Most parents dream of the time when they can start playing with their baby—building blocks, playing house, tossing around a ball. But while quality time with you is key, independent play is also important to help your baby learn essential developmental skills. “Solitary play helps with being comfortable being alone, with personal self-expression without an audience or partner,” says Jephtha Tausig, PhD, a New York City-based clinical psychologist. “It balances the experiences children have with others.”
What Is Solitary Play?
Solitary play means playing alone. And it can start earlier than you think. “Babies can begin to engage in solitary play as soon as they are able to focus their eyesight,” says Donna M. Volpitta, EdD, founder of The Center for Resilient Leadership. “When we give babies something to engage with, they often employ ‘solitary play’ by watching and wondering for several minutes.”
But other experts point toward the 6 to 8-month mark as a big leap toward independent play. “Solitary play is best described when a child can sit up unaided and hold things,” says Julia Simens, MA, clinical psychology, author of Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child. “If a parent doesn’t always interfere and push themselves into the child’s playing field, it is possible to have a child self-engage and be content for a long time. This is important for future play exploration.”
Solitary play is actually the beginning of an infant’s path toward social development. “This is the first step to connections and interactions,” Simens says. “Play is like most things—you don’t just learn to be a ‘great player’ without a lot of practice. Kids developmentally need solitary play. Then they move into parallel play where they play ‘in’ a group of kids but side-by-side instead of together. This is very common of children between…