It can be really challenging to compete with screens these days. First of all, screens offer some excellent learning and exploring opportunities. Secondly, they give us as parents a bit of time to get something done! Even though screens aren't the enemy on their own, they can quickly take over your life. Over the years I've used these alternatives to screen time for inspiration for birthday or Christmas gifts. If I can spark interest away from the screen, I don't have to fight it! Find what gets your kid excited and dig in!
Here are the basic categories of ideas. Start where you think your child might be most persuaded to ditch the screen and get creative:
- Building Ideas
- Creative Endeavors
- Musical Aspirations
- Active Play
- Scientific Pursuits
- Geeky Alternatives
- Unplugged Games
- Social Ventures
- Literary Quests
- Imaginative Diversions
- Delightful Destinations
Don't just let your kids' creative building happen only in Minecraft. Give them some good materials and watch them see their projects take shape in the real world!
For the Youngest Builders
- You don't need fancy supplies for building! Little cups for the bathroom make great walls, towers, and castles.
- Or build with Popsicle sticks
- Model with Pipe Cleaners
- Create with Wikki Stix
- Have a set of dominos? Maybe they're not ready for the game, but they can build with them!
- Duplos help get them ready for the next level building. I love the colors, and they don't hurt as much when you step on them!
- Magformers, or any other type of magnet-tile building toy, are so much fun. They're great for littles, but they entertain for years to come. My 14 year old still loves them!
- My son played for hours with his little train set. Building new courses for his little trains provided great entertainment.
- Tinker Toys challenge littles to think big.
- Brain Flakes are great manipulative toys that work with fine motor skills while fueling the imagination!
For the Middle Age Builders
- Legos are always a hit in our home. Lay a blanket down on the floor so kids can dump out the tiny blocks and easily clean them up again. The mess is part of the fun! One of my best investments were these baseplates. This allowed for hours of building fun!
- Lincoln Logs are also great creative fun! I have a whole bin of them that I got from a garage sale.
- K'Nex encourage model building with a different twist.
- Dexterity is key when you try to build houses with cards!
- If they loved the train set, upgrade to Hot Wheels tracks. They can build courses in the back yard with these fun wooden racetracks.
- Marble runs were very popular with my kids.
- If you don't have the fancy marble run kit, try a flat surface, a little play dough and a slight incline.
For the Older Builders
- It really is amazing what kids can do with cardboard. Save those Amazon boxes for a rainy day, and let them go crazy with a bit of duct tape.
- Build small projects with wood and nails like a birdhouse
- It doesn't get any better than seeing your creations come to life for real purposes. My son helped his dad build a deck in the backyard, and my daughter helped her dad build a clubhouse as well. While they couldn't complete these projects alone, the goal wasn't for them to be completely independent. It was to expand their horizons for building in the real world outside of a screen.
For the Youngest Artists
- Sidewalk chalk can offer endless possibilities for creative fun
- If you're looking for working on fine motor skills while creating, kinetic sand is a great option.
- Pop Snap Beads are a fun way for budding jewelry designers!
- Have some drawing books or activity books around for coloring fun
- Take some of those old coloring book pages and tape them to a window with some tracing paper for a different perspective.
- Sensory bins are such a fun way to engage the senses of young people and inspire future artists!
- Have some silly scissors around? Let your kids play with some scrap paper and glue sticks to make beautiful creations!
- My youngest loved to add stickers to her sticker book. It was simply a blank journal and any stickers she could get her hands on!
- If you're hoping to keep the house ink free, your kids can still color with shapes using pattern blocks.
For the Middle Age Artists
- Continue to expand the horizons of your budding artists with messy projects like watercoloring or painting.
Or you could try other mediums for art like:
- knitting squares, rectangles, or eventually blankets!
- crocheting hot pads, scarves, or flowers
- felting fine art
- sewing clothes, blankets, bags, and more
- make earrings with hot glue (or anything with hot glue)
- whittling sticks and other wooden treasures
- perler beads are so much fun...but they may need help with the iron
- slime...not my fav, but some kids are crazy about the stuff
- friendship bracelets are great for creating on the go!
For the Older Artists
Help your teens bring their creativity to life with projects that challenge them and open doors for their future pursuits:
- Photography - nature, family, scenery, sunsets...the list goes on!
- My niece loves to bake and create 3D masterpieces with sugar
- Draw outside of the lines with a 3D pen
- Hand carve your own rubber stamps
- Get creative with beads and jewelry making
There really are so many options for creative endeavors that don't include screen time!
You don't have to be a musician to enjoy music!
- Turn up the music and sing or dance along
Learning to play an instrument can be an excellent passion project that could shape your child's future, or simply satisfy their soul. Here are some great instruments to start with:
Once your children can play, this opens doors for more screen-free adventures and sharing their gift with others:
- invite friends over to jam
- host a worship night
- take your instrument to a local coffee shop for open mic night
- go play at a nursing home
- join the church praise team
You can't always have quiet kids without screen time. So when you unplug the gadgets, brace yourself for action! That's the goal right? Get them up and moving?
