100 Screen-Free Things To Do With Kids At Home
Written by Erin Feher
Photography by Heather Moore
We get it, life is completely upside down these days, and it can be tempting to hand over the iPad or laptop and let the kids zone out while you get some work done. But this can also be an opportunity to nourish their little imaginations, and even send them in to do battle with that dreaded foe from our own childhoods: boredom. We asked a few of our favorite creative mamas—including Zahra Kassam of Monti Kids and author/homeschooling mom Allie Summers—to share a few of their ideas for analog, screen free family fun. So, before you surrender to the screen, pick a few items from this screen free activities list to dive into each day.
At-Home Art Class. The folks at the de Young Museum have put together 5 amazing art tutorials that will keep littles busy and utilize common supplies you likely already have at home. From creating paint out of egg yolk and spices to using paper to make sculptures—these “deYoungsters” lessons are just the thing to spark creativity on a ho-hum day. Feel free to watch the simple YouTube tutorials (which include kid-sized bits of art history) with your child. Or, if you want an unplugged experience, print out the “lesson plans” that are linked in each video.
Wash Windows Together. This may sound like a chore to adults, but toddlers love to clean! Take advantage of it and get some sparkling windows in the process. Using a small spray bottle containing non-toxic soap and water and a towel, enjoy this household chore together. Washing windows can be an indoor activity, too!
Act Out A Book. Which book are your kids obsessed with these days? Dig into the dress-up box and have them try to act out a live action version.
Make Potions. Dole out a few little cups of water, flour, corn starch, jam, or whatever else your little scientists would love mixing up, and let them start creating.
Dance Party! There’s no better way to burn off some excess energy than by turning up the music and having a dance party in the living room. It’s also a great way to shake things up when your little one is feeling grumpy. Pick a favorite album or playlist. You can even set a timer so when the music goes on, it’s time to drop everything and dance!
Make Crayon-Scrap Candles. Follow these simple steps to turn worn down crayon nubs into colorful candles.
Water Activities. Fill a plastic tub with some water and LEGO Duplos, and give your little one a strainer to fish them out. Only put in as much water as you’re willing to clean up!
Make a Fort. Whether using cardboard boxes, pillows and blankets, or an endless supply of “building” materials, a fort can provide your child with hours of entertainment. Bring a basket of books inside, along with supportive pillows and a favorite blanket. Your little one can relax in this cozy spot to read and re-read favorite books. Your child can also use the fort to simply recharge and have some time to themselves…while you get some work done! The thought of a “secret” spot is both exciting and empowering, and offers children a safe, peaceful place to hide and hangout (even if you know exactly where they are).
Origami. Looking for something new and crafty to try? Origami is always a fun, unique activity to introduce to kids. And if all else fails, attempt some no-fail paper airplanes and try to see who can fly them the farthest.
Make And Sculpt. As a mom, you probably already know what salt dough is and why it’s amazing, but if not, get ready to meet one of your new favorite kid pastimes. Why? Salt dough is a simple modeling dough made from ingredients you already have in your home. It’s great because it engages kids, is easy to make, and requires no glazes or kilns.
Learn a New Language. Check out some Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone programs via your library’s website, and listen to them while you color or work on a puzzle. Or if one person in the family is fluent, chose an hour a day where they only speak in their second language to everyone else.
Gluing Project. Artwork is an excellent fine motor activity for your little one at home. In the spirit of spring/summer, you can cut some colorful butterflies or flowers out of construction paper, and then show your child how to glue the pieces onto a larger piece of paper. Give them just a few choices, or it may overwhelm them and prevent them from settling into the work. Older children can help cut out the shapes for the gluing, and may choose to create a scene on their paper with cut-outs, and possibly even some mixed media.
Pranks. With April Fools day coming up, there is no better time to start brainstorming some good-natured pranks to pull on each other. We love stuffing dad’s shoes with cotton balls, serving someone a cup of blue milk (thanks food coloring!), or making up the bed backwards.
Be A Florist. Collect branches, ferns, and a few blooms and arrange them in a pretty jar.
Go for a Drive. If all else fails, it’s still safe to go for a drive. Consider your child’s interests. Do they love animals? Maybe you have a grassy area nearby with cows they can count as you drive by. Maybe they love cars? Take a spin past the police and fire stations as you discuss the different emergency vehicles you come across.
Raid Your Closet for Tactile Fabrics. Create a collection of like-objects from scarves of various fabrics. Let your child explore the textures. Show your little one how to wave them overhead and twirl around. Place the items in a basket within easy reach so your child can keep this activity in rotation in the coming weeks.
