10 ways to inspire independent play

Getting children to play on their own is essential for their deeper cognitive development and the sanity of their adults. Here are ten ways in which we inspire play through ‘Invitations To Play’. Most of these can be set up with resources you already have at home (or sourced second hand). This may give you those few minutes ( or hopefully an hour!) to send that email, phone that friend or get supper on the go. Enjoy !

  1. Add Water

Water is a wonderful toy- it can be manipulated and has a beauty all of its own in the reflections it creates- fill a large container with water, bubbles, food colouring or a few drops of an essential oil. Containers, sieves and sponges make great toys or make some puddles and put on some wellies for a lovely splash. Use the kitchen or bathroom sink and a chair for an instant water play area- provide ladles, colanders, small planks for floating and a myriad of other objects to explore. Safety here is paramount though and children need to be supervised whilst enjoying water play.

2. Go Vintage

Unlike modern appliances which often contain microchips, vintage objects are exciting playthings and often have mechanisms which can be studied and enjoyed. An old rotary phone is great for little fingers and will encourage children to talk, perhaps with a little notepad and pencil alongside for messages. Hand whisks and hand-drills give children the feel of using a real object and can be used by little hands. Old clocks and clockwork mechanisms that no longer work can be inspiring to a child who likes to see how things work.

3. Get Out The Real Stuff

Raid the kitchen cupboards, the linen closet, the junk drawer and your garden shed and you will often find objects which inspire play. Packets and tins can be used for a pop-up shop and enhance a kitchen corner, saucepans, mixing bowls, weighing scales and kitchen utensils can keep children occupied and learning. A collection of old electrical items can be used for a child to explore and tools of all kinds are much better to use than the plastic imitations that we often give children. For smaller children give spanners, wrenches, set squares and large bolts. Older children can use hammers, hand drills and screwdrivers. A set of old keys can be far more satisfying to a toddler than their toy counterparts. Children love real objects!

4. Re-imagine your space

Try moving play areas to different location in your home- our play kitchen is moved about regularly to refresh and inspire ideas. Look at your whole home as a play resource – we recently got rid of our formal dinning room and created a playspace there, making a neat and compact table placed next to the kitchen. This gives the boys far more space for movement and has inspired and made room for more active play.

5. Raid the store cupboard

Rice, beans, pasta, oats and flour all make fantastic sensory play toys. Fill large containers for digging into or small for adding to a kitchen corner. Use flour to make salt dough or mix 4 cups of flour to 1/2 cup of oil ( I use light olive oil) to make moon sand – a soft moldable sand which can be made into shapes. Older children can use these materials to explore properties of volume and the platonic solids.

6. Contrast two or more play items

Set up little scenes using blocks and farm animals, a piece of blue cloth and the fishing game. Lego with small soft toys- the possibilities are endless and a different arrangement of old favourites can often help children to use familiar toys for different types of play.

7. Raid the shed or garage for DIY materials

Lengths of wood can have endless possibilities- making dens, using real tools or building paths, railway lines and roads. PVC pipe and plumbing materials can make super water play or sand toys and bolts and large screws can be threaded, sorted or used to fix materials together.

8. Bring nature in

Branches, flowers, shells, leaves and pebbles all make great playthings- just please only take a small quantity and leave protected species well alone. Make fairy gardens in a tray or box, use leaves and flowers for collage or wind materials or wool around sticks. Use the sticks and flowers to make wind mobiles.

9. Raid the wardrobe

Provide a dressing up box and mirror and fill with with hats, coats, scarves, dresses, waistcoats, jewellery or lengths of cloth. Children of all ages love to play dress up ( and many adults too).

10. Check out the contents of your recycling bin

Arrange a selection of empty containers, foil, bottle tops ( for older children) and cardboard. Give children paper tape, masking tape or sticky tape, scissors, colouring pencils ( I personally HATE felt tips) and other craft supplies which may inspire. Let your children surprise you with what they can create.

Son number 1’s ‘smoke alarm’

Lastly…if all else fails and you absolutely have to send that work email or get on a load of laundry…get out a selection of cardboard boxes….never fails to provide hours of amusement at the terraced house!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Cláudia says:

    Beautiful 🙂


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