the room, they don’t really realize you are there.

3-6 Months
During this time period, you will want to transition to the playpen at some point. Feel it out with your child. I would say by 4 or 5 months, you want to be in the playpen at least some days. If your child doesn’t roll or move at all, you can still do days on a blanket so long as you are in the room supervising.

6-12 Months
Stay in the playpen.

12-15 Months
I think it is best for most to stay in the playpen. Kaitlyn moved out at 12 months, but not only is she incredibly mature for her age (was and is), her room was really not much larger than a playpen, anyway. Brayden started roomtime at 14 months. McKnena is 18 months old and still in a playpen.

15-18 Months
This age range probably has a lot of variability. The -wise books suggest the child is still in the playpen at this age. But if you feel your child is able to handle roomtime, go for it. If your child is content in the playpen, stick with it.

18 Months-2 Years
Most will transition to roomtime sometime during this 6 month period

2 Years or Older
Room time for most. Some younger two year olds might still need the playpen.

Now, if your child is in a playpen, move the playpen into a room where he/she cannot see you. Kaitlyn did it in my room. McKenna’s playpen is in her room. Like one of the -wise books says (I think it is Babywise II), it is not fair to expect a child to play on her own in the playpen if she can see you.

If your child is ready for roomtime, it can be in any room so long as the room is safe. It can be a bedroom, den, family room, toy room…

Set The Stage
If your child is in a playpen:

  1. Add toys and books to the playpen. Not too many and not too little.
  2. I like to leave the child with a sippy cup of water if they are old enough to hold it and drink from it alone. 
  3. I like to play children’s hymns. This isn’t necessary.

If your child is in a room:

  1. Make sure it is safe. I think the best way to do this is to sit in the room with your child while she plays. Observe what she does. Remove dangers. 
  2. Again, I leave a sippy of water. 
  3. I play children’s hymns or toddler tunes. 
  4. Make sure there are age apporporiate toys available.

Get Started

So you have your time of day chosen. You have your space prepared and ready. Now it is time to get started. 

If your child is easy going and will play some on her own, start with 5-10, maybe even 15, minutes of you saying good bye and leaving her to play alone. As she gets used to it, move the time longer by 5 minutes every few days. See Independent Playtime Lengths to know how long to strive for, based on your child’s age and ability. 

Starting Roomtime

If your child is resistant to IP, you are going to have to take things more slowly. The history is outlined in more detail in the posts Independent Playtime and Resistance to Independent Playtime, but basically with Brayden, we did IP, then stopped. Then started up again at 14 months. 

I started by playing with Brayden in his toy room at the designated time each day for 1-2 weeks. Over time, I started removing myself more. I played less with him, but stayed on the floor. I eventually moved up onto the twin bed. Then I would lay on the bed (I was in my first trimester with Kaitlyn, so this was great šŸ™‚ ). 

After a month or two, I started to leave him in there alone. We started with 10 minutes. Then went up to 15. Then 20, etc. 

A great thing about me being in there with him was that I was able to observe him and make the room safe and also instruct him on what was and wasn’t okay. 

Starting Playpen Time

You might be able to do something similar to what I did with Brayden. However, since the child is safe in a playpen, since a child in a playpen will be younger, and since leaning over a playpen playing for two weeks doesn’t sound that comfortable, you might also just want to go cold turkey.

In this instance, you would put he child in the playpen, set an egg timer for 5 minutes, cheerfully say good-bye, leave, then come back after the timer goes off. Return cheerfully. As your child gets used to this amount of time, gradually increase it. You might want to start IP off with showing her all of the fun toys to play with.


When you put your child in the playpen or in the room, say something like “okay, have a fun independent playtime! I love you!” Then when you get your child out, no matter if he is happy or sad, say something like, “Hi honey! Did you have fun? Let’s clean up!” and be cheerful about it all. Don’t rush to console. Act like he has nothing to be upset over.

For more with a child resistant to IP, see Resistance to Independent Playtime.

Good Tips to Keep Things Smooth

  1. Stay Consistent!
  2. Rotate Toys
  3. Keep toys age appropriate.
  4. At the end of IP, have your child help clean up as best she can. At the very least, clean up in front of her so she sees how it is done.
  5. See more tips on Independent Playtime

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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book,Ā The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on theĀ AboutĀ page. Follow her onĀ Facebook,Ā Pinterest, andĀ InstagramĀ for more tips and helps.

