Screen-Free Activites for Kids: Looking for indoor activity ideas for kids? Turn off the TV and put down the iPad with these educational, non-electronic activities!
SCREEN FREE ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS
It’s getting to be that time of year…no, not the holidays. It’s the time of year that I want to move 🙂 HA! Just kidding…but the days are getting shorter, the kids are getting wigglier, and the temperatures are dropping. And here in Wisconsin, our winter lasts five months out of the year. So what do we do? Well, lots of indoor activities.
These are indoor activities and toys that:
- require little setup
- kids can do independently
- get played with a lot!
AND ARE SCREEN FREE!
We’ve had many of these materials for years, and plan on having them for many more!
Simply, I give the kids activity options and it is up to them to decide what they want to do and to keep themselves engaged. Having these activity cards is a tool I keep in my “toolbox” which I can turn to when they say want to watch TV and I say no. The act of “choosing” a card and activity helps them feel independent and in charge and is an easy diversion when they meltdown because they want to watch TV.
The cards are good for pre-readers as well as readers because little kids can identify the pictures on the cards and understand. And using them daily will help bring a sense of rhythm and routine to your kids’ daily schedules (which does wonders for whining!)
20+ NO SCREEN TIME ACTIVITIES
Reading is huge in our family. I grew up being a voracious reader and I want to nurture that same love in my kids. Because we have a wide age range (and some wiggly little sisters), we read mostly short picture books. However, we are beginning to read chapter books with our older kids. Most days, I aim for at least 30 minutes total spent reading. Most of the time we spend more time reading when you factor in free-time looking at books and bedtime stories, so 30 minutes is achievable.
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To keep the kids interested, I request library books weekly. This saves a lot of stress trying to find the books while watching all four kids at the library. We also go to the library weekly after school, and the kids are allowed to pick out one book each of their own choice. So any given week, we’ll have 12-16 new books in circulation which provides fresh reading material.
To get ideas, I love going to everyday-reading.com who I adore. We print out her lists of 100 picture books to read and chip away at it week after week. The kids love checking titles off the pages and often will request to keep their favorite titles a week more before returning them (which is fine for me.)
Bowe also likes to use her school-provided reading app online (Kids A-Z Reading) which works fairly well. I am not in love with the system, but it is a hands-off way to get her practicing reading and it part of her homework. I am looking into more apps like this that the kids can do independently. I am currently looking into other learning to read programs like Starfall which I have heard about.
For beginning readers, I love this set of books. They are basic, and we own the whole set (from very early to advanced.) I figure we will use them for all four kids, so it’s a worthwhile investment! I also recently invested in this Montessori-themed set of books. Unlike the other books, these are in color and more realistic storylines. We purchased the entire set going from alphabet sound cards, to the level two story books.
If you are looking for a gift idea, consider gifting a BookRoo subscription! We love ours!
(See more ideas: 21 Gift Ideas For Kids Who Have Everything)
Man, oh man, do my kids love dressing up! Every single day there is at least one princess and one animal (Jack currently likes being a cheetah) parading through our house. We recently upgraded our storage for the dress-up and the kids love it. The smaller basket is for accessories, wings, purses, and crowns. The larger basket is for full outfits, and the coat rack is for dresses and the most often used items.
MOM TIP: Invest in some costumes that are gender-neutral. Boys love dressing up too, whether it’s as an animal, a dinosaur, a fireman, an astronaut, or a doctor! This company makes great gender-neutral realistic dress-up outfits.
3: CARD GAME
Here are our favorite card games for kids (see them playing the activities in our road trip activities for kids.) I keep our cards in a “mom only” accessible drawer in our playroom so we don’t have multiple sets in circulation and lose cards.
4: BOARD GAME
Ahh, board games. They sure are a mixed bag, aren’t they? I have so many fond memories of playing board games as a child, but some of them are so dull! Also, if you have competitive children (a couple of mine are), cooperative style games are best. This brand of games, in particular, focuses on board games that multiple players can win at the same time. I like those best. Here are some good favorites that work for kids ages 3-7.
5: PLAY PRETEND
My motto with playing pretend is to let them have free reign (as long as they clean up!) They can dress up, set up forts, pretend anything they want as long as they tidy it up at the end. And I get out of the room–I want their imaginations to direct them (not mine). And usually, once they get started, the kids are quite content for 30-45 minutes.
6: BUILDING BLOCKS
We have a ton of building block options in our house, here are a few of our favorites. Generally, we keep one or two options out and rotate them in and out of play. Having too many toy options can be overwhelming for kids (and make huge messes.) But free-range building blocks are always out.
Favorite building blocks:
7: PUT ON A PLAY
Bowe is quite theatrical (and Jack even enjoys getting up there from time to time.) For Bowe’s second Christmas, we made her a puppet theater, and now we are treated to puppet shows (which the younger kids enjoy) in it, as well as improvisational dance shows in the evenings in our family room. The dance moves are always entertaining and the storylines even more so…
Adorable wooden play stand here/ budget friendly alternative here
8: PLAY WITH TOYS
My kids have more toys than they know what to do with.
Case in point: this summer, my husband and I decided to give away 2/3 of the toys the kids seldom played with in our basement. Four months later, the kids still haven’t noticed! Kids don’t need a ton of toys–they just need quality ones that are open-ended. My rule for toys is non-electronic, preferably not plastic, and no annoying sounds. Hence, most of our toys have lasted a long time but the favorites by far are building blocks, magnatiles, dollhouse, and dinosaur figurines. Those are the most often used.
