10 Fun Screen Free Ideas for Families with Young Children

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The first two years of my 10 year old daughter Camden’s life were almost completely screen free. Granted, it was pretty easy: we had one child and we didn’t have smart phones or tablets yet. Then, when Cami was 2 1/2, I had her brother Wyatt and she was introduced to screens.

Now don’t get me wrong. A little screen time is okay. We all know what it’s like to look forward to that half hour kid’s show so you can have a little peace and quiet, some time to take a shower or get the dishes done or time for yourself. However, we also know what it can be like when they’ve had too much time on the screen: tears, anger, yelling, arguing…it’s not fun. Maintaining a healthy screen time balance is important, so I wanted to share some fun, screen free activities we did with our children when they were younger:

1. Encourage them to use their imaginations! Play:

*Store: materials (all are optional): cash register or calculator, items “for sale” (can be anything- we just used things in my kid’s playroom or bedrooms), grocery cart, baby dolls, play purse/wallet, play money/credit cards (our kids used our expired ones). Take turns being the cashier and the customer with your little ones. Show them how to ring things up and practice counting money and change. Practice good manners and being friendly.

*Ice cream shop. Materials needed: colored pom poms, ice cream scoop/spoon, play or real bowls and spoons, cash register/calculator, play purse/wallet, money, baby dolls. Take turns running the ice cream shop and being the customer. 

*Doctor’s office. Materials needed: doctor’s kit (purchase or make your own), baby dolls (or just yourself), play telephone (optional), doctor’s notebook/pencil. Take turns being the doctor and the patient.

*House. Materials needed: really anything you want. We used baby dolls, cradles/cribs, play food/dishes, play cleaning supplies, blankets, pillows, even boxes to make a house. Practice being a polite and helpful part of the family. 

*School. Materials: whatever you have. Chalkboard, whiteboard, desks/chairs, pencils/paper/other school supplies, books and other materials. Take turns being the teacher and the student. Practice good classroom behavior (raising your hand, following directions, listening to the teacher, trying your best).

*Restaurant. Materials: table/chairs, play food/dishes/kitchen, notepad and pencil to take orders. Take turns being the server and the customer.

*Band. Materials needed: musical instruments (buy or make your own). Use your voice and the instruments to play/sing along with music or create your own! 

2. Create/build/invent: give your children things such as paper towel tubes, yarn, popsicle sticks, felt, rocks, shells, boxes, bubble wrap, feathers and let them create! If they need some encouragement: “What could we make with these? Should we make an animal? A monster? A fairy house? A new game?” See what they come up with! 

3. Get outside! Bubbles, sidewalk chalk, hopscotch, hide and seek, tag, the park, riding bikes, nature walk, print out a nature scavenger hunt (there are lots of free ones online), the beach, look for shapes in the clouds. 

4. Encourage their inner artist: let them make a book (my daughter made an animal book when she was in preschool), let them explore with paints, oil pastels, colored pencils, crayons (neon, glitter, scented), markers, stickers, gel pens, collage, glitter (put it in salt shakers to contain the mess)- the possibilities are endless!

5. Games: Some of my kid’s favorites are puzzles, Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, Perfection, cards (teach them Go Fish, Crazy Eights, Slap Jack, Old Maid) and Checkers.

6. Books: My kids and I still make weekly trips to the library. The library has so much to explore. Most libraries have puzzles, games, scavenger hunts, blocks, play kitchens, dolls and more. Libraries have free programs for families like story times, lego days and science and music classes. Let your children choose their own books. My kids never want to leave! 

7. Build. Legos, mega blocks, wooden blocks, foam blocks, duplos, marble runs, magnets… there are so many things you can build with! Challenge them to build a city, a castle, a house, a secret hideout, a pirate ship, a school etc.

8. Encourage helpfulness. They aren’t too young to help out around the house! Teach them to put away their laundry, feed the family pet, set the table, clear the table, dust- download and print off an age appropriate chore list. 

9. Do acts of kindness for others. This is the perfect age to talk to your child about doing kind things for others. Read some kindness books to introduce the topic to your little ones (this is a great one). Great ideas include making and delivering cookies to the neighbors, raking your neighbor’s leaves, inviting a friend to play, calling grandparents, making a card for someone, writing a library letter, or making a blanket.

10. Playdates/field trips. Get out of the house. Google “free events for kids” in your area or visit places like: the library, parks, beaches, pools, museums (lots of them have special days/prices for little ones), indoor play areas, the zoo, a friend’s house, the mall, ice cream shop etc. Check out Groupon for deals and to try new places. 

There are so many great things you can do with your children and as they get older, they will develop their independence and be able to play with each other or on their own. 

If you’re like my family, when we are having a challenge with something at home (eating healthy, cleaning up toys, listening to mom and dad, being kind), we find a book about it. I use books to facilitate discussions with my children about things we’re struggling with. 
If you’re looking for a children’s book about maintaining a healthy screen time balance, look no further! I am currently running a kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to publish my next book Cami and Wyatt Have Too Much Screen Time! I am super excited to get this book out there into the hands of families everywhere!! Want to support my book and get a signed hardcover copy of my book along with special rewards only backers of my campaign get?? Visit this link to pre-order your book now–in fact, everyone who orders on the first day (Feb. 4th) will be entered to receive a Cami and Wyatt MEGA Bundle with 5 books, valentines, and more!!.
Born and raised in a suburb of Minneapolis, Stacy C. Bauer is the author of the best selling Cami Kangaroo and Wyatt Too series of children’s books. Stacy is married with two children and has been a teacher for 17 years. She is currently working on her third hardcover children’s book. In her spare time, Stacy feeds her book addiction by staying up way too late reading. She loves music, traveling, playing games and spending time with family. You can follow her story-telling adventures on Facebook HERE. Don’t miss out on numerous giveaways during her kickstarter campaign- follow along on instagram.

Happy Educating,

Carla



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