Kid-friendly activities are a big topic for my husband and me because we’re lucky enough to have four young grandsons who are a regular part of our lives. We’re always looking for ways to engage them, and often this means luring them away from the glow of screens! This is particularly true as the weather turns cooler and the days get shorter. I know that many of you face the same struggle, so I wanted to share five free, simple and fresh strategies to encourage screen-free play:
Strategy #1: Use Water Play
Kids love water play of any kind. You don’t have to have access to a swimming pool for them to enjoy the natural pleasures of playing with water. Buckets, kiddie pools, bathtubs, and sinks are all ways to get kids engaged in water play. Give them some little containers and objects so they can experiment with floating and pouring. One of our grandsons could easily spend an hour playing at the sink!
Of course, water can be a drowning, slipping, and burning hazard, so make sure your kids have an age-appropriate level of supervision when they’re around water.
Strategy #2: Model Curiosity
Kids are imitators and want to be like the adults that love them. Kids are also naturally curious. One way to keep them off screens is to model curiosity. It’s great to talk and explain things to children, but sometimes just quietly leading them to an activity works best and avoids power struggles.
For example, the other day, Wolfie, one of my grandsons, was on the iPad. When I suggested he turn it off, he wasn’t interested. (Surprise, right?) I decided to switch things up by telling him that I was going out to the garden to work and he could come if he wanted. I went out, and in about two minutes, Wolfie was out there with me and we were talking about the birds we heard, and he wanted to help me in the garden. Then Wolfie was off playing an imaginary game in the grass. Score!
Another time recently, the boys were all fussing about what to do, and my husband quietly got on the floor and started building something with Legos. Pretty soon, all the boys were on the floor playing with Legos. He then backed away, and they continued to play for another hour. Score again!
Strategy #3: Bake & Cook with Kids
Kids love mixing ingredients and preparing food. Cooking and baking are a great way to teach them about where their food comes from. They can also learn things like measuring, counting, patience, safety, and cleanup. Remind yourself of these benefits when you’re otherwise cringing over the extra mess that kids tend to make in the kitchen! It’s worth it—I promise.
Almost any recipe involves at least a couple of tasks that are safe and simple enough for kids to do. Recently, we made oatmeal muffins with Wolfie. He loved the whole process– mixing, baking, and eating (of course!). He also loved having muffins to enjoy later in his lunchbox. Comment below if you’d like me to share the healthy recipe we used.
Strategy #4: Do Simple Arts & Crafts
You don’t have to hit up Pinterest to organize a spectacular art or craft project. (That’s great, but it but can be overwhelming!).
Just setting up a table with simple art materials and beginning to use them with your kids will often get them excited. Remember that as your kids get older, their attention span grows, so they’ll sit for longer periods and create independently.
One of my favorite materials is bees wax crayons because of they are made from bees wax and their colors are more vibrant. I love the block crayons for little ones because they’re easier to grip. The bees wax stick crayons are nice too and don’t break as easily as regular crayons. For younger children, modeling drawing works well as you sit and create, they will join in. With the block crayons, you can just play with colors and shapes and not be overly concerned with details.
Strategy #5: Spend Time in Nature and Gather Some Treasures
Okay, I admit, this isn’t a fresh strategy—I’ve blogged about five outdoor activities to help children avoid screen time and strategies for winter play. I’m a bit obsessed with nature play, and because it’s one of my go-to strategies for engaging kids, I couldn’t help but include it here again.
Kids love being outdoors, whether it’s the woods, the ocean, a riverbank, a park, a neighborhood, the mountains, a meadow, or a city street. Kids have a way of finding their own games to play outdoors. Fall in particular is perfect for gathering acorns, pinecones, and leaves.
Bonus for parents: Children will go to bed easier and sleep better after getting lots of fresh air! Try this and you will see how much better they behave indoors and how much easier bedtime is. They’ll also probably get sick less, too.
Please share some easy things you do with your kids to keep them off of screens.
To your health,
P.S. No wonder Wolfie likes looking at screens, when this is what his parents were doing during a recent trip to the circus!