If you think that your kids might be spending too much time in front of a screen, then you are absolutely right.
Our daily lives have become digital. We work on computers, keep our phones on us all the time and come home to relax in front of the TV. Even our cars and our coffee machines are digital.
But that doesn’t mean it’s good for us, and sitting in front of a screen all day definitely isn’t good for our children. In fact, spending too much time in front of a screen can not only make kids gain weight, studies show that it also makes them sad, sleep poorly and develop concentration issues.
It’s really important to your child’s health, development and their relationship with you (and ultimately to other people in the outside world) that you spend time with them, doing non-tech, screen-free activities.
But what can you do with your kid that is screen-free? Parents often find it challenging to think of interesting non-tech activities to do with their kids. So here are 22 ideas to get you started:
1. Cook a meal together.
Even if it is something really simple, get the kids to do jobs like grate cheese or stir a pot (older children).
They love shaping meat balls and beating up eggs too. Children of all ages love to be part of the dinner making process and it is a great way to bond with your kids while you’re busy, and, most importantly, it keeps them away from the TV / PC / video game. (No they may not grate cheese in front of the TV).
2. Go on a neighborhood adventure.
Whether you live in the city or out in the sticks, nothing could be simpler (or less expensive) than walking around your neighborhood together.
My kids and I like to make up stories about people and places that we see while we walk along. It’s good exercise and it makes them more aware of their surroundings. Your teens might need a bit more convincing to get them going, but all children enjoy getting out and about.
Younger children love to stop and look at things (leaves, bugs, anything) for what may seem like ages. That’s fine. Their brains are processing and exploring the real world. Let them take their time.
3. Make play dough.
Probably the easiest thing in the world you can make with your kids is play dough. Simply combine in a saucepan:
2 Cups flour
1 Cup salt
2 Cups water
2 Tablespoons cooking oil
2 Tablespoons Cream of Tatar
2 Tablespoons food coloring of your choice
Cook them all together until it pulls away from the sides of the pot in a ball. Remove from heat and allow to cool, kneading it occasionally.
For different colors, wait until after the dough is cool before adding the color. Then kneed in different colors to different sections. Kids love to play with dough, even if you don’t have cookie cutters.
4. Get a trampoline.
Trampolines can be an enormous load of fun and a great way to get your kids outdoors. They are also a good way to expend some of your kids’ limitless energy.
Just remember to focus on safety – read trampoline reviews carefully and note important details, such as whether it comes with an enclosure, the recommended weight limit, and the maximum bounce height.
5. Make a pavement Twister-board.
You don’t even need to own a regular Twister-board to play the game (although the ready-made spinner is useful).
Buy sidewalk chalk in four different colors (it’s really inexpensive) and find an old bucket lid or CD to trace around. Draw different color circles like a regular twister board on the sidewalk, the rood of your building or anywhere that you can hose off later. The kids will love the novelty of playing somewhere different and love that you are spending time being silly with them.
6. Build a jig saw puzzle together.
Depending on the age of your kids, you might do a 100 piece puzzle together, start a 1000 piece puzzle that keeps your quiet time busy for three days, or do five 12 piece puzzles in an hour. Puzzle building is great for fine motor development as well as developing visual closure.
7. Do a science experiment.
Kids love nothing better than things that blow up (as do Dads, so maybe this is a great activity for him to do with the kids). You will need an empty 2 liter soda bottle, a liter of vinegar, a packet of baking soda, a cork, a long screw and a piece of board.
First up you want to create your launch pad: work the screw through the piece of board or plank so that about an inch sticks out the other side. Now twist the cork onto the screw. You have your launch pad.
Next check that the cork fits snugly into the neck of the soda bottle, but is still loose enough to pop off easily in an “explosion.”
Now pour the vinegar into the bottle.
You have to act quite fast for the last bit: pop the baking soda packet (it should be paper, otherwise wrap it in tissue) into the vinegar and quickly put cork into the bottle. Turnover and stand back.
When the baking soda and vinegar mix the soda bottle will pop right off the cork and fly several meters into the air.
Note: this is strictly an outdoor activity!
8. Eat a meal by candle light.
All meals should be family meals, eaten away from the TV with phones turned off. If your family will start a riot over this idea, then introduce “candle lit dinner” night.
The organic light source somehow makes it easier to have a conversation and connect to the people who are eating together.
It also creates a sense of occasion, and kids are likely to remember the special evenings spent with your full attention in a magical setting.
9. Make a water table.
You don’t need any fancy equipment for this fun summer activity. Just take out a couple of bowls, containers and jugs (preferably plastic or enamel) and fill them with water.
