The Complete Guide To Unoccupied Play

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 05/18/22 •  7 min read  •  Baby » Baby Play

So, you now have a little bundle of joy and you’re wondering what they need to be doing to help them develop. Well, let’s break down everything you need to know about unoccupied play to ensure you and your baby get the most out of this precious play time in their early months!

What is Unoccupied Play?

What Age is Unoccupied Play?

Young babies engage in unoccupied play from birth to 3 months of age. 

Unoccupied play will lay the foundations for how every child will go on to explore the world around them, so it’s a very fundamental early stage of baby’s development!

What Stage Is Unoccupied Play?

Unoccupied play is the first of six stages of play that your baby will progress through as they grow up.

If you’re interested in the 6 stages of play, check out the below posts to learn more:

What is The Difference Between Unoccupied Play And Solitary Play?

Unoccupied play differs from solitary play with one key difference… 

How they interact with the world around them.

During unoccupied play, your little one is simply exploring how their body works and casually observing the world around them.

But, during solitary play, children will actively play with different types of toys and things in their environment, however, they will still not engage with other children.

Unoccupied Play Benefits

The main benefits of engaging in unoccupied play include:

After all, before children can go on to play with toys effectively, they need to understand what their body is and develop a small understanding of how it can work! 

How do You Encourage Unoccupied Play?

Encouraging unoccupied play is really about giving your baby plenty of opportunities to explore and practise what their body can do.

To ensure your baby gets all the right play opportunities in the early weeks try these simple but essential activities:

9 Ways To Encourage Unoccupied Play

Regular Tummy Time

Tummy time is an amazing activity for babies as it will help to build up thier strength in order to become more mobile and enter the next stage of play. 

If your baby is really struggling, here are some tips to help any baby who hates tummy time.

Time Spent Lying Under A Play Gym

Lying under a play gym and gazing up at the dangling toys will provide endless fun for your newborn. 

Leaving them to unoccupied play, you will be amazed to watch your baby follow the toys with their eyes, wonder at the sounds coming from them and even attempt to reach and touch them!

Holding And Feeling Lots of Different Objects

At this age, everything your baby touches and feels is a new learning experience. 

Offer lots of textured baby safe objects, and let your little one explore during unoccupied play!

Lying Under a Newborn High-Contrast Crib Mobile

A crucial step to helping your baby learn to self-settle

Allow and encourage your baby to spend short amounts of time alone in their crib looking up at an enchanting high-contrast mobile.

Free Kicking

Your baby will love to kick their legs freely when on the floor or changing mat.

The perfect time is when changing their diaper for a few minutes, however, free kicking is also great for your baby’s gross motor development when they have no trousers on and they’re happy on the floor!

Playing With Foot And Wrist Rattles

Foot and wrist rattles will provide great stimulation for your baby as they realise their movements will have an effect on the rattles!

Be aware that some babies can find having a rattle on all of their wrists and feet overstimulating, so start with one and see how your baby likes it.

Outside Time

We all know how important outdoor time is for toddlers, preschoolers and older children…

But we sometimes forget how important it also is for newborn babies!

Full of different smells, sounds and sights, being outside will stimulate your baby’s cognitive development and help them connect to the beautiful world around them.

Reading Books

Even though your baby cannot understand the stories, reading to babies is incredibly important.

They will love to follow the high-contrast images in the books and to hear your voice encouraging them to look and follow along.

Here’s a collection of my favourite baby books if you need suggestions for your little one’s library.

No Screens

I understand that screens are becoming a part of our lives, however, no newborn should be on a screen at all.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screens under 18 months at all.

Best Toys For Unoccupied Play

Below are some of my top toys to help encourage your newborn baby to engage in unoccupied play:

High Contrast Cards

One of my favourite toys to boost cognitive and visual development through unoccupied play are high-contrast cards. And buying cards that will last for a while is always a worthwhile investment!

Set of 4 Baby Flash Cards For Visual Stimulation: 0-3M, 3-6M, 6-12M and 12-16M
The ideal flashcard set for baby's first year, these brilliantly engineered cards will help to visually stimulate your baby as well as stand up to everything your baby can throw at it!
Buy Now
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

Baby Safe Mirror

Perfect to develop baby’s self-awareness, visual tracking and even their gross motor skills whilst they reach out to their reflection, a quality baby-safe mirror will make complement every unoccupied play session.

Our Pick
Sassy Tummy Time Floor Mirror | Developmental Baby Toy

We all know the importance of tummy time and there is no better way to keep your baby engaged during this essential activity than with a tummy time mirror. This one from Sassy is sturdy but soft and has a large good quality mirror that is guaranteed to grab baby's attention. It also comes in a black and white colourway.

Buy Now
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

Play Gym

Designed to stimulate your baby with a multitude of textures, sounds and hanging toys, your baby’s unoccupied play will benefit hugely from having a well-designed baby gym to lie underneath!

Our Pick
The Lovevery Play Gym | Stage-Based Developmental Activity Gym & Play Mat for Baby to Toddler

This play gym is designed by experts for baby's developing brain and body. Winner of multiple awards it includes everything you need in an activity gym-from batting to teething to learning to focus-for a whole year of play.

Buy Now
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

Foot And Wrist Rattles

With fun designs, exciting noises and soft textures, a must have toy for unoccupied play are foot and wrist rattles. Designed to encourage your baby to reach out and play with their feet, their spacial awareness and motor skills will develop every time they wear them!

You can watch them delight when they realise that they are the ones making the noises happen when they move too!

My Favourites
Bloobloomax Wrist Rattles and Foot Finder Rattle Socks For Baby
These lovely little rattes are perfect for getting your baby to engage with their feet and hands and find out what they can do.
Buy Now
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

Textured Toys

Finally, one of the best toys for unoccupied play are textured toys. Whether it’s balls, books or rattles, your newborn baby will love (and benefit from!) having a variety of endless developmental opportunities to learn about how to grasp, shake and feel different textures!

Manhattan Toy Winkel Rattle & Sensory Teether Toy
Even though your newborn will not be teething yet, this textured rattle toy is perfect for your baby to grasp, shake, suck and play with. It will also come in very handy when your baby unexpectedly begins to break their first tooth!
Buy Now
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

Need More Parenting Help?

Author Image

Paula McLaren

Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the childcare industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

Keep Reading