non screen time activities for kids
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33 Non Screen Time Activities For Kids

With busy lives these days parents rely more and more on screens to help babysit. While the AAP guidelines recommend no screen time until age 2, how many of us actually practice this. Non screen time activities usually require a little conscious effort on part of the parent but are not that effort intensive as parents think them to be.

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It’s more about being in a mindset that you will give your child quality time and unstructured play over an iPad or iPhone. I know its easy to just switch on some nursery rhymes and cartoons but screens don’t provide your child with two-way interaction. One of the negative impacts of overexposure to screens is with regards to language development. You need to switch off those devices and talk and interact with your child to aid language development.

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While all this talk sounds great on paper, everyday scenarios are difficult on parents especially those with full-time jobs and raising children in a nuclear setup.

I personally found it increasingly hard to keep up with my son once he hit 14-15 months. And though it was freeing to have him sit quietly for short periods of time in front of a screen it was quite evident how nonresponsive this medium of entertainment is.

Here I would love to add a beautiful quote by Janet Lansbury, from www.janetlansbury.com to ponder on:

Truthfully, we waste our energy “occupying” a baby’s time. And keeping a baby busy undermines her natural desire to be an initiator of her own activities and absorb the world on her terms. Babies are self-learners and what they truly need (and pays enormous developmental benefits) is the time, freedom and trust to just “be.”

This is so true, even though this blog topic is about engaging your child with screen free activities, you will see most of the activities are games children enjoy and come up with themselves. They are natural explorers and activities I list here are ones created by my son on his own. I just use his interests and encourage him with similar activities to ones he loves.

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Quick Tips On Use Of Screen Time

Though we are not complete no screens home, I follow some rules with my child and he happily enjoys his screen time without getting addicted to it.

  1. Decide on content he will watch, this includes a nursery rhyme series by Little Baby Bum Youtube Channel or National Geographic videos on wildlife.
  2. Don’t hand him the device, he either watches it on our personal computer (we are a no TV house) or I hold the phone in my hands.
  3. Interact with him during screen time, showing him interesting things on the screen or singing along with him.
  4. Keep screen time to a minimum – We go days without any screen time. Using screens more as a source of entertainment when we are really bored and have exhausted all ideas for non screen playtime for the day or when mommy needs to get some important work done and no-one is around to watch the baby or during car rides when he is getting particularly cranky. To summarize its not a daily feature in our home and I limit the amount of time to about 20 minutes a day at 20 months old.

Screen time in itself is not harmful when the content is educational and the child is not exposed to it for hours at length on a daily basis.

List of non screen time activities for kids

  1. Coloring/Painting
  2. Reading – Build your child’s library with all types of books. Bi-lingual books, board books, picture books, flap books, busy books. A good book rotation keeps them enthused about reading. We created a library corner for our son with a book rack and a storage box that acts as a desk. He loves his reading corner and is always excited about pulling out his next read from the rack.
  3. Stickers – We started using stickers recently. They are a big hit. Not only is it a great fine motor activity, but it also teaches them things like names of fruits, animals etc. I made him his own sticker book and he spends a good 20 minutes engaged in this activity.
  4. Balloons
  5. Helping in the kitchen – Get the kids involved in safe activities around the kitchen like mixing things and peeling fruits and vegetables. I usually hand over a bowl and spoon to my son that he uses to mimic me cooking. Another favorite is peeling garlic pods. He enjoys this and I don’t mind the mess.
  6. Helping with laundry – Let them help you sort, stack and fold. It will be clumsy work but keeps them engaged and involved in chores from the beginning.
  7. Pretend play – Buy toy kitchen sets or any other pretend play toys. We play “going to market”. I give my son a bag, he fills it with his favorite fruits and vegetables as if picking it up from the market. Then goes on to cook us a pretend meal. He loves this game and plays it on repeat throughout the day.
  8. Activity bags – When I am busy, I make him an activity bag fill it with different types of toys and bits and bobs from around the house. Get him to sit next to me while he explores the contents of the bag. You can add anything from small toys, combs, hair scrunchies, stickers, pompom balls. But remember to keep an eye on your child even when they are playing by themselves.
  9. Cardboard boxes and sticks
  10. Play outside
  11. Old gadgets – You can give them old phones, tv remotes, calculators or other gadgets around the house to play with.
  12. Baking together – This is a messy activity. But the mess is fun. Messy play helps promote language development, so go ahead let them make some mess.
  13. Water play – Use a tub of water, a few plastic balls, and mugs. You can even give them plastic cups and a mug of water asking them to pour water in each cup. They love these types of water play activities.
  14. Music and dance
  15. Cardboard box doll house
  16. Wash toys together – Again more water fun, but one that gets some work done too.
  17. Singing songs
  18. Go to the market together
  19. Play hide and seek in the house
  20. Matching objects – At about 18 months of age, toddlers love matching and sorting things. Create activities around these. I ask my son to sort based on the color of toys, or one that he came up with – match his safari animal toys to the animal pictures in the book. There are many matching and sorting flashcards available in the market too.
  21. Find a local library
  22. Play ball
  23. Lego sets – Lego especially Lego Duplo sets are engaging games for toddlers. I carry our duplo lego set in a small cloth pouch in my diaper bag even when we travel. It is not a bulky toy to carry and is open-ended so you can make many games out of one set. Eg. We use the figurines from our Lego Duplo set to play with our cardboard dollhouse.
  24. Trampoline – If you have space indoors or a nice garden area, trampolines are a great choice of toy.
  25. Cycle – Find a cycle like this one which can be used from 1 year onwards up to 3 years. It’s a good investment.
  26. Puzzles – Again this age group love puzzles. You find many floor puzzles these days. My son has not yet got the hang of them but a 2-year-old can easily play with puzzles. For 18 month old I will recommend these duck and marine puzzles These are perfect for their skill level.
  27. Build a pillow fortress
  28. Tool Box – Toddlers love tinkering around and figuring out what fits where. This is a perfect toy to help with their curiosity.
  29. An empty box with toys – My son used an empty plastic box one day and put in as many tiny toys he could fit in it and then proceeded to try out this game for the next half an hour. I was amazed at how curious he was checking to see which toys fit into this box and trying out different combinations of toys each time. This is an example of child-led games. I now give him different sizes of boxes and ask him to put whatever he wants in it. He loves playing this game.
  30. Building blocks
  31. Paper towel rolls
  32. Dough and cookie cutters – Roll out thick circle shaped dough. Then using blunt cookie cutters let them cut out different shapes.
  33. Story telling

