By Sharon Shirey
I know how tempting it is to hand your phone over to your young child. You have a lot on your plate. You’re tired. You have so many things to do. So, you rely on a device for an instant distraction for your child. It’s accessible. It doesn’t require a lot of thought. And, let’s face it—it works. There are a million screen free activities for kids but sometimes it’s just easier to hand them your phone.
You’ve probably heard the many reasons why too much screen time isn’t healthy. No one knows the long-term side effects. Researchers tell us that creativity is stifled. We know it discourages real social interaction and shortens attention spans for other activities. Even so, sometimes you guiltily resort to the needs of the moment and hand that phone over anyhow.
No parent wants their child to become one of those “glued to the screen” statistics. So why are so many toddlers and preschoolers holding cell phones or tablets? Could it be that parents just don’t know what else to do at the time? Even though I am old enough to say that I didn’t have such gadgets for entertainment nearby while growing up, I really do understand your point of view. I get it.
As a young mother I only knew a time when adults interacted with children throughout the day. Now, I look back and realize that many parents had a “virtual toolbox” and selected a tool to use as the need arose. I’m thinking that some of those ideas just weren’t passed down to this generation, so maybe you aren’t as familiar with alternative activities that might work for entertaining your youngster just as well as that tablet.
Let me offer a few of the tried-and-true activities that worked for me and millions of other moms. Since I have loads of ideas to share with you, and am so eager to get started, let’s begin with ideas to do at home. In later articles, I will pass along more practical ideas to use while in the car, while waiting for an appointment, visiting at a friend’s house, and more.
Fun Screen Free Activities for Kids and Toddlers
- Toys: Focus on toys that develop your child’s imagination. You can comb yard sales and thrift shops to find books, puzzles, games, building blocks, dolls, stuffed animals, or Legos—things that inspire creativity or problem solving.
- Art: Designate a cupboard or drawer for art supplies to have on hand. Stock it with construction paper, blank paper for drawing, scissors, coloring books, crayons, colored pencils, washable markers, rulers, stamps and stamp pads, stickers, glue, glitter glue, felt squares, etc. You can get started with crafting kits for under $10.
- Sculpting: You can go online to find recipes for modeling clay or playdough you can make at home. If you have more money than time, buy it instead. Use a liner from a cereal box or waxed paper for your child to make his creations on, and it will be easier to clean up later.
- Finger paint: Kids like to paint and love to paint with their fingers! So encourage their creativity with washable finger painting kits. Alternatively, make pudding, and plop some down on a sheet of waxed paper for your child to “finger paint,” or scoop some into a sandwich bag that zips, zip it up tightly, and let your child squeeze it around in the bag. This option is easier for clean-up, as you can later throw the bag away. Don’t overfill the bag.
- Stringing: Provide a piece of yarn or string, and some O-shaped cereal for your child to string together to make a necklace, or string macaroni shells to create a macaroni necklace.
- Color: Encourage your child to color. Coloring helps them make choices (on colors, or shades of colors, and if other objects should be drawn to enhance the scene on the coloring page), develops hand-eye coordination, and enhances imagination. There are endless possibilities of crayons, colored pencils, and washable markers. Pair this up with printed coloring pages for and your kids will be entertained for hours.
- Puppetry: Make puppets from paper bags. Put your hand in a bag and turn it over. The bottom of the bag will become the face, with the bottom fold becoming the mouth. Your youngster can really get creative by drawing in the eyes, ears, nose, etc., and for fun, long eyelashes or earrings on the side for a girl puppet, and a mustache for a one that will be a guy. They can glue on pieces of yarn for hair. Do you have lost socks that you just can’t find the matches to? They can become cute sock puppets. Or go with zoo animal puppets and give each child their own animal to act out a day at the zoo.
- Magazines: Do you have old magazines lying around? If so, your child can cut out the picture of people, and make a paper doll. Or, he can leave the page in the magazine and find faces to draw on. These faces can get big ears, mustaches, long hair, etc. bringing out your child’s sense of humor and his creativity. Just make sure you specify that books aren’t allowed in the makeover!
- Building: Drape a sheet over your table to make a “fort” where your little ones can enjoy a hideaway, or take dolls or stuffed animals in to play house. Bring books in, too, for them to “read” to that doll audience.
- Gymnastics: Use masking tape to create a line on the floor. Now, your youngster can become a tightrope walker, taking one step at a time, attempting to stay on the line. Or, maybe she can hop down the line, while trying hard to stay on the tape, or back up, take a leap, and try to land on the line. I’m sure you can think of even more ideas for your child to use that line while developing motor skills in a fun way.
- While Mom Is Working: Taking dishes out of the dishwasher? Let your littles sort the silverware and place them in the utensil drawer. Cooking in the kitchen? There are many benefits which come from including your kids in planning and making meals. Folding laundry? They can certainly help with washcloths and socks.
These are a few ideas to get you started. Regulate screen time usage to allow your child to explore his environment, develop motor skills, broaden creativity, and enhance cognitive skills. Your children will soon find out that they don’t need an electronic device in hand for entertainment!
Sharon Shirey is married to Bob and they have enjoyed various ways to teach and entertain their four children with limited screen time.