The importance of solo play

Even the most involved and affectionate parents want a moment or two to themselves now and then. And it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that plenty of babies need a little privacy occasionally too. Tendencies towards solo play vary as widely between babies as personalities do, but when it’s offered for the right amount of time in a supportive environment, solo play can help babies develop a strong sense of self, foster independence, and give them the opportunity to explore the world and improve their physical skills in their own time.

How much solo play time should Baby get?

Accounts about how much solo play should be a part of a child’s life vary, and there is no widely agreed upon or scientifically proven amount or scale. Recommendations range from the possibility of 15 minutes maximum by a year old to a half an hour by 8 or 9 months. And some say that 4-month olds might possibly be old enough to try, while others support periods of solo play starting not long after birth, where ‘solo play’ mostly just means time lying on their backs in view of interesting things to look at, with limbs free so they can flail around. There are two reasons for this variability – first, an unclear definition of ‘play,’ but second and more importantly, the fact that the amount of solo play time that a baby wants or should have is defined much less by their age, and much more by their temperament.

Of course, most babies in their first few months are only just starting to develop the motor skills that make ‘playing’ as most people think of it possible. It is only around 4 months that many babies start working on passing objects from one hand to the other, and refining their grasps, both of which are pretty important skills for the type of play they’ll engage in when they’re a bit older. Less active exploration, though, like when Baby flails their limbs, explores their fingers and toes, or watches interesting objects around them is a kind of play too, and can happen without your direct participation starting at a fairly early age.

The other half of the variability between times and types of solo play, though, just comes down to Baby, and what they need and wants. This might mean your attention after 7 minutes of playing on their own, or might be the freedom to watch birds out the window, or knock two blocks against each other, without your participation, for an hour at a time. Baby’s capacity for solo play will change over time, too, and they will likely be able to entertain themself for longer periods of time as they grow.

How do I get started?

If Baby is already an experienced solo-play-adventurer, congratulations! Many babies, though, don’t spend many of their waking hours alone over their first few months, and so learning to amuse themselves for a while can be a little bit of an adjustment, and can take some practice. Learning to be happy in your own company is something many adults struggle with, so while it makes sense that Baby might go through a bit of a learning curve, it’s also proof of what a good skill solo learning and exploration can be.

Contrary to the name, solo play doesn’t mean you have to leave Baby alone. In fact, unless they are in a baby-proofed, safe area within hearing distance, they probably shouldn’t be left to play without supervision at this age. Instead of setting Baby down and walking away, which might make even children who thrive on alone time nervous, solo play can actually start with you playing with Baby. Then, when they seem absorbed and interested, try setting them down and withdrawing a little bit, but not really leaving. This isn’t always easy for new parents – sometimes the person standing in the way of Baby’s brand new world of solo play isn’t them, it’s you.

Sometimes Baby is the one who balks at their new-found independence, and that’s fine, too. If their first forays into solo play are short, that’s not a problem, and that doesn’t mean they won’t last longer in the future. When they are just starting out, it can be better to just accept the end of Baby’s solo playtime when they decide it’s over, even if they make that decision a minute and a half after it started. After all, that doesn’t mean you can’t both try again later.

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