Best Baby and Toddler Toys to Encourage Independent Play
Best Baby and Toddler Toys to Encourage Independent Play
April 13, 2020

Best Baby and Toddler Toys to Encourage Independent Play

Best Baby and Toddler Toys to Encourage Independent Play.
Photo by @xicana_mama
Best Baby and Toddler Toys to Encourage Independent Play

Whether it’s to hop on a conference call or simply grab 10 minutes of peace and quiet, there are plenty of parenting situations where you’re going to need your little one to play independently.

While it’s not quite realistic to expect your baby or toddler to spend the day quietly entertaining themselves while you happily check things off of your to-do list, there are certain toys that lend themselves to encouraging independent play.

Here are our favorites for babies through toddlers.

6–12 MONTHS

A Jumper

A doorway jumper guarantees two things: a bouncy, giggly baby and at least a few minutes of uninterrupted time for you to get things done. That’s a win-win in our book. We love this one thanks to its slim profile and because it’s easy to store away. (There’s a stand version, too, in case you don’t have a doorway that works.)

A Sensory Toy

This toy is deceptively simple—and that’s what makes it so great. Babies love to pop the five silicone “bubbles” in and out over and over (and over and over) again. Pro tip: don’t keep this toy readily accessible, so when you do take it out your little one is extra entertained.

A Stacking Toy

Older babies love to stack and build. This uniquely designed stacking toy is made from safe, recycled plastic and can be put together in any order. It’s also great for developing hand-eye coordination and color recognition.

A Book

Letting your baby explore books from an early age is beneficial for literacy and so many other skills. Indestructibles are just right for younger babies to “read” on their own because they’re chew-proof and rip-proof. (Really—we’ve put them to the test.) They’re printed on 100% nontoxic material and can even be washed.

A Push Toy

Warning: this isn’t the quietest toy. But we’re willing to make the tradeoff because your little one will log so many hours of independent play exploring all of its different interactive features. The front play panel pops off for separate play, then pops back on and the whole toy can be used as a push toy for babies learning to walk.


12–24 MONTHS

A Sensory Table

A sensory table can inspire a huge range of independent play for years and years. Filled with water, sand, water beads, shaving cream, animal figurines…the possibilities are endless. This Ikea model is an all-time favorite; just be sure to also add the storage box inserts, too.

An Activity Cube

This wooden activity cube has so many different features that will keep your toddler entertained and learning along the way. It’s made from solid wood and sturdily constructed to hold up to hours and hours of playtime.

A Water Table

Any type of water play is always a win for open-ended, independent play, and when it’s warm outside a water table can easily fill a few hours, giving you some time for yourself. There are plenty of interactive features on this one to keep your toddler coming back for more, and the umbrella is a nice perk for extra sunny days.

A Train Set

Wooden train sets have been around for a long time, and for good reason; there’s something magical about watching your little one build and rebuild their own pretend world. This is the perfect starter set. It can also be added onto throughout the years.

A Climbing Toy

If you’re not familiar with a Pikler triangle, it’s a simple climbing structure that’s designed to help young children learn to climb and develop their motor skills. While it does require some supervision, it’s one of our favorite toys to recommend to help kids learn to play and explore independently. And you’ll be surprised how quickly your little one will learn to navigate it!

A Building Toy

These oversized blocks are just right for small hands to hold. They’re a great starter set before moving on to wooden blocks or LEGO and perfect for setting out when you need your toddler to entertain themselves for a while.


Two Years and Up

An Art Center

An easel is the perfect way to let your toddler explore art independently. Featuring a dry-erase board, a chalkboard and a paper roll, this one from favorite brand Melissa & Doug offers lots of creative possibilities for your little one’s next masterpiece.

Pretend Play

As your toddler grows and develops, you’ll notice lots of pretend play happening. Giving them the toys they need to create their very own worlds—in this case, a farm—encourages this type of imaginative, independent play. This classic barn looks just like the real thing and is packed with tons of realistic details.

A Building Set

If you’re like most families, these may be what gets played with the most in your playroom. From towers to rocketships, these 3D magnetic tiles are easy to build with and offer truly limitless possibilities for creative play. They are pricey, though, so start with a small set and build on from there.

A Light Table

A light tray is a bit of an investment, but we think it’s well worth it. A simple Pinterest search reveals countless activities that are easy to set up and will keep your toddler (and even your older kiddo) busy for hours.

Modeling Clay

It may be messy, but it’s the kind of mess we don’t mind cleaning up because our kids love Play-Doh oh-so-much. This is a great starter set that includes clay, tools and even a play surface to minimize the mess.

An Imagination-Booster

These adorable animal puppets are fun to play with alongside your little one, but just as fun for your toddler to play on their own. Add a puppet theater or even a homemade one from a few cardboard boxes and you’re well on your way to fun.

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