Hope this list comes in handy for mamas out there, looking for some screen free activities to engage your child. Do write to me what your favorite non screen time activities for kids are?

Here’s the list in a convenient printable PDF to put up on your fridge.

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32 Comments

  1. Great ideas! I have to admit that I need cartoons to keep my child occupied sometimes while I prepare dinner. As a stay at home mom it’s safer for him to watch TV than be in the kitchen. That being said, I LOVE these ideas. My kid loves balloons.

    1. Ophira says:

      Hi Nancy, is your son 14-15 month. I went through this phase with my son around that time where it was quite dangerous having him in the kitchen and used nursery rhymes on the phone too! But around 16 month I saw that he was understanding some instruction and getting interested in mimicking cooking. I started placing him in a designated safe spot in the kitchen with utensils and garlic pods, or onions etc. and would talk back to him during cooking. He got used to this activity quickly. It took me 2 months and some failed attempts but this is now a routine, he sits at his spot and plays or colors there at 20 months. Some days he just wants to sit on the chair and look at Mommy cook. What I am getting at is look for interest in cooking n his understanding level and go for it. Also a little video watching is not going to harm him, as you said it’s better he be safe! I hope my tips help.

  2. We’re a no-screen family too, and this list will definitely come in handy on tired and busy days when I just want to think of a good alternative!

    1. Ophira says:

      I am glad you found it useful.

  3. Rashmi says:

    Woww. I am so happy that at 19 months we are doing most of the activities that you listed here..

    1. Ophira says:

      Yay! I am glad Rashmi.

  4. Saving this list because I’m often at a loss of ideas for keeping my 20 months old engaged

    1. Ophira says:

      Yes, I too have these on my fridge. I tend to run out of ideas in the moment and its nice to have a quick reckoner.

  5. Thank you for such a great list! My LO is almost 3 months and this list is great to start thinking of activities!

  6. Wonderful! Quite a handful of activities. Very good post.

  7. These are some really good activities. Library, puzzles and blocks rule the list in my house.

  8. I really couldn’t do with out screen time for my kids. But yes I do use the same rules while we are at it. Also your list of non-screen activities is a hit at our own home.

    1. Ophira says:

      Yes Anupriya, especially in a nuclear setup or when you are full time working mom with no help its difficult to keep the child safely engaged at home. Sometimes screens give the mother a much needed breather too. Balance is needed when practicing screen time with kids.

  9. As a teacher, I’m so pleased to see some great non-screen activities! There’s a lot to be said about enjoying ‘the simple things’

    Great post

    1. Ophira says:

      Yes, Sometimes the simple unstructured play has so much developmental benefits compared to elaborate activities.

  10. Great tips. A lot of these would work with my 7yr old as much as a toddler 👍🏻

    1. Ophira says:

      I am glad these work until much later in age. Phew! I won’t have to keep coming up with ideas..hehe

  11. Great list Ophira. We are in a time where screens are the norm! Balance is definitely required in these scenarios.

    1. Ophira says:

      I agree Lorelle, a balanced approach is needed.

  12. no doubt engaging in activities remarkably reduces the screen time…this is such an exhaustive list of activities

  13. Loved d post..just wat i was lookin for..thanks for sharing

  14. Screen time should be controlled and limited for kids. These are a great list of activities to keep kids busy and engaged.

    1. Ophira says:

      Thankyou Deepa.

  15. My baby loves books toys and remotes. Never really felt the need of exposing him to screen. So far so good.

  16. My 18 month old would live in his sandbox full time if I would let him. Kinetic sand is great for winter and rainy days.

    1. Ophira says:

      Thats a great suggestion too! Thankyou Amanda 🙂

    2. Lindsay says:

      Yes sand is wonderful! If you live in a place where you can’t get outside another thing to do is a bean or rice box. We have a Tupperware that’s sits at the table and we dig and “find” toys or small items in a bucket of beans. Is also fun for them to reach in and feel the beans in their fingers.
      This of course is a supervised activity because it could be dangerous.
      Great post, wonderful suggestions. I’m so glad other parents are out there trying to connect with their kids and keep the screens off. Way to go!

      1. That’s a wonderful sensory bin idea, Lindsay. I should try it soon! Thank you for your kind words and taking time out to drop in an idea for us.

  17. Very informative post. Yes,my 18mo son loves screentime but thats only limited to food. Once his last spoon is done….he himself tries to come out of his chair. I like the idea of sensory bags. Will try them

    1. Ophira says:

      Yay, I am glad you found this useful Pradnya!

  18. What a great list! I’d love a printable that I could put up so my kids could see it. What a fun idea!

    1. Ophira says:

      Thankyou!

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