Need help with ideas? Try these:
- get outside
- blow bubbles
- play on the swing set or tree swing
- navigate a slackline
- climb a tree
- ride a scooter
- get some roller blades
- jump rope
- play frisbee
- ride a RipStick
- hop on a pogo stick
- shoot hoops
- play tennis
- bump, set, and spike a volleyball
- splash in a puddle
- jump on a trampoline...it doesn't have to be a big one!
- go to a trampoline park
- battle with foam swords
- or nerf guns
- play putt-putt
- go bowling
- learn to golf
- go on a hike
- build obstacle courses
- try out a ninja course
- walk the dog
- ride a pony
- play tag with friends
- fly a kite
- build a snow fort
Most of these won't work as solo activities. This might mean more work for you as a parent, but your child is engaging in life with people! That has to be worth a little extra bit of your time.
Nature offers so many fascinating opportunities to expand your child's imaginations and their world view. There's nothing like nature that can make you feel very small! Unplugging from the virtual realm may be difficult, but nature offers a great outlet for exploring.
- collect bugs
- gather and identify leaves
- search for shells
- build a roly poly terrarium
- get your hands dirty gardening
- see how many birds you can find in your neighborhood
- go for a walk in a creek
- practice orienteering while hunting for geocaches near you
- pretend you're an archeologist and dig for Dinos
- Stay up late and star gaze
Video games and iPads are not the only ways to geek out! Try these other techie pursuits:
- Build friendships through ham radio
- try out robotics
- make stop motion movies
- tinker with solar power
- discover with snap circuits
- try to beat an escape room
Gaming doesn't only have to happen on a screen. There are other ways to challenge yourself and others without wifi:
- Card games...my daughter loves this card games for one book
- board games
- jigsaw puzzles
- Pokemon cards
- Tiki toss (this game is addicting)
I'm sure if you're still reading, you're starting to realize that there are so many ways to decrease screen time. One great way is joining a club, learning a sport, or other social venture such as:
- cheer leading
- check out your local rec center or YMCA for other sporting opportunities
- Upwards sports is another great resource for families
- community theater
- speech & debate teams
- volunteer at VBS
I haven't even mentioned books yet in getting away from screen time. If you're looking for a way to get a little quiet time in the house, instate a FOB (Flat on Back) in the afternoon. They don't have to sleep, but quiet is key. Here are some options:
- listen to audio dramas - we LOVED the Adventure in Odyssey Truth Chronicles
- write a penpal
- work on a Bible study
Sometimes adjusting your setting can make reading more fun, like:
- outside on a blanket
- in a hammock
- up a tree
- at a park
Literary quests don't have to be quiet ventures however. They can be engaging and interactive as well:
- put on a silly skit
- practice story telling
- get hands on with fairy tales
- reenact an elaborate drama
My favorite thing to do when I was growing up was play imaginary scenarios. My sister and I could spend hours playing...
We loved to imagine with...
- Little People
- Action figures (yes...we played with the neighbor's He-Man action figures...they were very cool)
- animal figurines
- stuffed animals
- cars and trains
- Build forts
- create dances
- play "swimming lessons"
- pretend we were mermaids
- travel through the magic mirror to a fantasy world (like the Narnia wardrobe)
- make mud pies
Those were the best times with my sister!
If your kids have a hard time deciding what to play, write down all of the thing they can think of, put them in a jar, and take turns drawing from the jar to see what to play next! Keep the fun going without so many arguments.
Sometimes you just need to get out of the house to encourage less screen time.
- go park hopping - play at a local park for a short amount of time, then hop back in the car and drive to the next closest park for more fun.
- head to the library to restock your books
- try a nature scavenger hunt
- find a day trip destination like the nearest state park, lake, beach, or mountain.
- head to the store and engage your kids in a challenge to estimate how much your groceries will cost
- go visit an elderly friend
- take a new mom a meal
- go to the zoo
- visit an aquarium
- serve at an animal shelter
If all of those options don't inspire them to disconnect for a bit, then put them to work! I've found that to be a very effective tool for limiting the screen time!
Resources & Encouragement
If you'd like to read more about this topic, here are some books that have really challenged my thinking:
- Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman - although written in 1985, this book highlights the corrosive effects of television on our society. It's very compelling!
- The Abolition of Man - by C.S. Lewis - this is an eye-opener when you think about how modernist and post-modernist thinkers impact today's culture. If you think the "screen time" is neutral, this book will have you thinking about the underlying message of every educational tool you encounter.
- 10 Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child - by Anthony Esolen - my kids gawked at this book when I first brought it home. "Do you really want to destroy our imaginations?" Esolen takes a Screwtape Letters approach to the issue of child rearing and trends that restrict imagination.
What are some of your favorite ways to encourage screen-free time?
Betsy Strauss is an unexpected homeschooler, mother of three, who is in a relationship with a sweet man for life. She loves reading books, drinking coffee, and learning anything with her kids.