Activities by Age to Encourage Independent Play

Playing independently is a developmentally appropriate skill for children to master in their early years.

Especially during current times, when more parents are working from home and need creative ways to engage with their children in fun, beneficial activities that spark learning opportunities. Here are a few suggested activities to get started:

2-3-year old

  • Shape Sorter – The shape sorter allows your child to strengthen their hand-eye coordination, fine motor and problem-solving skills, as well develop their vocabulary knowledge when you label the shapes and colors for them (e.g. being able to identify and name shapes and colors). Find one here.
  • Puzzle – Age-specific puzzles can build physical, cognitive, and emotional skills.
  • Ring stacker – Stacking rings help develop eye-hand coordination, encourage problem-solving, and facilitate color recognition and size sequencing, important prerequisite skills for school-based tasks. Find one here.
  • Activities that include putting items into a container – Use daily household items of different sizes and improve your child’s hand-eye coordination by putting them in a large container.
  • Cotton balls – Here is a great sensory bin idea with cotton balls.

3-5 years old:

  • Sorting utensils – Put your little one to work, by handing them utensils of various shapes and sizes and help them sort into assigned bins or caddies, by grouping them together according to size/shape/color (such as silverware in a silverware drawer). Make sure that there are no items with sharp edges!
  • Pre-K worksheets – Try more structured learning tasks for preschoolers with printable pre-k worksheets. Find free downloadable sheets here.
  • Create a Sensory Collage – Children with autism can often find distinct textures and sensations overwhelming. Ease your child into more “messy” activities by creating a tactile collage with a small selection of new materials such as aluminum foil, sandpaper, cloth, tissue paper scraps, cotton balls, and magazine clippings. Over time your preschooler may enjoy being introduced to a wider range of textures.
  • Other sensory activities may include supervised play with water; bubbles and bubble blowing (great for oral motor development); water play, swinging, trampoline jumping and music time.
  • Underwater iSpy Alphabet Bottle – This is a great activity to keep your child engaged while making it fun to learn. Download activity here.

5-7 years old:

  • Matching sock pairs – Have your child lend a helping hand by showing them how to match socks. You can also apply the same idea to sort out laundry by color or recipient.
  • Coloring sheets – Crayola has some great categories that your child can pick and download, to color. Choose your coloring pages here.
  • Maze books, Word Searches and Puzzles ensure your kids have some quality time away from a screen. These activities can also help not only with coordination of the hands, but also visual perceptual skills.

7-10 years old:

  • Playdoh – Engage with your child to make animals, roads for toy cars and monster trucks, mountains for dragons and dinosaurs.
  • Legos – Legos are a great way to help children with autism build an interest they can share with their typical peers. It builds motor, visual, and analytical skills, and are something that transcends age groups.
  • Reading (specific duration) – Children with autism often have trouble making eye-contact and may have a short attention span that can make it hard for them to focus for longer periods of time. Try reading for a specific duration, pointing and naming objects as you read, giving them time to imitate the words and process the information. Find books on topics that interest your child, such as books on animals or sports. Try Since We’re Friends: An Autism Picture Book by Celeste Shally or Uniquely Wired: A Story About Autism and Its Gifts by Julia Cook.

Other ideas include:

  • Arts & Crafts like water-painting, stamping, stickers, finger-painting, and painting with a brush
  • Beading and lacing cards

These activities are a great way to engage with your child in fun, learning based and developmental activities, that may eventually provide more opportunities for independent play time.

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