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Promoting Independent Play at Home

Sometimes, parenting can feel overwhelming. We want to give our child our attention, but we need to tend to dinner, vacuum, call our friend, pay the bills, complete the work we took home, relax…the list never ends.

Happily, there are many ways to promote independence so your child can safely engage in enriching activities without your undivided attention.

Below, find the elements of an environment in the home that will promote independent engagement.

Safety Features and Location

Safety is paramount. While we hope to foster independence, young children still require that we remove all hazards and continually supervise them. If possible, locate your child’s space in the locus of the household so you can see them (and they can see you) as you cook, clean, and work. Avoid sequestering your child in a corner with visual barriers. We need to keep them in our view, and they will feel left out and bereft of connection if they cannot see the hustle and bustle of the household.

Ensure that they remain safely in their space by surrounding it with barriers such as gates. Affix furniture to the walls to prevent it from falling on your child, and cover all wall outlets. Remove from their reach anything that is potentially harmful, including strings from window blinds or poisonous houseplants. Truly, the child’s space should appear almost sparse, but this minimalism will help prevent overstimulation and help us spot potential dangers with ease.

Low, Open Shelving

Choose shelves that are low to the ground and therefore accessible to your child. Avoid designs with doors, as this leads to pinched fingers. Furthermore, we want children to see the activities available to them, as this entices them into engagement. While vendors sell wonderful options, you need not spend the big bucks. Talented volunteers constructed the shelves in our Model Home Environment. Finally, limit the number of shelves. You do not need enough shelving in your child’s space for all of their toys. Instead, select a limited number of activities to offer at a time and rotate them regularly. This way, children have an always exciting but never over-stimulating array of choices.

Low, opening shelving of the Family Resource Center.

Work Space

The idea (in theory) is that your child will select an activity from the shelves and bring it to a suitable work space. Provide a child-sized table and chair and/or a comfy/padded mat on the floor. The contained work space will prevent monstrous messes from engulfing your living room, and child-sized furniture and cozy padding will give comfort as they play for hours.

Gross Motor Opportunities

Gross motor skills involve movement of the whole body and large muscles. We employ our gross motor skills for walking, running, jumping, and sitting up. Often, spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination work in tandem with gross motor skills. We know that children have abundant energy, and they need opportunities for movement and exercise. By incorporating opportunities for gross motor movement, we can help cultivate important skills while helping them expend their energy in productive and helpful ways.

Some of our favorite gross motor activities for young children include a wobble board, Pikler triangle, trampoline, balance beam, the Nugget couch and similar products, and play silks. Many of these options require additional safety measures, such as a padded mat underneath in case children tumble off.

Bins, Baskets, and Trays

“A place for everything and everything in its place” does not describe my domestic life at all. However, in the small, contained play space, strive to have a place for everything. When putting out activities, put them in a container such as a bin, basket, or tray that has plenty of room. Children will likely not take the time to strategically place blocks in a box so they fit snugly. When the time to clean up arrives, children will know where everything belongs.

A bin at the Family Resource Center that holds materials for children to use. Children can easily put away items in baskets when they are done using them.


Parents hear the ubiquitous message: read to your children! In this case, believe the hype. Having books available and making time to read together helps children blossom into confident, capable readers. Children also love to pour through books on their own, even before they can decode the words. Provide access to books in a low bookcase or basket in your child’s play space. Board and cloth books work really well for young children who still need practice delicately turning pages. As with the activities, we want to whittle down the number presented in the play space so that the child has a not-overwhelming number of options.

Want to Learn More?

At the Family Resource Center, we have both a model home environment and regular Symposiums about how to promote engagement and independence at home. If you are interested in visiting or registering for a class, contact us today at

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