17 Independent Play Ideas for Preschoolers
Independent play is a great way for your little ones to keep themselves occupied at any time of the day. Solitary play also allows them to build valuable skills surrounding independence and creativity.
These independent play ideas are great to have ready to go so you can pull one out when you need your preschooler (or older toddler….or kindergartener…) to be happily occupied for 10 minutes or so – maybe longer if you’re lucky! After we run through these ideas, we’ll cover all the ways that this type of play can be beneficial for your young child.
17 Independent Preschooler Activities:
1. Play dough filled balloons– I love the idea of the sensory experience of play dough without the accompanying crumbles of play dough all over. At The Chaos and the Clutter I found tips for filling balloons with play dough and recommendations for other sensory balloon fillings.
2. Forts and other Cozy Spots – suggest a new space to make a fort and grab a pile of blankets or pillows for construction. The other day we had a very snug house happening under the dining room table.
3. Write and wipe books– We have this Crayola Dry Erase ABC Activity Book (Amazon affiliate) which is nice because it contains enough pages with space for drawing as well as the letter pages.
4. New magnets for the Magnadoodle (Amazon affiliate) – If you save those thin flat magnets that come stuck on phone books and junk mail you can cut custom shapes from them for your board. My daughter also enjoys trying to trace items like an upside down cup on her Magnadoodle.
5. Rubberbands and a Geoboard(Amazon affiliate) – Preschoolers love the fine motor challenge of creating pictures with rubberbands on these boards and they continue to be entertaining for years.
6. Audio Books– The library is a great source for picture books along with a recording. Some kids find wearing headphones a novel and fun experience too.
7. Looking through toy catalogs– nope, you’re not saying you’ll buy anything, just giving them a happy time imagining playing with all of the different toys. I tell my kids, “Circle what you like to put it on your wishlist!”
8. Pipe cleaners and beads – sometimes we add a collander into the mix too. Adding different sized beads can add another level of
9. Rubber Stamps– I highly recommend Washable Ink (Amazon link)! Stamp ideas:
- Get out a large sheet of paper and a few stamps and have your preschooler go to town.
- Draw a shape, number or letter and ask them to fill it with stamps
- Give them stamps and markers to decorate a cardboard box.
10. Pattern Blocks– Pattern blocks are fun with or without a pattern card. If you have a light table you can get translucent blocks which look great lit up from underneath.
11. Sorting treasures – Gather a collection of small empty boxes and a handful of your unwanted jewelry, glass stones, old keys…you know treasures and let your child look through and sort as they like.
12. Poker Chips– the clay filled chips have a satisfying heft and kids enjoy fitting them into the slot of an empty wipes container or sorting them into piles – similarly, putting coins in a piggy bank can be very engrossing.
13. Matching Nuts and bolts – At the hardware store choose five or six different sized bolts with matching nuts. Let your child sort which goes with which.
14. Quiet reading- Or perhaps I should say “quiet picture book looking” This may take time to develop as a habit, but it’s one worth working on. Seek and find books, textured books, and books with lush detailed illustrations are a big hit.
15. File Folder Games– Many of these printables are free and can be done independently by a preschooler. Find a huge directory of all sorts of file filler games at Ideas for Preschoolers and find puzzles, matching and sorting games at Montessori Printshop.
16. Sensory Bin: We’ve talked about a bunch of sensory play ideas in this article. There are numerous toys to provide all types of sensory experiences. So why not give your kid the choice? Make a play bin and fill it with sensory experiences. Your child can have fun picking their favorite toys, and it can add some variety to your child’s play time as well!
17. Blocks: Why not go with the classics blocks? These are such simple toys for toddlers. They can have fun stacking, building, and playing. They’re big and easy to stack, and your toddler can exercise their imagination.
Want more preschool activity ideas?
- Here are our favorite preschool games.
- Our picks for preschool outdoor toys
- And a bunch of sensory activities that are simple to set up.
Advantages of Independent Play
Now that we’ve covered our favorite independent activities, let’s check out some reasons why independent play is so great for early childhood development. There are numerous reasons why solo play will benefit kids, and why they might enjoy it so much:
The first benefit to independent play is it encourages imagination! Your kids have the freedom to define play time exactly by their own rules! The only limit to what they can do is their imagination, and you’d be surprised what they come up with. Imaginative play is great for developing minds, and showing young kids that all they need to have a fun playtime is a little creativity. These independent play ideas help to spur this creativity.
Independent play is just plain fun! Sometimes, kids are perfectly content occupying themselves for a while. Just give them the tools to do it, like any of our ideas above. Kids love independent play because they make the rules, which allows them to have fun in exactly the way they want.
