Looking for kids’ activities to keep them busy during the new social distancing restrictions? Get ideas from a homeschooling mom of four to help your kids have less screen time.
It’s hard in today’s world not to allow screens to be a primary form of parenting help. Don’t get me wrong, we use screens in our home, and the irony that I make my living writing internet content hasn’t escaped me… but we do try to limit them as much as possible.
In our family, my kids are kinder, more cooperative, and more imaginative when they have been away from screens. One of the ways we encourage that is by teaching our kids to do housework alongside us and including them in projects like this. Plus we play a lot of sports.
But this mama still has more laundry to do, meals to plan, dishes to wash, blog posts to write, rooms to clean and style and photograph… you get the picture. And since we normally homeschool 3 out of 5 days each week, I’ve had lots of practice finding ways for my kids to stay entertained while I stay productive.
And suddenly, thanks to social distancing, many of you are in the same situation: we are trying to work from home while watching (and hopefully educating) our kids. I sincerely hope you all find this list helpful at this time!
Note: my kids range from age 2 to 4th grade, so my experience is with elementary school kids, but as a former high-school classroom teacher, I know that many of these resources have junior-high or even high-school options, as well!
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10 alternatives to screen time
First of all, let me be clear. This post is not about how much screen time is too much, how to limit screen time, or even how to manage kids’ screen time. It’s not about screen time rules, social media daily limits, or whether or not young children should have smartphones and tablets. Today’s post is about alternatives to screen time.
It’s like the old adage, if you want someone not to think about the number 7, don’t tell them, “Don’t think about the number 7!” Instead, encourage them to “think about the number 2.” My hope is that this would enable you to broaden your family’s repertoire of fun activities.
I’ll give more ideas below, but for those of you who like to see it all in one place, here are 10 alternatives to screen time to keep your kiddos occupied.
- Board Games
- Building Toys and Puzzles
- Arts and Crafts
- Family Projects
- Educational Activities
Pro tip: my kids love independence and options. Try putting some of the things on this list somewhere in the house and pointing them to it next time they say they’re bored and want to watch tv!
One: Board Games
It’s entirely old school, but we all love it. Board games can be a wonderful full-family bonding activity as well as hours of kids-only fun. You can read about all our favorite board games here, but today I’d like to highlight a few that my kids play well without me (because mama needs time to work!):
- Qwirkle – a fun strategy game
- Monopoly – love these looooonnnng games 😉
- Ticket to Ride – great for 2-4 players and about an hour and a half of entertainment
- Blink – a quick game, but they love to play tournaments
Two: Building Toys and Puzzles
There are SO many good options out there these days. From traditional puzzles to robotic contraptions. Here are some of our favorites:
- Magnatiles – or off brand to get more for your money 😉
- Mad Matter – make their own blocks and build
- Jixelz – new for us this year, and they all love it!
- Tinker Toys – an oldie but goodie
Three: Arts and Crafts
Arts and crafts are tricky because, depending on the kid, you may need differing levels of supervision. I’ve tried to choose the ones that my kids (even my two year old) do at our house with very little help from me. Even watercolors, if she does them with a sibling, don’t need my supervision. Do what works for your family, though!
- Modeling clay – we have enjoyed several of these kits, but they do have screen instructions, so take that with a grain of salt if you’re looking for totally screen-free activities. The modeling clay can certainly be used without the app instructions!
- Markers and paper – so simple, but all my kids still enjoy it! Try giving them a creative task: designing a menu for the evening, or making illustrated lists of their favorite things, or writing letters to grandparents.
- Iron beads – I have to help with the ironing, but my kids can make designs for hours!
- Watercolors – these are most fun with real watercolor paper, but use sparingly since it’s not nearly as cheap as printer paper
There are, of course, about as many sports as you can possibly imagine. My kids play soccer, baseball, basketball, tennis, and flag football in our yard regularly. They ride bikes, scooters, ripsticks, and skates on our driveway, too.
They swim and hike and play capture the flag. We feel very blessed to have lots of outdoor space down here in the Texas hill country… But even if you don’t have a lot of outdoor space, there are good, active options!
