Thursday, February 13, 2014

Teaching Kids to Play: Solitary Play

Solitary play is when a child is engaged in an independent activity, showing no interest in joining or interacting with other children. For example, a child is in a room of children, sitting alone and stacking blocks.

"Babies usually like to spend much of their time playing on their own. They are exploring all aspects of their environment from the sound of their own voice and the feel of their own body parts to those of others. They want to gaze upon, grab, suck and rattle any object that comes their way.
Older children at times will also prefer to play on their own. They may spend hours making up stories with their GI Joes or Barbie Dolls. They like to build, draw, paint, invent and explore by themselves. They hopefully will also like to read and even write on their own."

We generally think of the solitary play stage as something infants/young children engage in, but there are important skills learned in this stage that older children and even adults need in order to function in a school, work, and social environment. As children get older they are expected to complete more activities independently or to play quietly by themselves while an adult is working on something or while waiting for an appointment. The older a child gets the longer the period of time they are expected to focus and work independently.  If your child missed this important stage of play or is struggling with some of the skills learned in this area, it will be extremely important to go back and teach them how to do solitary play.

Benefits of Solitary Play:
One of the benefits of solitary play is that it leads to more self-confidence for your child. The child is able to have control over something and be successful. Children will also learn to focus on an activity, occupy themselves and use their imagination to keep themselves interested.  Their ability to work independently will be increased as well as their skills in the area of thought process.

Evaluating Solitary Play Skills:
When evaluating whether your child has mastered solitary play you will want to look at how long will child play with a given toy independently before reverting to Unoccupied play or getting bored and moving on.  Does your child get easily frustrated wit cause and effect, problem solving, or decision making tasks/activities/toys and what is there response to frustration?  Do they move on, have increased anxiety, become aggressive, immediately request assistance or persevere till they are able to accomplish the goal?

Goals for Solitary Play:
Once you know where your child is at with Solitary Play you can determine appropriate goals for your child, such as:
Increase focus and attention to one toy/task
Increase Independence at play
Increase Exploration of environment
Increased skills in the thought process – problem-solving, remembering, focus, and decision-making.
Increased Imagination Skills-  if this is an area your child struggles with they will need direct instruction with an adult before able to successfully master this during Solitary Play (This will be addressed in Teaching Kids To Play: Pretend/Imaginative Play)

Toy Ideas:
Cause and Effect Toys
Montessori Toys
Stacking Toys
High Interest Toys for your child


In order to teach solitary play you will want to set up an area that your child is to stay in, pick a toy they may be interested in (Cause and Effect Toys, Montessori Toys work well).  I try and pick an area that is relatively free from other distractions.

To increase ability to focus on toy or independence while playing:  Once you have a baseline (average length of time child can concentrate on toy) you will want to try and increase it by increments that your child will be successful at, this could mean 10 seconds longer, it could mean 2 minutes longer.  You want your child to be successful at the increase a few times before pushing them to go longer.  For us, our goal is to engage in solitary play for 15 minutes, we currently are at about 10 minutes.  I set a timer for 12 minutes and explain that child can have a treat if they can play with this toy in this spot for 12 minutes alone.  We set some rules:  You have to stay on carpet, you can only play with this toy, you can talk to yourself or imaginary friends but no one else unless you have an emergency (review situations that constitute an emergency).  For some children you may need to provide a reinforcer (treat, song, etc.) every time they look at the toy and increase from there.  Wherever your child is at is fine, start there. 

To increase exploration of environment:  If your goal is to get your child to explore the environment around them, setting up an I Spy type game is a great way to do this.  Books such as Where's Waldo and I Spy encourage this during solitary play.  Another idea is to give your child a list of things to find on his own in the house, a scavenger hunt.  If they have trouble with this start small and help them at first trying to fade out for longer and longer periods till they are able to do it on their own.

To increase skills in thought-process, problem solving skills:  This is an area where some of the Montessori toys are really great for working with during solitary play.  Don't be afraid to start out with some basic toys designed for younger kids; things like stacking toys.  We have this Snowman Stacking Toy from Melissa and Doug, its great because it doesn't seem like a "baby" toy!  They have lots of other similar toys and puzzles that would be great.  Anything that will require your child to use some thinking to do can work in this area!


  1. I let the kids play alone sometime, but was not so much aware about the benefits of 'Solitary Play'. Good reading.

  2. It is really very helpful for us and I have gathered some important information from this blog.

    Kids Essentials

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    1. Vocabulary Development and Instruction: A Prerequisite for School Learning
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    Cunningham AE, Stanovich KE.

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    Donald J. Hernandez, Hunter College and the Graduate Center,


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