Good toys to encourage a two-year-old to play by herself?
August 29, 2012 1:08 PM   Subscribe

My daughter's second birthday is coming up. I'd like to see her begin to play more on her own (she has no siblings). What toys or games have occupied your two-year-old in independent play?

I'm thinking about getting her a Leap Frog-type drawing/learning toy, so suggestions for a particular one would be appreciated. (We have an iPad, but I don't let her play with it for very long - it's just too addictive and becomes the only thing she wants to do). I also want to encourage her to play 'pretend' (we bought her a doctor costume with stethoscope, etc., she has baby dolls and a toy stroller).

Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated.

**Also, I realize she's a bit young to be expected to play alone for long at this age. I just want to see if I can begin to encourage it.
posted by kitcat to Shopping (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Mine is 21 months but she'll play for fairly long stretches alone with her play kitchen and toy food. She's always been a bit preoccupied with food though.
posted by waterlily at 1:10 PM on August 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: By sheer coincidence, I was inspired to look up the Saxoflute earlier today.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:12 PM on August 29, 2012

Block Puzzles, if your little one is interested in them, are great. Especially the ones with different shapes and colored blocks. Lots of room to be creative in putting them back together.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:14 PM on August 29, 2012

If you aren't planning to have a second child, I would start to set up playdates with other neighborhood children who are ages 2-4. The two of them can be left alone while you work. Slightly older children (ages 6-10) can be "hired" as a mother's helper to come in and play with her in a separate room while you work. (You can pay them $5 an hour or less).

I'm probably biased because I have several siblings, but I really think that unsupervised play is much more stimulating and engaging and creative when it's with other children.
posted by amaire at 1:18 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Leapfrog Learning Table! We still have ours and it still gets used even though my youngest is almost four. The sounds are all charming and many of the phrases are part of the family vernacular. Pair it with Baby Tad and you're set for quite a while.
posted by jbickers at 1:20 PM on August 29, 2012

My daughter is 4 but her brother is 7 years older, so she learned early on to play alone for some time. There were quite a few things she liked, but these are the ones she still likes:

- play kitchen, food, picnic, and tea party stuff (she still plays with at least one of these every day)
- puzzles
- both 'girly' and gender-neutral costumes (we printed out ID badges w/her pic on them for her doctor and construction costumes), including standalone pieces for her to mix-n-match
- musical instruments (toys)
- Mega Blocks/Lego

I find that the more high-tech toys didn't have as much staying power.
posted by methroach at 1:20 PM on August 29, 2012

Duplos now, legos later
posted by MangyCarface at 1:22 PM on August 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

CARDBOARD BOX. Seriously. One of the big ones from a washing machine or other big machine, with the flaps peaked up into a roof and little windows and a door cut into it. You can paint it together with non-toxic tempera paint. The one we made from a heavy-duty box lasted through two kids and they absolutely adored it from the time they were about 18 months until they were too big to fit into it! Cost: zero $. Value: priceless. Unless you're one of those insufferable folks who thinks that even though they have kids their house has to look like something out of Dwell all the time. Then I would recommend the I.M. Pei corrugated upcycled paper-fiber KinderHabitat with miniature IKEA accessories for eleventy bzillion dollars. Personally, I would avoid starting the whole beepy-toy pseudo-computer thing until pre-school at least--let her just interact at a nice reasonable pace with her environment using things that can be turned into lots of things: scarves/cloth, boxes, jar lids, blocks. We all get plenty of time for target locking on electronic brain-crack later on...
posted by SinAesthetic at 1:26 PM on August 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

At 2 my daughter loved baby dolls and the accessories (crib, carrier, bottle, blanket).
posted by waving at 1:32 PM on August 29, 2012

Good ol' wooden blocks worked wonders for us (and allowed a really nice way to play with our kids when they were that age)

Bristle blocks were awesome tool
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:35 PM on August 29, 2012