Our favorite animal and dinosaur figurines/ our favorite dollhouse/ our favorite baby dolls
Related: See our favorite dinosaur toys here
9: MAKE ART
In our breakfast room, we have a giant table (like 8″ long) made out of a plywood top that the kids can do artwork on. While it is somewhat frustrating that art supplies are always out, it doesn’t bother me that much anymore. It just means that the kids are constantly creating which is what I want to see!
Related: See our favorite DIY Art Cart here and our favorite art supplies here.
10: BUILD A FORT
My kids love building forts! They regularly build little makeshift tents out of our homemade floor pillows (see how to make your own DIY floor pillows here.) But, we also have a DIY teepee we built for Christmas as well. The kids can always take it out (and often do.) None of the pillows are too precious in our house, and the rule is that anything in the family room or the playroom is fair game (the living room pillows are off limits, however.)
If your kids love building forts, this is a lovely fort building creative play (we might be getting it for our kids this Christmas!)
11: PLAY WITH PLAYDOUGH OR MAGIC SAND
Why do kids LOVE playing with playdough or other sensory materials? It’s a favorite in our house, so we actually just keep it in the art cart (see our exact one here.) We also have three bags of kinetic or magic sand. I keep them high in a cabinet though, so the kids can’t use it willy nilly.
MOM TIP: To minimize mess, I have the kids do their magic sand on a half-sheet jelly pan or a pyrex pie dish!
Good old watercolors are always a favorite for my kids, and each Christmas I like to replenish their art supplies with fresh watercolors. Although we’ve experimented with finger paint, I much prefer watercolors because they are much cleaner!
Related: See how I made our family DIY Bulletin Board here–perfect for displaying artwork!
13: PRACTICE LETTERS & READING WORKS
As Bowe gets older and starts having real homework, I’ve begun incorporating more “school-like” works in our house. Because we practice the Montessori method with our kids (all of them attend a Montessori school), you won’t find traditional flashcards or workbooks (other than sight word cards.) Instead, we work on the basics. Bowe’s school (a public Montessori school) uses these handwriting workbooks, and I bought an entire set so Jack can start practicing them too.
Since Jack is in preschool (K-4), he is currently working on sandpaper letters and writing, so he will work on uppercase then lowercase, and then start writing words. Maria Montessori believed that kids should first learn to write, and once they master the physical skills, then move onto other things.
14: PRACTICE NUMBERS AND MATH WORKS
Again, because the kids attend Montessori-style schools, we don’t have lots of workbooks or activity books with math facts at home. Instead, we are working on more open-ended activities like counting, number recognition, and math manipulatives. This is something I am currently working on learning more about and getting more supplies, so I will keep this updated!
15: PLAY WITH TRAIN TRACKS
It’s a classic for a reason! Kids LOVE building train tracks! We were fortunate to borrow my brother’s Brio set from when he was a child, but there are plenty of options out there for a more reasonably priced train set.
16: TELL A STORY/ WRITE A BOOK
My oldest, Bowe, LOVES to create. She is just starting to write a lot (and while her spelling isn’t right on), the meaning is there. Jack likewise likes to write books even though they are all pictorial. It’s a great habit to get into and the kids are always proud to read their stories to us.
Another story writing activity we love using our these story cards. We gifted them to Bowe on her fourth or fifth birthday, and we bring them out from time to time (and I get new ones with updated prompts). But the idea is that these cards form the basis of a story and that the kids need to weave together a story out of them. As the kids get older, we will start using them more and more as a group exercise–each card building on the other person’s story.
17: LISTEN TO A PODCAST OR AUDIOBOOK
A couple of our favorite podcasts to listen to as a family are Circle Round Podcast and Stories Podcast. Both are geared towards kids 3-8 and promote good messaging. We like listening to a podcast on Alexa, and I will let the kids either eat a snack or color with markers while listening.
I let the kids watch Cosmic Kids on YouTube (we have a FireTV) and I just turn it on and select which show they are going to watch. Bowe really enjoys it, and Brooke and Jack are getting there. It’s a great wind-down activity that also gets the kids active.
We love puzzles! But because we only have 10 or so, I like to rotate them so they are fresh. Here are some of our favorites.
Long baths are great for the winter months! And my only rule for bath toys is that they are mold-free (no squirters), so Jack is allowed to bring in his solid dinosaurs, and we have lots of bath toys that we use year after year from Boon.
I bathe all four at a time, I bring the baby in her little bathtub first, and then pull her out and let the older three hop in. We have a giant jacuzzi bathtub that fits all three without issue (and we never turn on the jets–they aren’t safe for children.) We alternate using bubble bath (Honest Co from Meijer), and I turn on the heater on really cold days, so the kids can happily play in there for 30-45 minutes.
If you’re interested here’s our family’s screentime policy:
Ok, so we have four kids (0, 2, 4, and 6) and because of their young ages we don’t have tried and true screentime rules. When they are older and have more independence, we will likely institute some kind of blanket policy; but, right now this is what works for our family.
Although we do allow screentime in our house, our kids do not have iPads or Fires, and I decide how much and what they watch as a group on the television. We regularly watch movies (see more on that here) Friday nights, and they do get Saturday morning and Sunday morning cartoons. But, too much TV makes cranky kids! So we try to keep it to a reasonable amount.