What are 'unoccupied' play and 'solitary' play?

Very young children can be doing amazing things even when they appear to be doing not much at all! From as early as two to three months old, your baby's rapidly developing brain will be searching for stimulation and discovery - leading to the first types of play: unoccupied play and solitary play.

Have you ever watched your toddler move around from place to place, seemingly at random and without purpose?

This is called 'unoccupied play' and is something we get to observe almost every day in our Exploration Community. What a child engaged in unoccupied play is really doing is testing their body – what it can do and what its limits are, where it can take them and what they can make happen in their world through movement. They are refining their mobility skills and working on gross motor (large muscle) development by crawling, climbing, walking and running if they can, and moving objects around (often by throwing them!). For all these reasons, it is important for toddlers to have a safe space and ample time to practice moving around on their own.

Does your toddler choose to play alone even when there are other children around to play with?

Don’t worry, they are not being anti-social or shy, they are just pursuing ‘solitary play’ (also referred to as ‘independent play’) and it is a very good thing! Playing alone helps young children develop independence and self-sufficiency, builds their ability to remain focused for longer and longer periods of time, and stimulates a budding imagination. And if all that wasn’t enough, your child is exploring what they like and what makes them feel happy: they are starting to develop their own interests.

You can support solitary play by:

  • Creating a safe space where your child can play independently

  • Providing age-appropriate play materials that encourage manipulation and exploration (blocks, toy vehicles, little people, animals, loose parts)*

  • Providing time for unstructured and self-initiated play

  • Letting the child lead the play by supporting their idea

  • Turning off or removing potential distractions (television, tablets, cellphones, etc)

  • Supervising for safety

*loose parts are any materials that a child can move around, line up, stack, put together in multiple ways and take apart again – they can be almost anything like sticks, boxes, scarves, shells, egg cartons, cups or containers, pine cones, grass and leaves, even dirt!