Consider these if you’re short on space:
- Jumprope – my daughter, especially has been enjoying this lately, and it’s such great physical activity
- Four square – such a fun family game
- Bocci ball – even works indoor on carpet on rainy days
- Whiffle ball – just a good game of catch can work wonders
Five: Family Projects
We love to do projects as a family, and though this isn’t quite as hands-off for you as a parent, obviously, you are still being productive! So whether you want to hang outdoor string lights or clean your windows, you can include your kids. Consider these home-improvement projects to work on as a family:
- Hang patio lights
- Build desks for your kids
- Paint some furniture
- Do some gardening
- Clean your patio
- Organize their closets
Speaking of productivity, we practice chores in our home. Some of them are simple (make your bed and brush your teeth), others are more complex (my kids do their own laundry).
They can be fun, too! Put on some energetic music and clean house all together. Or make unloading the dishwasher a kind of game. Or give them outside time by assigning yard work.
Whatever the task, chores are screen free and good for the whole family. Sometimes the sweetest moments are the simple things like cooking with your kids.
Seven: Educational Activities
I have a whole post with homeschooling ideas and educational activities. Just because school may be closed for coronavirus, doesn’t mean that your children have to stop learning. It also doesn’t mean that they have to sit still for 8 hours/day in order to stay mentally engaged. Try these ideas for educational activities – from educational games to role play that builds math skills – that you can do at home!
Eight: Audiobooks for Kids
I actually shared this as one of my educational activities for kids, but I think it bears repeating here. My kids are obsessed with audiobooks. We listen in the car, outside in the grass on pretty days, and even around the family room on rainy ones when we need a little “quiet time.”
We get most of ours for free from our local library’s digital download, but we sometimes check out the cd’s from the library, purchase on Audible, or borrow from friends. Some of our favorite book series for kids and individual audiobooks for kids are below (and all four of my kids enjoy them!):
Great audiobooks series for kids
- Chronicles of Narnia
- The Penderwicks
- Series of Unfortunate Events
- Land of Stories
- The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection
- The Little House Series
- Redwall (beware a pretty thick accent… if your kids struggle with the accent, it might make a better read aloud)
- Wayside School Series (just. plain. silly.)
- The Mysterious Benedict Society (a bit old for my kinder and preschool, but great for upper elementary and middle school)
- Flavia De Luce Novels (also better for upper elementary or middle school)
Great audiobooks for kids
- The Hobbit
- The Phantom Tollbooth
- The Secret Garden
- Anything by Roald Dahl (my boys, especially, love these!)
- Pippi Longstocking
- Mr. Popper’s Penguins
- The Wizard of Oz
- The One and Only Ivan
We don’t do podcasts quite as much as audiobooks, but they are still a wonderful option and often better for a quick entertainment. Stories Podcast is one of our favorites, and we’ve lately been enjoying these high quality recommendations, as well.
You knew it was coming… the ultimate non-screen form of entertainment. BOOKS!
Hit up your local library or used book store for new options regularly. When my kids pick out the book themselves, they are so much more likely to be excited about reading it. Even my pre-readers can be trained to look at picture books for extended periods.
Sometimes, admittedly, books don’t sound exciting to kids. When that’s the case, I try to change it up.
We might bring blankets outside and all read in the sunshine for 30 minutes. Or play some instrumental music and each pick a spot in the living room for silent reading. Or make a yummy snack and sit around the table with books.
Why we want less screen time
Please hear me that this is not a judgment on anyone who allows their children to have screen time.
As I said, I’m an online creator! My husband works in technology. And I think my children may have watched every single episode of Ninjago ever created. We are not a screen-free home.
But research is showing more and more how too much screen time affects kids’ bodies and brains. And even more importantly, I meant what I said at the beginning of this post: in our experience, my children are so much kinder and more creative when they have been spending time playing, reading, and interacting without screens.
We do set general limits on screen time. Saturday mornings are generally our tv watching time, and we do family movie nights from time to time, but limiting other screen use has been so sweet in our family.
And I hope this post gives you some ideas if you’d like to lessen the amount of time with screens in your home, too.