How to Keep Kids Busy Without Screentime

How To keep kids busy without screen timeThe world has changed in the past year. If we thought our kids had a lot of screen time before, it is nothing compared to what they are experiencing now.

Virtual schooling means that our kids are on their devices all day long. And if you are a parent working from home, chances are that you have them on their devices even when they aren’t doing school just so you can get a few things done.

Screentime is a problem. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids only get 2 hours of screentime per day. This is because of the negative effects screentime can have on kids, even if that screentime is educational. Too much technology can cause behavioral issues, but it also can cause things like strained vision and posture problems. Many parents have seen the effects of too much screentime in their kids, too.

“As soon as I take the devices away, they meltdown. It’s like they don’t know what to do when they don’t have an iPad with them,” said one mom in an interview with Mothering.

There are signs of too much screentime that each parent should look out for, especially with the increased screentime due to virtual schooling and because of COVID regulations.

Signs of Too Much Screentime

  1. Your child is overstimulated. Overstimulation is caused by too much screentime. Your child has bright lights, sounds, and constant movement happening in front of them for hours on end. This can cause your child to show signs of overstimulation, which include:
    • Aggression
    • Bouts of crying
    • Can’t sit still
    • Emotional shutdown or seeming to go numb
    • Irritability
    • Meltdowns
    • Oppositional or defiant behavior
  2. Physical problems from overstimulation. Overstimulation doesn’t just rear its ugly head in the form of behavioral issues. It can also cause physical ailments such as:
    • Headaches
    • Back pain
    • Eyestrain
    • Fatigue
  3. Your child won’t play with friends. If your child refuses to play with friends or siblings, and would rather play on their device, it may be time to cut them off. A device should be used as supplementation to education and play – not in place of it.
  4. Your child is upset any time they can’t play on their device– If your child because visibly or emotionally upset when they can’t use their device because it wasn’t charged, because you took it away, or because the wifi is out, then you may need to cut them off.

It is imperative that parents find different ways to keep kids busy without screentime. The increased screentime because of virtual school, and COVID in general, will continue to harm our kids if we allow it to continue on in the same direction. Below are some ideas for different activities you can do with your kids, or they can do independently, to help keep kids busy without screentime.

READ MORE: Kicking Tech to the Curb: The Importance of Disconnecting our Kids 

Activities to Keep Kids Busy without Screentime

Games for Toddlers

Toddlers are often the hardest of the age group to keep busy without screen time because they often need prepped activities or they need to be supervised. There are plenty of things you can do with your toddler to keep them busy but sometimes moms and dads just need their toddlers to play independently so they can work from home or help siblings with virtual school. Below are some activities you can do with your toddler as well as some games and activities they can do independently.

Games to Play with Your Toddler When They are Bored

Some of these games and activities are intuitive while others are

  • Outdoor activities like the playground or nature trails
  • Run with the stroller
  • Toddler board games
  • Educational games like letter recognition, shape recognition, color recognition, and more

Games for your Toddler that They Can Play Independently

Independent play is an important part of toddler development. Here are some games and activities they can do on their own while you help with virtual school, homeschool, or get some things done for yourself:

  • Playdough
  • Window painting
  • Coloring
  • Sensory bins
  • Foam crafts
  • Bubbles
  • Chalk art

Keeping Older Kids Busy without Screentime

Older kids are a little bit easier to keep busy without screentime because they are more self-sufficient. For kids that are preschooler to school-age, they can often keep themselves busy without the use of screens. The problem with children at this age is convincing them that playing is more fun than using their devices. So how do we, as parents, help guide them towards traditional play versus using their devices?

The first step is to turn off the devices or limit their use.

Talk with your kids about how much time they think they should have on their devices and come up with an appropriate amount of time, daily, that they can use their device freely. They will usually come up with something reasonable, but pick something that works for your family (usually 30 minutes to an hour is a sufficient amount of time).

Give ideas of what they can do when they are bored.

There are plenty of things older kids can do when they are bored, but they often don’t think of these things on their own because in the back of their minds, their devices are there welcoming them with constant stimulation. Stick to your guns and give your kids options of things to do both indoors and outdoors. If you give them several options and they still say, “NO! That’s all bOrInG,” then give them three options and tell them to choose from those.

  • Ride their bikes or scooters
  • Play at the park
  • Build a fort (indoors or outdoors)
  • Plant a garden/tend to it
  • Paint
  • Color
  • Read a book (indoors or outdoors)
  • Swim
  • Go fishing

Another great way to keep kids busy without screentime is to create a long-term project that they can work on each day. Depending on their age and abilities, this could be a building project, gardening, science experiment, or creative arts like painting or coloring.

  • Build a birdhouse
  • Build a treehouse
  • Make a rocket out of boxes
  • Create a large wall mural
  • Make a garden and tend to it

It is ok if they are bored. 

Being bored is good for your kids. They don’t need constant stimulation or “something” to do. Creativity often comes out of boredom. Your kids will find something to do or play when they have to get creative with it. And if they don’t, that’s ok too. Sometimes giving your brain a break and just relaxing is exactly what your mind and body need. Remind them of that, and teach them early that doing nothing is a perfect thing to do.

Don’t give in to the devices moms and dads! Withdrawal is difficult and you will want to throw your hands up and say, “FINE!” But don’t. Your kids can go without their computers, tablets, video games, and televisions. It is good for their health- mental, physical, and emotional.

Photo: George Rudy/Shutterstock


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