Playing Pretend + Solo Play

Month 16
Month 17
Month 18

Last Month's Wow:

The Power of Scaffolding

Scaffolding is particularly helpful when teaching babies (even older children!) new information in a lasting and meaningful way. Meanwhile, how you respond to danger or challenges feeds or detracts from baby’s confidence.

The Wow of Now:

Playing Pretend + Solo Play

You may have noticed that baby is starting to play independently for longer stretches of time—a few minutes, for now. You can support their budding independence by creating an environment that supports solo play.

The Wow Ahead:

The First Hints of Tantrums

As baby's development flows deeper into toddlerhood, the distance between what they understand and what they can actually say grows wider, causing frustration. This is where tantrums come in.

The Wow

Even the simplest objects (a pack of wipes, spatulas, unfolded laundry) can inspire play. Activities like blocks, puzzles, and turn-taking games unlock the world of pretend play, becoming the jumping-off points for baby to explore on their own. They will start to look forward to playing—and all the problem-solving skills and discovery that come with it. It’s the key to kickstarting imagination and creativity. From dress-up to pretend kitchen to making forts, independent and imaginary adventures can provide hours of child-directed play as baby ages.

The How

  1. 1

    Independent Play

    Routine: Play Time
     of 1

    Make an effort to carve out a few moments of independent play for baby each day. You can’t always be the entertainer, right? Begin backing out of their play space when you can.

    Start by ensuring the environment is safe and clear of clutter.

    Turn off any background screens or distractions.

    Offer baby just a few choices of toys (2 to 3 is fine). Rotating toys can help make items novel for baby, and limiting the chaos of too many choices helps to quiet the sensory overload.

    Tell baby that you are going to do something else and stay within eyesight (or sit close by but occupy yourself with an activity like reading).

    Observe what baby is doing but try not to interrupt. If they call for you, touch base, show interest for a moment, then see if they are able to return to their activity.

    Honor baby’s interest and focus by not forcing a transition (when it’s time to end playtime) before it is absolutely necessary. When you do interrupt, narrate what is happening: “I know you’re having so much fun playing with this, but we need to get ready to go out now. We will play more later.” Showing respect for baby’s independent play will help them develop regulatory skills as they grow.


    Like us, babies need a calm environment to be able to focus their curiosity. They also need to practice playing independently, following their own interests, and depending less on adults for stimulation. There’s a chance you've fallen into the habit of constantly entertaining baby, and may now need to increase their time spent playing alone.

  2. 2

    Pretend Play

    Routine: Play Time
     of 2

    Offer your tot lots of opportunities for pretend play. Have some real-life objects (or toys that resemble real objects) to stimulate creativity. Add some costumes to the mix for dressing each other up in front of a mirror to see how silly you both look.

    Start pretending with scenarios that your tot is most familiar with, like asking them to make you a meal in their pretend kitchen, or to pick up the “trash” like the sanitation workers they see outside. Can they change their doll’s diaper just like you do for them? (Our EWG VERIFIED Diaper is also doll approved). Ask questions about what they are doing like, “Are you following a recipe?” or “Is that eggs and pizza together? Yum.”

    Play along and let your tot be the boss. Let them tell you what to ask for, where to sit, and who you are pretending to be in the game. At first, they will be limited in the game (you may just have to pretend to eat when handed some “food”), but pretend play will eventually grow to become an elaborate activity.


    Playing “pretend” (also known as dress-up or imaginary play) helps to improve empathy, self-regulation, language skills, logical thinking, and creativity. Your tot is following a complex set of rules and taking on the role of a character. This requires them to “step inside” the persona of someone else and think about what that person thinks, feels, and is responsible for. Pretend play is also important down the stream, when you and your child can work out what’s bothering them through toys.

  3. 3

    Soapy Finger Painting

    Routine: Play Time
     of 3

    Using a gentle foaming wash or soap bar in your tot's hand, allowing the suds to build on their finger tips. Place a paper in front of your child and encourage them to use their fingers to create a picture on the paper. For added fun, parents can join in!


    This activity integrates creative play with a tactile sensory experience, while building fine motor skills by using fingers to paint. Altogether, your child is exercising skills that promote language, socialization, and learning.

Support for You

Even though baby is supposed to be touching everything, exploring everything, and mouthing everything, it doesn’t make cleaning up any easier. We get that. Try not to let the frustrations of everyday messes prevent baby from doing the work they need to do to learn. Multi sensory play can get messy, but research and practice tell us it is critical to how baby learns best. Create a sensory bag to keep the mess contained, and fill it with household items, like ice, pompoms, uncooked beans, rice, paint, oil, water, or some food coloring. Just make sure the edges are sealed well (using a resealable bag and adding a little tape for support). You can also use a clean food container or toy bin to create a sensory experience, or create a sensory box where baby can’t see (but only feel) what is inside. Homemade, silly, and full of possibility – it’s a great alternative to a mess when you need one.

Let's Check on the Basics

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Is baby eating?
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Is baby sleeping?
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Is baby pooping?

Yes on all three? Great! One or more No’s? Let’s talk about it.
Contact us for support resources!

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