Reset! 15 Independent Screen-Free Activities to Keep Our Kids Playing

by | Jan 22, 2019

Have you ever found yourself in a screen time slump?

My husband and I made the decision to keep our television in a closet (using it as like an appliance), for the past twelve years. While this helped to create a learning-centered home, we still have other devices that our kids have used to watch a movie or play games on occasion.

But, every once in awhile, on occasion became more than just once in awhile. For example…

There were times when one of our kids would get sick and then pass the sickness along to each member of the family. Have you been there? With a large family, sometimes it took weeks before we were back to normal!

We’ve also had several crazy moves where we didn’t have housing lined up before we moved. We were stuck in tight quarters without most of our belongings and no friends. This was never fun.

I’ve also experienced exhausting pregnancies (like many moms), and had to take a nap for my own sanity and so I could take care of my other kids.

And if you’ve ever lived in a cold climate (like the Midwest in the dead of winter!), you may have used screens more than once to help you ride out the freezing cold.

These are all realities of life when when you and I may have turned to a screen to keep our kids pacified. In those times, it feels like a matter of survival!

But what was once survival can quickly become routine, and it’s times like these when it can be easy to fall into a screen time slump.

Because kids thrive on routine, when screens start to become part of normal life, they create expectations based on that routine.

Two Ideas to Help You Stop Poor Screen Time Habits

The good news is that as parents we have a lot of influence on our kids when they are young. We can help stop poor routines and habits with a simple mindset shift and some preparation.

  • Mindset Shift. We must first decide what role we want screens to play in our lives and create a positive thought that we can return to when our child might throw a tantrum when you say no to screen time. A thought such as: “I want my child to learn how to use his/her imagination, develop resilience, and allow his/her brain to develop in the best way possible.” Having a statement such as this to return to when you are tired and want to just turn on a device, will help you remember why you are making this change.
  • Preparation. Many home tasks can be done with our kids, and at Better Screen Time, we promote interacting and connecting with our kids. But, sometimes our tasks require concentration. Other times we just need a break so we can be a better parent!

    Sit down and make a list of things your child loves to do. Are there things your child can usually do on their own without your help? Use this list to gather some activities and supplies to keep on hand for those moments when you have to have some time to yourself. Such as making an important phone call or getting ready for work. (I’ve shared some of my favorite activities below.)

    You can also take a few minutes to identify pain points. When do you usually turn to screens? What can you change to establish a new norm? Just paying attention to difficult times of day or circumstances can help you to plan ahead for that situation.

The first week or two without screens might be rough; both for you and your kids! But, I promise it will be worth abandoning screens for awhile to help your kids learn what to do with boredom and how to interact with the real world.

And this doesn’t mean you have to abandon screens for good (although that is an option with young kids)! The idea is to set them aside for a good chunk of time until you get into a new routine.

Today I’d like to share 15, screen-free activities that your kids can do alone, without much help. And really, these ideas aren’t that extraordinary. You’ve likely even done some of them before! But, these are all tried-and-true activities that I have used with all five of my kids over the years.

Sometimes we just need a reminder to reset. You can do it!

15 Independent, Screen-Free Activities to Keep Our Kids Playing

  • Print coloring pages. I ask my kids what they would like to color, do a quick Google search on images, and then let them pick out a few coloring pages to print. This seems to be more exciting than a coloring book because it’s something new and they get a choice! We pull out markers, crayons, colored pencils, and several of my kids will spend 20-30 minutes coloring. If your kids are old enough for scissors, they can practice cutting out the image after they color it.
  • Keep a stash of surprise activities. Set aside a small amount of budget money to purchase small surprises to keep on hand. This could be books, a simple craft (that doesn’t require your help), a small lego set, a sticker book, or an activity book. Make a trip to the dollar store and you might find some fun surprises that will keep your child happy when you’re in a pinch! When everything else fails, I love having this as my backup plan. My kids eyes light up when I say, “I think I have something special just for you today.” They have to wait while I go get the surprise in a secret location.
  • Ask an older sibling to be in charge of a younger sibling for an hour. Sometimes I even offer a special incentive to the older child for helping out. They often like feeling responsible and helpful (this can depend on the child and their age!).
  • Rotate toys. Keep things fresh and new. When we moved to a smaller home, rotating toys was a necessity. It’s fun to list the options for the kids and then go pull it out. It’s like having a new toy all over again!
  • Keep fort supplies on hand. Blankets, big boxes, chip clips/clothespins, and my kids love these giant waffle blocks to help create parts of their fort. Just add a couch and chairs and let your kids build their own fort.

  • Books on CD/Audiobooks. Many libraries have a lot of options in the children’s section. We have also purchased quite a few over the years. They are fairly inexpensive considering how much we’ve used them. We own quite a few of the Disney books/CD! If you have an Echo Dot or Google Home Mini, you can also play audiobooks through your Audible account. I like picking audiobooks that go along with books we already own. My kids always enjoy looking at the pictures as they follow along.
  • Tea party with stuffed animals or a sibling (and real food!). My younger kids love having a tea party. They have a small table and chairs and pull out all of the play kitchen toys. I let them use real food (anything that isn’t too messy) and a small amount of water.
  • New stash of books from the library. If you’ve been following along here, you’ll know that I bring this up a lot! No matter the age, if I bring home a huge stack of library books at least once a week, that’s all anyone does for a few hours that day. My friend calls it a “library coma.” Keep things fresh and bring home a variety of titles and topics. Comic books and graphic novels are always a hit at our house.
  • Puzzles. We keep a lot of puzzles in our game cupboards. (Ravensburger puzzles are always quality.) Again, we have a variety of difficulty levels and pictures to keep all ages entertained.
  • Trade babysitting with a friend/Make time for friend time. Find someone with kids close to the same age and arrange a certain day to trade for a few hours. I have been doing this for 14 years. Such a great help for both parents! I realize this one might seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes a good friend is all our kids need to get their imagination going.
  • Fill up the sink with water. Add some liquid soap for bubbles; then cups, straws, etc. Put aprons on your kids and let them enjoy splashing for awhile.
  • Play-dough. Embrace the mess. Play-dough is so therapeutic for little hands. We have a kit similar to this and it gets used over and over. Add some plastic knives, cookie cutters, and chopsticks (yes, chopsticks!), and you’re good to go.
  • Blow up some balloons and turn on your kids’ favorite music. Instant party. This is a good one if you are nearby making dinner or folding laundry so they have an audience.
  • Non-messy painting. Simple watercolor paint, paint with water books, Water WOW books, an Aquadoodle pad, and these Kwik Stix paint sticks are all fantastic and not messy!
  • Keep sensory activities sitting out. Right now we have these aqua beads sitting out in a huge bowl and all the kids love to sit and play with them. In the past we’ve had a low, plastic bin full of rice in our unfinished basement. This can get messy and will only work if you can keep it outside or you have kids who know not to throw or dump it everywhere. A giant sheet underneath helps to contain the mess. We’ve also made a light box with these MagnaTiles, a string of white Christmas lights, and an under the bed, clear storage container. Just plug in the lights, put them in the container, put the lid on, and put the MagnaTiles on top. This is super fun for kids who like shapes and creating designs! Our kids also love it when I set out a bin filled with kinetic sand. We also have always had kid shovels, kid garden gloves, leftover seeds, and a dirt patch where kids can dig, play and plant. Several of my kids have spent hours outside getting their hands dirty.

With a change in mindset and a little preparation, our kids can learn how to live without relying on a screen to entertain them.

And more importantly, we’ll raise a generation who is resilient, knows how to problem-solve, and who understands the importance of prioritizing the world around them over a screen.

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