According to an article posted in February 2020 by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children ages 8-12 years old spend an average of 4-6 hours watching or using screens. While screen based entertainment has significant creative and educational value, we all as parents can feel the necessary urge to pull the plug once in awhile.
It has always been a goal for me to find ways to encourage my kids not to turn to screen entertainment when they are bored. The benefits of decreasing screen time habits are worth it in the long run. Here are some ideas that I try to implement regularly.
1. Keep it close to home – Backyard/Front Yard activities
In my previous post, I talked about how spending more time outdoors was beneficial mentally and physically for both parents and kids. The best way to train a new habit is to make it easy and accessible. Make use of your own outdoor space, and normalize going outside before defaulting to screen time.
– Encourage unstructured outdoor play to nurture their imagination, while exercising gross and fine motor skills. Open ended outdoor toys, like a mud kitchen, a sand box or a rock box, play tents, gardening tools, buckets, shovels, a water table and a simple mud puddle can provide kids starting points to let their imagination run free.
– Have a picnic blanket or mat easily accessible so you have somewhere to sit or relax if you have no outdoor furniture
– Bring snacks or any meal time to the backyard or have a picnic
– Read books outside with the kids, or encourage reading-aged children to find or create a comfy place to read outside
– Paint outside
– Play timeless games: tag, hide and seek, races, eye spy, Jump rope, hop scotch, sidewalk chalk. Kids love to engage and these are simple activities.
– Invest in a play structure. It is worth it to get kids moving without having to leave your property. Play sets, a trampoline, a climbing structure and even a “ninja” slack line are great options for kids with high amounts of physical energy
– Bring your own work outside, if possible. If you are working from home, and being outside with your child during work hours is impossible, try to find increments of time for both of you to take a break. Set a timer, and do any of the activities mentioned above for 15-20 minutes and make it a healthy habit for everyone.
2. Go on a Nature Walk
Grab your coffee and take your kid(s) on a nature or a neighborhood walk! Make it interactive and do a fun neighborhood scavenger hunt. Observe plants, animals, trees, bugs, and anything that you would normally walk by without noticing. Our absolute favorite place to go for a nature walk is Lake Conestee Nature Preserve. Since the winter weather is still quite chilly, put a fun spin on it and do a hot cocoa walk!
3. Visit a Park
Greenville County and its surrounding areas have an incredible network of parks and playgrounds for families to explore and enjoy. Plan a day every week to explore a new park, or pack a picnic, bring bikes and scooters and spend half the day (or more!) at the park. Another fun idea is to explore neighborhood parks that are accessible to the public. We have found some hidden gems in certain neighborhoods!
4. Take a trip to a State Park or plan a hike
Replace Saturday morning cartoons (is that even still a thing? I feel old!) with a trip to a State park or plan a hike or another outdoor adventure. With our young kids, we have not yet braved a true hike, but we love exploring Paris Mountain State Park.
5. Sensory Play – Outdoor Options
Kids love sensory play. The benefits of sensory play at a young age are worth every minute of the mess and extra loads of laundry. Here are some outdoor ideas for sensory play or activities. If you have sensory seeking kids (like mine), most play will default to some sort of messy sensory play!
– Rock Box or Sand box play
– Gardening Activities – This website is amazing for ideas!
– Make Oobleck and watch your kids go crazy for it!
6. Sensory Play – Indoors
Not feeling outdoorsy or is the weather not agreeable? If you are open minded to some mess, sensory play can absolutely be done inside. I could talk, plan and create sensory play activities all day long. To me, the mess is worth it, because sensory play is one activity that really captures my kids’ attention for longer periods of time independently.
Also referred to as sensory bins, I would recommend a few common and inexpensive add-ons. Large plastic containers or storage bins (the under the bed storage ones are the best because they are long and shallow), small plastic toys for imaginative play (we use small plastic animals or Little People), scoops, measuring cups and spoons.
– Make Play Dough (and then play with it!)
7. Arts and Crafts
Kids love to experiment with their creativity and it is especially important for early childhood development. Even if you aren’t a crafty parent (like me!) you can still encourage your kids to hone in on their creative skills as a way to pass time.
– Keep it open-ended. Consider allowing basic craft materials, markers, crayons, glue, tape, paper and scissors, to be completely accessible to your kids. This will encourage them to feel like they can create independently without having to ask for your assistance.
Other simple activities that require little prep: collages, Popsicle stick animal puppets, drawing their own book or comic, artistic free play.
A great book that we love to draw ideas from is 365 Things to Make and Do.
8. Read Aloud
Kids, of any age, benefit tremendously from reading aloud. It’s not an easy habit to pick up if you aren’t used to it, but start small and simple. Start with half a chapter and work your way up to a chapter each sitting. Instead of reaching for the remote, or tablet, reach for a book for a few minutes and see where it takes you and your family.
Kids love getting involved in the kitchen. When I had 3 kids under 3, I would turn on the TV first thing in the morning while I made breakfast. Now that they are older, I get them involved with making pancakes, waffles, muffins or french toast, or get them to set the table. We bake cakes for everyone’s birthday. It really is a fun activity that is time consuming but also productive because right after they get to have their snack time!
10. Open Ended Toys
I have a secret – I don’t believe in having too many toys! I do however believe in quality toys, mostly of the open ended kind that foster independent and imaginative play. If a room full of toys can’t entertain them more than screen time, then consider adjustments. Here are a list of some really wonderful open ended toy options, and check out this great post about open ended toys.
– Fort building kit (or chairs and a lot of blankets!)
I hope these ideas were good starting points to inspire and motivate some screen-free activity play!
Let me know what you think and what you do with your kids in place of screen time!