Independent play builds self-sufficiency as well. Whether they realize it or not, kids will begin to understand that they don’t have to rely on anyone to create their fun. They are capable of completing tasks all on their own, and they can do it all while having a great time! Play time is underlooked for all of the benefits it provides to a young child, and this extends to solitary play as well.
Independent play builds valuable physical skills for a child’s development. Playing with precise objects and building things will allow children to develop their fine motor skills and dexterity. They learn how to be precise, and how to build something in accordance with a plan. So while it may just seem like simple play-time, independent play can help significantly with a child’s development.
Remember: Mix It Up
Remember, independent play is great, but it’s just one part of a well-balanced routine for any toddler. Make sure that they engage in social play as well. Independent play is excellent for building independence, but your child needs to learn to play with others so that they can form friendships and learn about cooperation (amongst other skills). Incorporate independent play whenever you can, but be sure to mix it up, and be sure that your child engages in all kinds of play!
Thanks so much for reading our guide to independent play! We know that it’s not always easy to keep a toddler occupied and entertained. But we hope that, by using our list, you can find some go-to activities that your little one will love!
More ideas for Simple play for preschoolers can be found in my collaborative ebook: Three to Five: Playful Preschool
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Hi, My name is Jessica I read your article, This is awesome, I also write about the preschool learning activities. Please have a look at Art Activities for Preschoolers too.
I have to say I’m a bit confused. I saw at the start that this is for 4-6 yr old. My 5 yr old kiddo makes me tea and while I would prefer that she told me she is about to do it, she has done it twice while I had a migraine and brought me tea (which meant she even carried it up a flight of stairs.) She also makes them peanut butter sandwiches without supervision and has never managed to injure herself or her sister (she uses a normal table knife and she cleans up after herself.) She is impulsive and has more trouble at being responsible than her 2.5 yr old sister and yet I can’t even see the little one choking on what is written here. I am grateful for the ideas since my kids need something more developmental to do.
I love the nuts and bolts idea. As long as you’re sure that the kids aren’t going to eat them, that is! I feel like that sort of activity would really involve kinesthetic learners in a very intense way. Plus, it will help them practice fine motor skills that they will definitely use later in life! Most importantly, it keeps them engaged and learning.
Great ideas honey! You’re a mom that’s on it! 🙂
It’s just some ideas people! Settle down. She didn’t say you HAD to do them.
I am a parent of six kiddos and I think that only parents can be the judges of whether or not their kids are capable of independent play. It’s a child-by-child decision. I know one of my three year olds who never puts stuff in his mouth would be fine with small parts – he will sit with his brother and play with those tiny legos for hours… but his twin, no way! AND preschool also includes 4 year olds… and all of my four older kids by the time they were four would sit and thread bolts merrily and I wouldn’t need to worry about them.
I bet the readers of Creative with Kids are just as savvy about their kids and are able to judge their “independent play” abilities.
I totally agree Rachel. Parents know their own kids and are completely capable of judging whether or not their preschooler is ok being left alone with small objects. My daughter just turned 3 and I would have no qualms about setting her up with any of these activities for her regular quiet time. In fact – I think I’ll head to the hardware store this weekend to pick up some nuts and bolts.
Jamie @ hands on : as we grow
I think it depends on your child. For preschoolers (which is what this seems to be aimed at) its probably not an issue. However, if you have a mouther, then obviously, don’t be giving these to them and walking away for long periods of time. Then you’d be sitting next to them, like Alissa mentioned above, working side by side, but not WITH. But if you don’t have a mouther, I think these would be excellent for some ‘quiet time’ in short doses!
i agree with sara, these activities grant u as much five minutes for a toddler who has previously played them and as much if lucky ten minutes for the newbies, but these are o-dependant games, for most of them the kids need supervision, you are asking for an awful chocking hazard.
Are you kidding me???? Half of these are NOT independent play ideas— you just gave parents a list of very hazardous games and said *let your kids chock while you get 10 or more minutes of “quiet time”* Don’t get me wrong, but these are wonderful OT games to be doing with children. just not alone. I don’t understand how you could think it is safe to give a preschooler nuts and bolts, beads, balloons, or rubber bands.
I simply find these activities to be ones that my preschoolers have enjoyed on their own without a lot of parental input. It doesn’t mean I am leaving them alone, but I can sit nearby and do school work with one of my older children while the preschooler is doing their own work. But of course everyone needs to choose activities that fit within their own levels of comfort for supervision and that fit within the capabilities of their child.
Thank you for including a link to our sensory balls!
You’re welcome Sharla, I loved the idea!