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  1. Kristen
    October 8, 2010 / 6:43 PM

    It is so funny you just did this post because I searched your blog all last week looking for instructions on how to implement IP. I just started it with my 13mo old a week ago. Luckily, I found your other posts and put a few things together and followed all the guidelines you suggested. Thank you! My LO can play 15 mins just fine.Quick question, I think has difficulty staying focused and happy though when she can hear me doing the dishes during her IP. We live in a small apartment so I need to be able to do things while she is awake because I am limited during her naps. Any suggestions on if I should let her hear me and she can learn to deal with it or if I should try to be quiet?Thanks!

  2. The Normans
    October 8, 2010 / 6:49 PM

    I found that putting our play pen right next to the window, thus allowing DS to look outside, REALLY helped with his general happiness about IP. I play the radio, which helps drown the noise of doing dishes, etc. I don't try to be quiet – I vacuum, etc. I DO have to be careful about going outside where DS can see me out the window – he loses his mind then…

  3. Eric and Darcy
    October 8, 2010 / 7:31 PM

    Hi Val! Thank you so much for this post! I have 16 month old twin boys and I'd like to implement independent roomtime. I just don't know how with two. Do you have any advice? I've searched the blog and can't find anything specific to twins. Thank you so much!!

  4. Megan
    October 9, 2010 / 12:22 PM

    My 22 month old son has been doing IP in his room since he was about 16 months old. It's been a struggle, but we slowly worked up to about 30 minutes at a time. h was doing great for a while, but the past month he has only wanted to nap during IP. I've always done IP between 8:00 and 9:00 in the morning so he wouldn't be sleepy, but he still wants to nap, which then disrupts his afternoon nap. Any suggestions on how to encourge him to play instead of sleep. I thought he might be bored, but even when I switched his toys around he wanted to sleep instead of play. And he sleeps great at night and nap time, so I don't think he really needs the sleep. Any suggestions?? Thanks!

  5. Plowmanators
    October 20, 2010 / 6:16 PM

    Kristen, I would play some music in there with her (like toddler tunes) OR put some white noise OUTSIDE her door to help muffle your sounds (like a box fan or a humidifier). Some research suggests white noise can cause speech delays, so I turn off white noise for playtime, but I think if it was outside the door, it would be okay.

  6. Plowmanators
    October 20, 2010 / 6:19 PM

    Eric and Darcy,I obviously don't have twins…As I imagine myself with twins, I would do one of two things1) this would be my first choice. Have two different rooms if there are two rooms available. This way you can get things done during IPT. 2)If there aren't two available, alternate the times. Have one do IPT while you do things with the other, then switch. I could see this being my first priority if I had twins just in order to get some one-on-one time with each child each day. I can do that with my kids now since they are different ages and nap at different times, but if they were all up and down at the same time, I think I would sacrifice some "me" time to get some "we" time in there.

  7. Plowmanators
    October 20, 2010 / 6:21 PM

    Megan, that is odd. My kids do that sometimes, but when they do it is because they need the extra sleep. Have you tried letting him sleep later in the morning? I don't have any ideas on that. Maybe music would help keep him awake?

  8. krock
    September 20, 2011 / 4:14 PM

    Thank you for all your info! Everything has been so helpful. Right now, we are struggling to do IP with my 10.5 month old in the pack n play. I know it's so important, but she is so resistant that she screams the entire time and is so worked up by the time I get back. We've started with 5 minutes in the morning (well rested and fed). I've followed all of your other tips but it seems she is still so resistant. Is there anything else I can do? Should I just keep trying even through the screaming?

  9. Plowmanators
    October 4, 2011 / 5:15 AM

    krock,Have you tried different toys that only come out at that time? Or music? Books on tape? Some moms have said they had to start with more like ten minutes. Five minutes didn't make any progress but ten minutes did.

  10. Ariana
    January 17, 2012 / 2:54 PM

    First, let me say what a wonderful and comprehensive site you have, with so much information! My questions is this. I'd like to start IP with my 10-month-old daughter, but her pack'n'play seems so small. I know that you recommend using a playpen well into the first year. How much space should the baby have? Our daughter doesn't have enough to really crawl/roll in there, and it seems that she won't like it for how small and constricting it is. We're considering setting up a "corralled" area in her room with plastic fences instead. What are your thoughts on this? Thanks!

  11. Plowmanators
    February 2, 2012 / 11:29 PM

    Ariana, I think that sounds just as great. I don't see a problem with it so long as it works (like, she doesn't knock the gate over).