Best answer: When we were little, my mom sewed a slipcover that went over a folding card table and looked like a house. It had a flap door, and cut out windows. These are similar. If you sew, there seem to be a lot of patterns available on the web. It was great for imaginative play, and for having a little nook that was cozy and just the right size.
posted by pompelmo at 1:58 PM on August 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

My nieces are almost's what they like at my house:
* play vacuum
* play broom
* tea set
* toy blender filled with these pom poms that get served in the tea set cups (that way I don't have to drink weird drinks and they spin nicely in the blender)
* Spinaroos
* fold up play tent
If she likes baby dolls, definitely the crib, doll highchair, stroller, doll bottles and pacifiers...
(the play tent, dolls and strollers are still being used by my older daughter years later)
posted by hellochula at 2:10 PM on August 29, 2012

Best answer: So much depends on your child's innate personality traits, like whether she's more extroverted or introverted, among others. My daughter, now 17, has always been a classic extrovert and never liked to play much on her own. She most often wanted my company if not my complete involvement in her play. Her brother, now 14, was and is the opposite and would spend long periods alone, looking at books or manipulating toys in different ways, even as early as a year. I think it's a great idea to encourage solitary play, but you may not be able to affect her very much in her natural tendencies.
posted by primate moon at 5:57 PM on August 29, 2012

Best answer: Kids have to learn to play by themselves; for some it is easy, for others difficult. Set aside a little time each day -- ten minutes at first, for instance -- where you have "work to do" (something that your child can see you doing, so they know it isn't a lie) and you cannot play with them. Say "I love you, but I have work to do, so you will need to play by yourself for a while." Do not give in to the initial crying and upset, because let's face it, you're just asking her to occupy herself for ten minutes, she may be unhappy but it won't do her any harm. Don't engage with her, except for occasional gentle "not until I'm done with my work" (not when she's throwing a tantrum, of course; those you should ignore.) Repeat this process every day, and quickly she will realize that "damn, mommy means it when she says she has work to do. ho hum. what else around here is interesting?" and off she'll go to do it. Once your kid knows you mean business when you say "not right now", they'll find something to do, even if it is playing with a single wooden block because that's all they have.
posted by davejay at 10:39 PM on August 29, 2012

Oh, almost forgot: it is good and healthy for your child to experience straight-up boredom sometimes. Giving them a cool toy or whatever if you need their attention occupied is one tool at your disposal, but isn't a substitute for an idle mind and the time to find ways to use it. From such circumstances, we learn to stop being distracted by, um, distractions, and to start engaging with the world around us (rather than the people) in our own terms.
posted by davejay at 10:42 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Play at home mom is a great blog I recently found that has ideas for toddlers and little kids. They use a lot of cheap or easy to find materials. I especially like the idea that you create an "invitation" - a space set up for the kid to explore and create on their own.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:44 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree with the above that the toy kitchen has been a huge hit at our house since our daughter's second birthday. Wooden blocks and legos also; wooden puzzles; an easel with a chalkboard and a whiteboard and magnets.

But here's my biggest piece of advice: if you want them to play by themselves for extended periods of time, give them less stuff. Just the kitchen and some blocks are fine. Or a dollhouse. Or whatever. But if you give them a whole room full of stuff, in my experience, it leads to flipping from one thing to the next without really engaging in each thing. So either have fewer toys, or keep some of them out of sight.

Also: books.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:43 AM on August 30, 2012

Toy kitchen, drawing pad and various writing instruments, musical instruments, construction toys (blocks, gears, magnatiles, tubes, etc.), a play tent (IKEA has inexpensive ones), an "extended family" of stuffed animals, a dance ribbon (long colorful ribbon on a stick, unless you are concerned about her poking herself with the stick, and maybe better for a 3 year old anyway), and those wonderfully inexpensive thin corrugated plastic tubes that make a funny noise when you stretch them out or spin them around (sometimes the cheapest stuff is the best stuff).
posted by Dansaman at 9:21 AM on August 30, 2012

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