A Parent’s Guide to Screen-Free Activities for Kids

As busy parents and caregivers, it’s easy to let screen time become our default. Screens can provide a helpful reprieve, captivating our child’s attention long enough for us to load the dishwasher without being interrupted or drink a cup of coffee in peace! But if we want our kids to be able to entertain themselves, focus on a task for longer than 5 minutes, and be (in general) a pleasant person, we need to set some boundaries for when and how long they sit in front of a screen.

Children are happier and healthier when screen time becomes a treat vs. the norm.

Screen-Free Activities

Screens can be a great tool for parents! Moderation is the name of the game. Try thinking of screen time as a piece of rich chocolate cake. It’s totally fine to have cake every once in a while, but having a huge slice several times a day isn’t healthy. It doesn’t provide you with the nourishment you need, it isn’t filling, and all that sugar will give you a stomach ache.

If your child is moody, has a short attention span, is prone to tantrums, or has a hard time sleeping at night, too much screen time may be to blame. “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) estimates that the average child spends seven hours a day looking at a screen, be it a cell phone, computer, TV or other electronic device,” says Janice Kowalski, M.D.

Screen-free alternatives that will entertain your kids

Less screen time means more playtime! If you need some inspiration for screen-free activities for your kids, here are 4 easy and entertaining ideas we think your family will enjoy:

  1. Kids love playing with water, so why limit the fun to bath time? Lay a towel down and set a small basin on it with some water and toys like straws, spoons, and cups. Then let your child have fun scooping, pouring, and mixing. You could also fill the bin with uncooked rice, noodles, or oats instead of water.
  2. Exercising is a great alternative to screens because it helps kids burn restless energy. Frog hops, a game of tag, riding a bike, kicking a ball, dancing, hula hooping, jumping jacks, or even a short walk around the block can do our kids so much good.
  3. Nature provides some excellent self-entertainment options. Let your child run free in the backyard and encourage them to explore and play with whatever sparks their interest. They could create their own little mini-world using sticks, rocks, dirt, and flowers. Or they could go on a “treasure hunt” with a basket. The options are unlimited outdoors.
  4. Easy chores like folding square pieces of laundry, washing dishes, peeling hard-boiled eggs, feeding the pet, or using a small hand vacuum to pick up crumbs can be fun for kids. What seems like work to you is play for them!
  5. If you need an activity that requires little-to-no supervision, toys like Legos, play dough, and puzzles can captivate your child’s attention for extended periods of time.

Watching TV or playing an educational game on an iPad is a perfectly fine occasional entertainment option for your child. Just remember to let your kids enjoy them in moderation so that they don’t become a crutch or cause behavior issues. For best results, limit screen time to an hour or less per day, turn screens off a couple of hours before bed, and incorporate a variety of screen-free activities into your child’s day.