Yes, it's important your kids play without you. Here's how to start.

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I’m exactly 21 months into being a parent, and I’m coming to realise that it’s a pretty tough gig. (Yeah, I’m probably a bit late to the party on this one). 

I expected it in the first six months – not even I could avoid the warnings from other parents about the newborn stage – but I’ve somehow been surprised to learn that raising a toddler comes with just as many pressures, expectations and pitfalls as keeping a tiny baby alive, if not more. 

For me, the biggest shock has been just how much entertainment a toddler needs. I never expected I’d be looking back on the sleep-deprived days before my son could roll with a sense of longing, but there are moments I’d give my left arm to be supervising a child who thought watching the fan go around was the very pinnacle of excitement. 

Now, my exuberant toddler seems to want to be entertained all the time. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking I need to be a one-woman-singing-and-dancing-extravaganza who is also, simultaneously, an art teacher, an engineer, a baker and a soccer coach, especially when my generation of parents knows the value of “soft skills” like problem-solving and imagination.

But the pressure to constantly entertain is built on a (mistaken) assumption that the ideal amount of a parent’s attention for a child to receive is, well, all of it. The best data on parenting tells us this actually isn’t the case: independent play is a skill that kids need to develop, and the earlier you start, the better. Those soft skills we’re all so desperate to nurture? They thrive when kids are left to their own devices. 

Which is great news, because I need a little lie-down. 

Of course, it’s one thing to say that independent play is important, and an entirely other thing to actually get your toddler to play alone. So having just gone down the rabbit hole of promoting independent play with my own son, I’m sharing the most useful tips to get you started.


1. The right “tools” make independent play so much easier. 

The most important ingredient in fostering independent play is giving your toddler the tools to succeed. By which I mean: open-ended toys they actually want to play with, and which don’t lose their shine after a single play session. 

LEGO® DUPLO® is a fantastic example of an open-ended toy because kids can, quite literally, build their own worlds. When I decided to commit to building up my son’s independent play, I chose the LEGO DUPLO 3in1 Family House, LEGO DUPLO The Bus Ride and LEGO DUPLO Life at the Day Nursery sets, because I loved the concept of toys that reflected his everyday life as a jumping-off point for imaginative play. 

For a transport-obsessed 21-month-old (other boy parents will feel me), LEGO DUPLO The Bus Ride set was an expected hit, and it didn’t surprise me how quickly he started chatting to himself about concepts like “bus stop” and “bus driver”. 

Image: Supplied.


But his play took unexpected directions too – he was enthralled with the bricks in the shape of a flower, which led to a conversation about the importance of planting trees and looking after our garden. Most importantly, the sets have so much diversity in terms of characters, vehicles and concepts that I feel like I can set up something “new” for my son every time he sits down to play.

Image: Supplied.


2. Create a safe and semi-private play space.

One of the keys to fostering independent play is to create an environment where adults don’t need to intervene. 

A good, deep play session isn’t quite a magic spell, but it’s close, so the more immersed you can allow your child to be, the better. That means creating a space where your toddler can move around freely without safety concerns, so your presence doesn’t create a natural end to their game. 

In our tiny apartment, I had a few false starts with this one, but after a bit of trial and error, I now know the best place to set up a “safe zone” where my son is in my line of sight, but I’m not always in his. 

3. Make your expectations clear. 

Like any new skill, learning how to play independently takes time. 

Expecting your toddler to jump straight in to hours of solo play is setting you both up to fail. With my son, I decided to start with solo play in 10 minute increments, and was very clear to him about what was going to happen and for how long: “Mummy is going to clean in the kitchen while you play, and I’ll come back and play with you in 10 minutes”. 

It took a couple of tries to sink in, but once it did, I was honestly surprised at how seriously he took his “play time”. 

It certainly helped that he could see me being otherwise occupied (the “lying down” part of the proceedings is still a work in process), so that we were both busy at the same time – and when given a choice between his toys and scrubbing the sink, he obviously didn’t feel like he was missing out.

Shop LEGO DUPLO sets online or in-store to help teach kids about the world around them.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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