Throw A Bath Party. Turn off the lights, toss in the glow sticks and bubble wands, and crank the music.
Craft Collages from Family Photos And Old Magazines. Kids love cutting stuff up, so hand ’em a not-too-sharp pair of scissors and a stack of paper headed for the recycling bin and let them snip away. Add glue sticks and a sheet of cardboard and prompt them to create something new!
Play Hide-and-Seek. Before you say the house is too small and there are no places to hide, let us just say: that’s the best part! After a few rounds the kids’ creativity will kick in, and they will find spots you would have never thought of!
Sudoko. These brain boosting puzzles can be designed for all ages and skills (as long as you know your numbers and how to count 1-9). There’s even alphabet and color Sudoko!
Learn Some Magic Tricks. Whether you buy a few trick coins or cards from a magic shop, or simply practice your own slight of hand, mastering a few magic tricks is a great way to spend an afternoon and impress the friends once everyone is back together!
Rotate in Old Favorite Toys. You’ll want to make sure your child has an engaging play space. You don’t need a lot of room, often a small shelf in your family room can be the perfect spot since children thrive on being part of the community. In Montessori, it’s recommended to put out 6-8 toys or collections (which can be a tray or basket of like items) at once. This helps support your little one’s sense of order, and allows them to focus on their work and play as they build new skills. Maybe your child has some old favorite toys and activities in storage. Now could be the perfect time to rotate them back in, as your child will engage with the materials with fresh eyes.
Go Outside. If there is a park or wooded area nearby, just walk over and let them run free. You could also set up pinecones, sticks, and rocks as an obstacle course, choosing different body movements for them to do (jumping, hopping, crab walk, sideways slide, etc.).
Make a Toliet Paper Roll Craft. Because we know you’ve got plenty. Here are a few fun ideas!
Tic Tac Toe. Spice up this classic play-anywhere game by making a custom board (wood+paint?) and hunting for objects to serve as x’s and o’s. Rocks? Pinecones?
Rummage the Closets for an Impromptu Fashion Show. It’s not like you will be wearing those fancy dresses and heels to a party anytime soon. Let the kids catwalk it up in the sparkly numbers they always dreamed of sporting.
Rock a Family Band. No instruments? Grab spoons and pots!
Host a High Tea and Wear Fancy Outfits and Funny Hats. Let them get gussied up in their holiday best and serve tea out of a proper pot (and let them pour—it’s their favorite part). Cut the crusts off of some cucumber sandwiches and you’re in business.
Make A Yogurt Sundae Buffet. Make a spread of all the classic ice cream toppings like sprinkles, chocolate sauce, nuts, dried coconut, and anything else you have on hand. Let them top their creamy greek yogurt and dig in!
Let Them Flip Through Cookbooks and Pick A Recipe To Make Together. A great way to get kids to try new foods is to let them look through all those mouthwatering pictures and pick their own new dish to try!
Decopage. It’s no secret that kids love to do “big kid stuff” like using knives and scissors (cringe!), not to mention, they love glueing anything and everything together. Let them be big kids, while learning decoupage with scrap newspaper, magazines, safety scissors, and washable glue sticks. Turn the project into a mixed media piece with some buttons, colored paint, glitter, stamps, and more.
Play a Board Game. Put away the iPads, iPhones, and other gadgets, and go old school with a classic board game. From Candy Land to Sorry and Operation to Uno, there are tons of classic games to play with children of all ages and these games make for hours of good old fashioned fun.
Karaoke Competition. Most children love to sing along with their favorite tunes. Clear the living room, make a “stage,” and have the kids take turns singing their favorite songs. Don’t have a mic? Just grab a hairbrush and let loose.
Put On A Puppet Show. Another creative way to get the kids involved in a fun activity is by putting on a puppet show at home. Create a script, make a cardboard box theater, grab some old socks or brown bags (or use dolls) for characters, and put on a show!
Indoor Garden. Bring some miniature clay pots, mulch, and seeds indoors on a non-carpet floor to make an indoor garden. Make it personal by letting the kiddos paint their own pots, choose their seeds, and make some labeled plant markers for each flower and herb.
DIY Bowling. Make bowling pins out of a few leftover water bottles (or whatever tall plastic containers you have on hand), set them up in a long hallway, and use a ball of your choice. This will keep the tots entertained for a while and since the bowling set is lightweight, it’s safe activity to do indoors.
