The American Academy of Pediatrics, Parents Plus, has some suggestions for activities for your young child to do to allow unstructured playtime. First, make sure that you remember to use a portable play yard or safety gates to keep your child in a safe area in case you are distracted. Also make sure all toys are impossible to swallow or chew. Independent play allows your child to problem solve, think creatively and use their imagination. This playtime can be done without turning on TV or a video.

Sensory activities:

• For young infants, offer items like colorful or high contrast toys or mobiles to look at or follow with their eyes.

• Let your child listen to music or play with rattles or child-friendly music boxes.

• Offer safe objects or toys with different textures.

• Offer large plastic, wood or plush toys without small pieces to grab, manipulate and mouth.

Cognitive/language:

• Let your baby explore cardboard books that are bite and rip-proof.

• Offer “cause and effect” toys. Let your child figure out how to make an object light up, make noise or move.

• Toys that can be filled and dumped also are popular with young children.

Social:

• Let your baby play with a plastic mirror

• Offer pretend food, picnic ware, teacups, a grocery cart, baby doll or baby carriages to children 1 and older.

• Let your child participate in activities of daily living. While you are cooking, let your baby “cook” on the floor with pots and pans.

Large and small muscles:

• Infants as young as 3 months can play with an activity gym to bat/grab objects.

• Offer measuring cups, plastic food containers, pots, pans and wooden spatulas.

• Give your older baby a big ball to roll, kick or throw.

• Stacking cups or “nesting cups” are good for using small muscles and figuring out how to stack. Shape sorters are another toy that encourages eye-hand coordination.

While playing with your child is beneficial you cannot do this every moment of the day. Independent play can replace screen time for children and help spark their imagination.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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