  12. Baby Darren
    April 14, 2012 / 4:53 PM

    Hi, i am trying to implement IP with my 2 yr old daughter but she just couldnt focus in her play. What toys do you suggest suitable for IP for a 2 yr old girl? She seems to lose focus very fast and started to look for me. She also keep asking for my participation and respond when she plays.

  13. Plowmanators
    April 28, 2012 / 7:42 PM

    Let's see…the Busy Ball Popper might be fun. A stack of books. Dolls and/or stuffed animals. A baby piano (like Little Tykes makes). Blocks. Little People toys.See the "best toys" posts for toys that are great for that age. Good luck!

  14. yelizabeta
    December 3, 2014 / 5:21 PM

    Hi! first i wanted to let you know what an amazing resource your blog is. thank you a million times. i am struggling with IP to such an end. i started implementing it around 8 or 9 months in the playpen and after doing it for i think three days in a row for 7 minutes at a time…non stop screaming…i decided to try at a later time. she couldn't stand the playpen, would be standing the whole time and shaking the edge of the playpen. over the next several months my daughter has grown increasingly clingy when i'm at home with her (of course i regretted not sticking it out as i would have some progress by now). she is now 13 months and i decided we will do "room time" but because we don't have a gate i basically just set the timer for 10 minutes, try to release her death grip and go do my own thing around the house. the entire 10 minutes she is crawl/walking trying to follow me around…screaming the whole time with me telling her i know she doesn't like this and it makes her sad and mommy loves her…i've done this maybe four times and it's terrible. i feel like every time we're done shes' even more clingy and won't leave my side. when we're done i give her lots of love and affection and commend her for giving mommy some space. anyway sorry this is so lengthy…maybe i'm partly just not as committed to this process as i want to be. i read and completely understand the benefits, but do you think there are some personalities that need a different approach? do you think i should get a gate and try roometime that way? thanks in advance for taking the time to read this. i know i shouldn't be but i am a bit distressed over this as i want her to learn to play independently but i don't want to damage her fragile little self.

    • Valerie Plowman
      December 9, 2014 / 12:50 AM

      Would you be okay with just closing her door? If not, I would definitely get a gate and go that route. But have you done the approach of playing in her room with her at that time? Like I did with Brayden?

  15. yelizabeta
    December 12, 2014 / 6:31 PM

    Thanks for your response! the update is we do the timer…there is no more crying thank God! we still don't have a gate…i think i would prefer the gate over closing the door although maybe it wouldn't hurt to try. i leave and kind of hide. she looks for me for a minute and then goes into her room and plays….the caveat, we're good until she hears me at which point she comes out and hangs out generally in the same area as me. i still get my time to do what i need to do but she's not really learning boundaries. next step is the gate for sure (or maybe tomorrow i will try the door)…thanks for your input!

    • Valerie Plowman
      December 16, 2014 / 12:47 AM

      With the hearing issue, try playing some music. Some toddler tunes or hymns. That would help block you out and give her music time.

  16. Mary Beth
    July 28, 2015 / 1:42 PM

    After struggling with my 12 month old's behavior and reading Pretoddlerwise, I decided to try IPT, but I'm really struggling. My 12-month-old is VERY mobile – walking circles around the house is basically her favorite thing – so I decided to try "room time" in her nursery with the door gated off. Today is only day 2, but it's been a disaster :(. I tried ten minutes; yesterday she screamed at the door for the first five and then sat in the corner and sucked her thumb. Today I tried a playpen in her room; she did the same thing – screamed on and off and then sat down and sucked her thumb. Do I keep doing what I'm doing? Is there something else I should try?

  17. A. Drzayich
    March 30, 2016 / 2:32 AM

    I love this idea of independent room time. My 16 month-old daughter is pretty good at entertaining herself, however not in a contained space like her room. I would really like to start doing this. The time I most need her to be independent in her room is 5:30-6 when I'm usually trying to get dinner ready. This can sometimes be a difficult time for her because she's getting hungry but we can't eat any earlier than that because that's when my husband gets home from school. So my quandary is this: do I "begin as I mean to go on" and aim for room time at 5:30 even though it is bound to be a struggle for a while or do I begin room time at another easier time and then change times once I know she has it down? Another thing to consider: we tend to do a lot of venturing out and play dates throughout the week and that 5:30 time is the only time that we are consistently home for with rare exceptions. Any suggestions on working towards this goal?

  18. Candice
    January 9, 2017 / 10:28 PM

    Mine cries the second I put her down until the five minutes is over. 12 months šŸ™ what am I doing wrong??

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