We’ve all been there. You’re on hour 6 of a 12+ hour day and you’re already feeling out of options. Would it really be so bad to turn the tv on?
NO! Of course it wouldn’t. The tv is not evil. Screens are not evil! Phones, iPads, tv, movies, video games…they all serve a purpose and none are inherently problematic. But studies do show that using screens to soothe a child can cause adverse effects…including but not limited to the fact that the child will, in the future, be prone to want the quick fix of a screen for soothing every time they’re feeling a big feeling that they want to escape.
Also, lots of parents (me included!) are looking for alternatives to screen time for our kids. When I need a break from the stimulation of engaging with my kiddos, and they need a break from each other and — let’s face it — me, I know a screen will work. But I also know that other things work better to soothe them, to engage them, to stimulate their minds, and don’t turn them into tv zombies.
Below you’ll find a list of ideas. It is by no means exhaustive. But it’s a good start ?
1. Independent reading.
Even if your kiddo can’t read yet, there are still plenty of options for independent reading. They can look at picture books, practice sight words, or even listen to an audiobook. If you have an audible account, check out the tons of free kids books available. My kids also love using Libby, an app that allows you to link your library card and borrow digital downloads and audiobooks for free from your local library.
2. Arts & crafts.
I always have a few prepackaged crafts stashed away for easy structured art play. Craft stores like Michael’s and hobby lobby have lots of inexpensive options. But art absolutely isn’t limited to structured crafts! Give your kiddo a canvas and a paintbrush and let them get messy. Google “easy art projects for age 4.“ Check Pinterest or Instagram for ideas (@busytoddler is one of my favorite accounts). Hunt for rocks outside and then paint them. Draw on old boxes and stack them up to make a castle. Trace leaves. Draw pictures for your family and then mail them. Get creative!
3. Achievable chores.
Believe it or not, kids gain confidence from being entrusted with chores. Give them age-appropriate tasks that don’t need to be done perfectly – they just need to be done. Housework is, as KC Davis tells us, morally neutral – you can’t do it “bad.” Instant confidence boost!
4. Sensory play.
I recommend that all families keep a sensory stash accessible to the children somewhere in their home. Fidgets, play doh, clay, big pillows, slime, beanbag chairs, pop its, squishmallows, bubble wrap… The list goes on. Bury little toys in clay and have them excavate them like they’re looking for fossils. Have them make their name out of Play-Doh. Try to make bubbles in the slime and then pop them.
5. Structured journaling.
Journals and workbooks with prompts can reduce the amount of guidance a child might need when they’re trying to think of something to write about. This fosters independence and a sense of accomplishment. I personally love journals with a mental health focus (obviously) but there are tons of options available.
6. Cooking & baking.
OK, yes. You’ll have to supervise this one. But it’s a break from the screens, it’s a life skill that they will benefit from learning anyway, and (hopefully) the end result is delish. I always like an activity that yields a concrete result. There’s something about working hard to learn something new and then having something physical to show for it that really hits the spot, especially for kiddos (and adults) who like instant gratification.
Jigsaws, yes. But also brain puzzles like cross words or words arches, a Rubiks cube, or those old metal links for you have to figure out how to untangle them – all good options. Keep their hands and brains busy at the same time. A sense of accomplishment when it’s done. Chefs kiss ?
8. Imaginative play.
Free play! Yes, it’s still a thing!
You know how the 80s and 90s babies walk around saying that when we were young, we used to make up games and play outside for hours and “find things to do,” etc? Well, that makes us sound old. Also, it’s true. We had no phones and there was no such thing as playing a video game virtually with your friends and there was only one TV in the house and it didn’t even have cable. Maybe that’s just me. We were really into Nick at Night. But I digress.
But! Kids still have the ability to do this! We just have to encourage it and make it a little easier for them to choose free play instead of choosing screen time. All they need is an imagination that can turn any household object into something new. Let them stretch their minds. Playing is learning!
9. Get physical.
Go outside. Ride a bike, go for a walk, shoot hoops. Play on a playground. Go for a hike. Do a nature scavenger hunt. Run around. Knock for a neighbor, if you can. Jump rope. Play hopscotch. Move your body!
I welcome your feedback — and would love to hear what works for your family! We’re compiling a list of summer bucket list ideas, and I want to have a whole section that doesn’t require money, travel, or extensive preparation. Drop your ideas in the comments!
Thanks for reading. Take care of yourself ❤️