Make some jugs of water blue, some red and some yellow. Then find a variety of objects that float and sink and let kids experiment.
10. Bubble Up.
As with the water table above, you will need a few jugs and bowls of water outside somewhere. Then add some bubble bath (or washing up liquid) to some of the bowls.
Now give each child about half a meter of plastic fish tank piping (you can buy this really cheaply by the meter at most pet stores) and get them to blow bubbles. They will play with them for hours!
11. Make a fire.
If you don’t have your own back yard then you will have to take the kids somewhere that you can safely build an outdoor fire.
Get the kids to scrunch balls of old newspaper to start it with and help you break up twigs for kindling and build a fire. Then sit around and roast marshmallows, tell stories and maybe even watch the stars come out.
12. Make your paper double.
Sticky tape pieces of newspaper together until you have a piece of paper the size of each person present. Then get them to lie down and trace around them with a magic marker so that you have an exact tracing of each child. Then get them to trace you
Help them cut out their double and tack it up so that you can fill yourselves in with paint, markers and crayons. This isn’t going to produce master pieces but they will have a lot of fun.
13. Bake cookies from scratch!
This is much easier to do than you think and kids of all ages love it! Here are some awesome easy cookie recipes.
If the kids get bored waiting for them to bake, let them help you wash up! Then they can decorate brown paper bags to keep the cookies in.
14. Give them chores!
Yes, we really are suggesting that your child be involved in keeping the house clean. Not only is it really good for them to get into the habit of taking responsibility for themselves, many of them actually get a sense of satisfaction out of contributing to the household.
Get them the proper gear – the best vacuum cleaner or hand vacuum, gloves, uniforms, whatever it is that gets them motivated. Give age appropriate jobs; a four year old can help pick up four teddy bears or pack up his cars. He can’t wash the dishes.
Give plenty of praise for jobs well done. Even teens secretly love being thanked and recognized when they have been helpful.
15. Read a book.
Read to your small children as often as you can. They love it. They love to hear your voice, they love to spend time with you and they love stories. Encourage older children to read too. Take them to the library to choose their own books. Make sure that your kids see you enjoying a good book from time to time too. You need to lead by example. A child who reads will be an adult who thinks!
16. Draw silly pictures.
One of the things that puts older children off to drawing is the feeling that they need to produce brilliant work. A wonderful activity is to draw intentionally silly pictures. Give each person a page folded over lengthways into four sections.
Without looking at each other’s drawings each person draws a head and neck, folding the paper over so that only the bottom of the neck sticks out. Then everyone swops papers and draws a midriff. Repeat the process until the whole body has been drawn. Then unfold your papers to reveal the silly pictures.
17. Make peashooters and have a peashooter war.
If the idea of having tiny blobs of paper flying around your head doesn’t appeal to you, then make a target and score points for hitting it.
18. Oh go fly a kite!
Flying a kite on a windy day is something that every child should do with their parents. You can make your own, or if you really feel you lack the ability to make a flyable kite, buy a cheap one. Either way your kids will have a blast in the great outdoors.
19. Get them to volunteer.
Older kids and teens can get a lot of value out of helping others. It teaches them about community and caring for others without the familiar complaints about doing things for home.
Old age homes always need help. Whether it’s reading to someone who can’t see any more or painting the old ladies toe nails you can be sure they will appreciate the help.
Animal shelters, soup kitchens and children’s homes also always need a hand. Discuss it with your child first to see what they feel they would like to get involved with, and then pay a visit to the establishment yourself to make sure that everything is above board.
20. Build a fort!
Every child loves a fort. You can make a tent out of sheets draped over the back of the sofa or create a HQ out of an old fridge box (check to see if your local furniture shop is throwing them out) or you can get really creative and make your child their own tepee or tree house (calling Dad). Whatever kind of fort you make, the kids will love to play in it, read in it, hide in it and just hang out in it.
21. Put on a magic show.
Older kids love learning card tricks. This is one activity you may need to make a slight screen exception for, because the easiest way to learn card tricks is watch a few videos.
However, once the videos are watched, turn the computer off again and get them to go and practice. Then, either let them put on a show for you or help them put on a show for grandma, dad, or someone else.
Remember to be suitably amazed and surprised by their genius.
22. Play a family board game.
Last but not least, there is always the timeless classics. If you don’t own any board games, you can sometimes borrow them from the library.
Kids love board games. They engage the whole family and are usually loads of fun (although you might want to avoid letting siblings sit next to each other).
Card games work just as well and cards are fairly inexpensive to buy.
Featured photo credit: VIKTOR HANACEK via picjumbo.imgix.net