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Playing Alone Can Promote Creativity, Initiative, and Esteem

By Nancy Olsen-Harbich, MA


In the fast-paced world of organized activities and play dates, what many 3 to 5 year olds need is not more entertainment or social interaction, but more time for solitary play. Playing alone offers young children opportunities to explore new ideas, discover more wonders, solve their own problems, and work through their own feelings.

Children need more quiet time or down time than they are currently getting. Be aware, the benefits of solitary play described here also refer to activities beyond “screen time,” meaning time not spent in front of a computer, video game, or television.

Chance To Be in Charge

Play is the work of childhood and playing alone offers children the chance to be their own boss in a stress free environment. Children also develop qualities and skills they will need in real-life social encounters.

  •  Solitary play promotes a sense of initiative. You can offer children blocks, clay, dolls, animal figures, or other toys, but it is up to the children to decide what to do.
  • Playing alone helps develop creativity and imagination. In the monarchy of solitary play, children set the scene, people it with characters, and direct the action as it springs to mind.
  • Children build self-esteem knowing they can entertain themselves.
  • Through their characters and the unfolding action, children can get to know themselves better.
  • As children express their ideas and work through problems in their play scenarios, they also work towards solutions in their own lives.
  • Play develops the powers of concentration, persistence, and completion. Being in charge of the action means thinking it through and following through.

What Parents Can Do to Encourage Solitary Play

Even after you’ve recognized the benefits of backing off and not constantly entertaining or supervising your child’s play, you still have some role in helping your child get the most out of playing alone.

  •  Let children know that is good to play alone sometimes. It doesn’t mean that you are too busy or no one else wants to play with them. Learning to enjoy your own company is positive life skill.
  • Encourage children to choose their own activity. “You’ve got a lot of good ideas; I’m sure you will find something interesting to do” is more positive and esteem-promoting than “Why don’t you get out of my hair and go play with your trucks?”
  • Give your child enough time to organize and orchestrate their solitary play activities without interruption.

Solitary play among children has the added benefit of giving parents a break. Just don’t expect it to last too long.

Nancy Olsen-Harbich is Program Director and a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 332 or at



2 Responses to “ Playing Alone Can Promote Creativity, Initiative, and Esteem ”

  • Cheryl Taormina

    Hi Nancy,
    Thank you for sharing this valuable information. Many times in our faced paced world we are so worried about children’s social skills.When in fact when they start Kindergarten their ability to work alone is equally important.

    So important for parents and Pre School teachers assessing the child’s social skills as well as their academic skills to assure they will be ready for all the social situations the big school presents.

    Once again, Thank you for this very important information on how and why Independent Play is just as important as Co-Operative Play in a young child’s development!

    Cheryl Taormina
    Riverhead Country Day School

  • Cheryl Taormina

    CORRECTION : Many times in our FAST paced world

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