20 Screen-Free Activities for Young Children

20 Screen-Free Activities for Young Children

While screens in all their shapes and sizes form part of our everyday lives and are here to stay, exposing young children to a lot of screen time simply isn't healthy for their developing brains. When spending too much time interacting with a screen (too much time being any at all for under 2s and over 1 hour a day for 3 to 6 year olds) children can:

  • Become less engaged in their real-time environment
  • Have weaker communication and social skills
  • Have a higher chance of developing hyperactivity
  • Be at risk of weight gain and sleep deprivation

I know how easy it is to choose the screen over more hands-on activities to keep children occupied and I don't believe any parent or carer should feel guilty for doing so, but young children really need to be stimulated in more active ways. 

So here are 20 activity ideas which don't involve screens:

1) Listen to audio stories - yes I know, the obvious pitch, but I had to put it in. You can read more about the benefits of audio stories here: 8 Benefits of Audio Stories for Young Children

2) Dance time - the wider variety of music the better. Create playlists with a big mixture of songs, from African beats to Classical, to start introducing young children to the world of music early on (and of course to save your ears from too much Disney).

3) Creative dance - this is simple yet so much fun. While your children move to the music, start introducing themes for them to follow - such as "show me a butterfly", "show me an elephant", "show me an ice cream". This can stay as a pretending game or grow into a full story, where you narrate what's happening and they follow. Or, you can keep it really simple and play musical statues or musical freezes, occasionally giving them a character to freeze as, such as a super hero or a sports person. 

4) Dressing up (without spending a penny on costumes) - have a box for keeping some of your/your partner's old clothes (the funnier the items the better) including hats, scarves, shoes and accessories as well as clothing and encourage your children to dress up for fashion shows. It's a time-withstanding activity which children still love. 

5) Water fun - if it's not warm enough for outdoor water play or you don't have the space, put some old towels down on a non-carpeted floor and get out pots and pans, small non-breakable containers, buckets, spoons for water play. Most small kids love simply scooping up water from one place and transferring it to another.

6) Make a den - using cushions and blankets and throws and scarves and make sure to find a flash light or night light which children love playing with. 

7) Carpet picnic - brilliant for a wet day inside and you'll be surprised at what kinds of different foods children will try if you take them away from the table. Throw together a mix of healthy snacks with some treats, pop a blanket down on the living room floor, or on whichever floor you prefer, play some audio stories in the background and enjoy a wonderful picnic without any flies or an unexpected downpour of rain to spoil your fun! 

8) Book time - one very simple way to really encourage young children to start showing an interest in books is by having them around in various parts of your home and always within reach. I often found my children engaging most with books when I had to clean the shelves - I'd pile the books onto the floor and they'd happily browse through them and help me clean as I went along. The more surrounded by books children are, the more likely they'll adopt a love of reading. 

9) Baking - this one has to be supervised, but it's so much fun and, it's not about the end product rather the process. If you can allow it, make it as messy as possible to get their touch neurones going, (while also showing them to clean up as you go along). Washing up can also be lots of fun. 

10) Homemade play dough - it doesn't take long at all to make, smells much less funky than the shop-bought kind and can keep kiddies entertained for a long stretch of time. Click here for a simple recipe: homemade play dough.

11) Make music - apologies in advice, this can get noisy....What can you use to make music? Pots and pans and a wooden spoon, a classic. A cup filled with chickpeas or lentils or pasta, cover one end, pop on an elastic band and it converts into a homemade maraca. A hairbrush as a pretend microphone. Literally anything you can find at home which makes an interesting sound, can be used to make music and provide entertainment. 

12) Activity or sticker books - I have kept a bunch of activity and sticker books handy since my children were small. Even when they haven't seemed interested in them at first, often they've gone back to them and have spent hours sticking stickers, finding their ways through mazes, colouring, joining the dots etc. They're are so many on offer which are relatively inexpensive. A great option for some quiet time or perhaps with  audio stories to accompany ;) 

13) Card games - the key to this is you and your kids don't need to know how to play correctly. You can convert any pack of cards into simple fun games such as snap (based on colour, not necessarily image) or find the odd one out. If the cards have numbers, you both select and show and the highest number wins. There are multiple ways to be inventive with a pack of cards without having to know the exact game. 

14) Board games - simple board games - such as Snakes & Ladders or Guess Who - are relatively inexpensive and are brilliant entertainment for 4 to 7 year olds. Guess Who is great for learning how to describe someone or something and Snakes & Ladders for counting and laughing themselves silly watching Mum or Dad get extremely frustrated going down the long snake for the 3rd time......

15) Collages - all you need is a largish piece of card, left over wrapping paper or scraps of paper, some old comics or magazines, safe scissors, glue and off you go! You could draw a base outline to start a picture - such as a house with rooms or a rainbow - but often, the best collages come from being free and random and of course, that's usually when the most fun is had too. 

16) Colouring - stating the obvious perhaps, but living in such a digital, fast moving world, it's easy to forget about the simple things. Colouring can be enjoyed by children and adults of all ages. It's a great activity to share together if you enjoy it too. 

17) Puzzles - again, a great activity for children and adults of all ages and brilliant for quiet time. 

18) Hide and seek - will always be one of my faves. I used to love playing when I was a child, and I enjoy playing with my children now too. There are also different versions to make it even more fun such as seeing who can get back to home to fastest without being found first. 

19) Finding game - we played this quite a lot during Covid lockdown. Get a bunch of toys, clothes, books and put them in a pile on the floor in your child's bedroom. No more than 10 items to begin with. They need to look at them and try and memorise them. Then, they need to leave the room and you choose one thing to hide. So their task is to say which item is missing and then find it! Taking turns and rotating items, this game can go on for quite a while! 

20) Get outside - whenever possible, get outside, even if it's just for a run or walk or skate around the block. Children need exercise, fresh air and contact with nature to flourish. In fact, we all do! If there's any tension at home, if your head is about to explode, if your child is grumpy or unhappy, getting outside is always a brilliant remedy for shifting a mood or state of mind. 

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