First-time parents often ask when their toddlers will start playing independently. The answer varies from child to child, but once your baby is crawling, standing, and starting to walk, he or she will be more interested in exploring and trying things on his or her own.

And that’s a good thing. Independent play is critical for a baby’s developing brain. It teaches babies to entertain themselves, strengthens reasoning and motor skills, and helps them figure out how to solve problems and understand cause and effect. Independent play also gives parents a well-deserved break. With maturity, a toddler will play alone for longer stretches of time; however, even short periods of independent play are important for development.

By the time your baby starts crawling, you should have your living space baby-proofed — a smart strategy, since your little one will soon be walking and learning more about the world. Once you’ve ensured that your home is safe, allow your baby to play independently while you keep a watchful eye.

So what can your baby do? Starting at around 12 months, a baby can play with blocks, toy cars and trucks, dolls, beginner puzzles, board books, push or pull toys, and music makers. You may also see your baby begin mimicking you, making this the perfect time to introduce toys like play phones, toy vacuums, kitchen cups and spoons, and other “grown-up” tools.

By the time your child is 2 years old, interests may shift to shape sorting, more complicated puzzles, pretend play, coloring, and crafts.

While there are many educational television programs, computer games, telephone applications, and movies geared toward children under the age of 2, the American Academy of Pediatrics maintains that unstructured playtime with toys and people is more beneficial to a child’s development than screen time. In fact, avoidance of media is recommended for all children younger than 18 months old.


  • Independent play is critical for a toddler’s development.
  • Self-directed play helps a child develop reasoning and motor skills and teaches problem-solving and cause and effect, among other things.
  • Experts agree that children under the age of 2 gain more from unstructured playtime than from watching TV or videos or using other electronic gadgets.
  • Toddlers can play with puzzles, blocks, large balls, dolls, cars, and board books for short stretches of time.

Last reviewed by Kristie Rivers, MD, FAAP. Review Date: September 2020


  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Developmental Milestones.
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Babies and Toddlers Should Learn from Play not Screens.
  3. The Nemours Foundation. Learning, Play, and Your 1- and 2-Year-Old.


  1. I love to watch my son play independently when he doesn’t know I am watching. It is crazy how imaginative he is! My favorite is to watch him cook in his play kitchen. He always makes soup and smoothies:)


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