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Oct 14, 2023 4 min read

A Guide to Unoccupied Play for Babies in Daycare

Leah Woodbury By: Leah Woodbury
Baby does tummy time as part of unoccupied play.

Unoccupied play, often referred to as independent play, is a form of free, undirected play in which children engage with objects and their environment in a self-directed manner. 

Incorporating this type of play into the baby rooms of your child care center can help your littlest learners make developmentally appropriate strides.

Let’s take a deeper look at this type of play!

What is Unoccupied Play?

During unoccupied play, children explore and interact with toys, materials and surroundings without any specific goals or adult intervention. 

This type of play encourages children to use their imagination, creativity and problem-solving skills, fostering their holistic development.

This type of play builds the foundation for the other five stages of play.

Unoccupied play looks like babies or young children exploring materials around them without any sort of organization. This stage allows children to practice manipulating materials, mastering their self-control and learning about how the world works.

What is the Appropriate Age Range for Unoccupied Play? 

The appropriate age range for unoccupied play typically starts from infancy, around 3 to 6 months of age, and continues throughout early childhood. 

During the first few months, unoccupied play involves sensory exploration. As children grow older, it evolves to include more complex activities, imaginative play, and exploration of their surroundings.

What are the Benefits of Unoccupied Play?

Baby shakes a rattle as part of unoccupied play.

The benefits of unoccupied play for babies are multifaceted. It stimulates cognitive development by allowing infants to explore their surroundings, encouraging curiosity and problem-solving skills. 

It also promotes sensory development, helping babies make sense of the world through tactile, auditory and visual experiences. And unoccupied play fosters emotional development by encouraging self-soothing and building a sense of independence and self-confidence.

How to Encourage Unoccupied Play in Your Daycare

Encouraging unoccupied play for babies in child care can be achieved through several strategies. Providing a safe and stimulating environment with age-appropriate toys, soft mats and sensory materials is essential. 

Creating designated play areas that are free from distractions and noise can help babies focus on their exploration. And allowing babies to engage in activities at their own pace without constant adult intervention fosters a sense of autonomy and self-reliance.

Examples of Unoccupied Play for Babies in Child Care

an infant demonstrates unoccupied play with a spoon in their mouth

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Sensory exploration with soft textured toys or fabric squares
  • Tummy time with colorful playmats and age-appropriate soft toys for reaching and grasping
  • Playing with lightweight rattles and shakers to encourage hand-eye coordination and auditory stimulation
  • Exploring safe, non-toxic household objects such as wooden spoons or plastic containers to promote imaginative play and sensory exploration
  • Use sensory activities to foster their curiosity

How an Early Childhood Curriculum Can Help!

Unoccupied play is a vital component of a baby’s development, offering numerous cognitive, sensory and emotional benefits. By providing a nurturing environment and age-appropriate materials, caregivers can create opportunities for babies to engage in unoccupied play that set the stage for healthy growth and development in their early years.

Procare Early Learning powered by Learning Beyond Paper is an all-digital early childhood curriculum specifically designed to meet the unique needs of educating children from infancy through pre-kindergarten.  

The curriculum is embedded into Procare, making it easier and less time-consuming for busy teachers and administrators to provide high-quality education. 

With Procare Early Learning powered by Learning Beyond Paper, child care centers can: 

  •   Equip teachers with state-of-the-art online curriculum at their fingertips
  •   Dramatically reduce the amount of time spent on lesson planning each week
  •   Offer children a high-quality, developmentally appropriate curriculum
  •   Save money with this cost-efficient solution that’s integrated with Procare

This curriculum can be used in ALL child care center classrooms, with 52 weeks of lesson plans and more than 4,000 daily activities for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and pre-kindergarteners.  Learning areas include STEAM, language and literacy, physical development, cognitive, music and movement as well as interactive reading. Plus, teachers get tips and tools they can use in real time!

Procare is the only solution that can deliver the entire early childhood education ecosystem — lesson planning, lesson delivery within the classroom as well as assessment and parent engagement. Being able to do all of these with one platform simplifies classroom management and planning! 

How much time and money could your child care center save using a digital curriculum designed for young learners? Enter your number of staff, number of students and type of program into our online calculator to learn your potential savings!

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Calculate your potential cost and time savings by using Procare’s all-in-one child care management software. All we will need from you is some information about your child care location*: Calculate your potential cost and time savings by using Procare’s secure and effortless child care payment processing. All we will need from you is some information about your child care location*: Calculate your potential cost and time savings by using Procare’s classroom management. All we will need from you is some information about your child care location*:

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* Our data model is based on our experience working with over 100,000 child care centers, before and after school programs and youth organizations since 1992.

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The cost and time savings shown here are what the Procare all-in-one solution will help you save at your child care organization. Fill out the form below to see the full breakdown.

We understand that smaller centers and in-home daycare providers are operating on a tight budget, and that is why we provide all these features for the affordable price of just $25 per month. Let us handle the business of child care so you can get back to caring for your children.

To learn more about Procare home version, click below.

*Please note that the report you see only factors in cost and time savings for the in-home solution features. For Procare home version users that are interested in seeing how they can benefit from Procare’s full suite of capabilities, contact us today to speak to a Procare representative.​ *Please note that the report you see only factors in cost and time savings for the in-home solution features. For Procare home version users that are interested in seeing how they can benefit from Procare’s full suite of capabilities, contact us today to speak to a Procare representative. *Please note that the classroom management functionality is not available for in-home users. For Procare home version users that are interested in seeing how they can benefit from Procare’s full suite of capabilities, contact us today to speak to a Procare representative.

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For over 30 years, Procare Solutions has helped child care businesses big and small tackle their biggest operational challenges.

From contactless check-in, attendance tracking and staff management to family engagement, tuition collection and extensive reporting, we have the solutions that child care professionals want most.

More than 37,000 child care businesses choose Procare because we give them everything they need to focus on what they love—providing amazing experiences to the children in their care.

Our data model is based on our experience working with over 100,000 child care centers, before and after school programs and youth organizations since 1992.

Learn more at procaresolutions.com

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Leah Woodbury

Leah Woodbury is the head of content at Procare Solutions. Her job includes writing about topics that matter to child care professionals and finding ways to help them do their important work. She’s a mom of two who loves getting updates about what her preschooler is doing during the day via the Procare child care mobile app!

Leah Woodbury