Toys That Inspire Kids to Play Independently


Toys for the Independent Child

mom working with kid playing next to her

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Getting kids to play independently can be tricky. Short attention spans and a desire for attention—perfectly normal behaviors—can keep kids looking to parents for entertainment.

Playing independently is something all kids must learn. For parents who work at home, teaching children independent play is essential.

Setting work-at-home ground rules and being consistent with them is, of course, important, but having something for children to do is equally so. Toys that foster independent play—and help kids build their attention spans—are key.

It's no surprise that the toys that encourage kids to use their imagination, let them develop both their fine and gross motor skills and make them think are the ones that will keep them busy while you work!


Must-Have Toy #1: Trains

girl with train

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Trains ignite both imagination and engineering talent. They engage kids for hours in intellectual, physical and imaginative play. Children manipulate the toy train while spinning a story to go with the motions and thinking out the construction of the layout.

Keep in mind that you're likely to keep adding to whichever train set you choose to start with.


Must-Have Toy #2: Building or Construction Sets

girl playing with block toys

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Lego sets and the like are a good investment. Lego​s are the kind of toy that keeps the synapses firing and the hands busy. There are endless types of Lego sets and with each brick endless possibilities for creativity.

There are plenty of other options for budding builders. Building toys inspire the down-on-the-floor, hands-on play. They ignite creativity because kids can take what's in their mind's eye and actually build it.


Must-Have Toy #3: Playsets, Dollhouses and Figurines

boy playing with dinosaurs

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Again, it's all about the imagination. Playsets (meaning miniature towns, castles, fire stations, etc., not the outdoor kind), dollhouses and other figurines (toy soldiers, plastic animals or superheroes, mini airplanes, Matchbox cars, etc.), allow kids to spin fantasies and then physically manipulate the objects to play them out.

These toys fit nicely into a kid-size hand, which makes them great for helping children develop fine motor skills.

These playthings can be merged with trains and blocks or just about anything kids find around the house to take them places that no one ever imagined.... except your child of course.


Must-Have Toy #4: Dress Up Clothes

Kids in costumes

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With small playsets and figurines, kids use their hands to manipulate a miniature imaginary world. However, with dress-up clothes and larger playsets (like kitchen sets and workbenches) kids can put their whole bodies into their fantasies. And they tune a different set of motor skills than the hand-held objects—plus they help little ones learn to dress.


Must-Have Toy #5: Puzzles, Brain Teasers and Games for One

Little girl working on a puzzle

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The great thing about these brain-building toys is that they help kids build their attention spans. Solving a problem—whether it's a toddler with a board puzzle or a teenager with Rubik's Cube—has a special reward in the end.  While computer games can do this as well, a real-world challenge adds a physical element to the fun.


Must-Have Toy #6: Art Sets

Child with kitty drawing at home

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Kids are naturally creative. Some express this by building stuff; some express it through fantasies, and some express it through art. However, art can be messy and kids can need help setting up and cleaning up. Work-at-home parents need to choose art projects carefully and make a space for it. Arts and crafts kits are handy in that they have all the things you need to be packaged together with directions.


Must-Have Toy #6: Kids Computer Tablet

kids with a tablet

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It’s no mistake that this one is the last must-have toy on the list, but we all live in the real world. As much as it's great to have kids immerse themselves in hands-on, real-world activities, technology will always be part of their world. There is so much they can do to keep busy on a tablet. There are apps that are educational, creative, intellectually stimulating. There are games, puzzles and art projects.

However, parents need to use a tablet as one of many ways to entertain their kids while they work. Parking them in front of a screen for hours at a time—no matter how many things there are to do with that screen—will erode their attention spans in other situations.

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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Where We Stand: Screen Time. Updated November 1, 2016.