Spread Some Love. Do your relatives live far away? Have the kids write cards, make gifts, or draw pictures to their grandma, aunt, cousin, and friends just because! Or call a nearby retirement center and ask if your kids can make and mail over some cards and crafts for the residents.
Take A Family Bike Ride. It’s a safe way to be outside when social distancing. It may even be OK to ask friends or neighbors to join. Just stay on your bike and keep pedaling!
Make Your Own Puzzles. They draw a colorful picture on an entire page and then cut it into large pieces with scissors. Then you have to try to put the puzzle together once you are off your work call.
Play Simon Says. It’s a great way to get moving on days when it’s not ideal to go outside.
Do a Riddle Scavenger Hunt. Hide a collection of objects around the house and write a list of clues as to where your kiddos can find them. A rock hidden in the laundry basket? “This is where your stinky socks snuggle up and go to sleep at the end of the day.” Take turns and give the kids a shot to hide items and write clues, too. That’s the best part!
Start a Pen Pal. Pick a grandma, friend, aunt, uncle, or cousin whom you can’t see right now and write them a letter. Can’t write yet? Draw a picture. This could be expanded for older kids: how to address an envelope properly, what is your address, how to write a letter with “Dear Friend,” “Sincerely,” etc.
Yoga. Put all those solo mom classes to use and teach the littles some simple poses. You don’t need a yoga mat to do this, and starting each day with a good, peaceful stretch sets the right tone. Check out these 15 great yoga poses for kids to get started!
Spring Cleaning. Pick a cluttered corner of the house/their room and have them take everything out and go through it. Maybe they find toys they want to play with or are done with. Only put the things back that still belong after your purge.
Make Up a Song. Have them tell a story but put them into lyrics of a song. How will the tune go?
Hand Sew Something. Don’t have fabric? Maybe you have an old baby blanket or t-shirt or something that you wouldn’t mind turning into something else. Our favorite beginner project is a felt heart.
Jump On The Bed. I mean, if we are stuck inside for a while…it can be fun to make exceptions to everyday rules.
Read a Longer Chapter Book to Them. Spend 30 minutes a day on a longer story. We love Ronia The Robbers Daughter, the Little House On The Prairie series, anything by Roald Dahl, and The Neverending Story.
Make Paper Flowers. Cut them out of paper and put them in vases all over the house.
Write a Poem. Rhyming and telling silly stories are instinctual for kids. Start by creating short poems and let them fill in the rhyming blanks, Mad-Libs style, then challenge them to create their own!
Get Baking. What kid doesn’t love dessert? What kid doesn’t love to help in the kitchen? Sweeten your day with a mom-and-kid baking extravaganza. Better yet, make a themed dessert with another activity planned—pirate-themed cookies for a treasure hunt or make homemade candy for the movie later. Don’t forget the aprons and baker hats!
Write Letters to Grandma and Grandpa. Many of our favorite relatives are isolating themselves to stay safe. Your child can take pride in drawing some heartfelt pictures for your loved ones, both near and far. Your little one could also make cards for neighbors and drop them off on their doorstep during neighborhood walks. Dropping off the artwork on the same day will give a younger child more immediate gratification as they learn a lesson in compassion.
Create a Treasure Hunt. You know that candy you’ve been stashing away since October? Time to use it to your advantage. Create a fun treasure hunt for the kids throughout the house. This takes a little bit of work on your part, but like a scavenger hunt, it’s really thrilling for littles. Hide objects, prizes, and miniature candy bars throughout the house and make a map to all of the findings. Bonus points if you make an eye patch and telescope from toilet paper rolls for the kiddy pirates!
Plant Something. Snap peas are great because they grow fast and are yummy.
Turn Those Amazon Boxes Into Something Cool. Have them piece together a long maze, a race track, a skyscraper—the options are limitless. Give them tape, glue, scissors, and paper and see what they create.
Play Hair Salon. A water spray bottle, a brush, and a handful of hair elastics, clips, and headbands will keep little hands busy. Plus, the end results will bring on the giggles.
Make Up A Play. Have them create characters and a storyline and practice acting it out. If they have a sibling they could do this together or with puppets and stuffed animals. Have them act it out for you when you are done returning emails.
Zone Out To Music. Let them listen to music, and not just kids’ music—share your favorite songs with them.
Start A Chore Chart. But maybe don’t call them chores. Regular time at home is a great time to give kids a few responsibilities that they will tackle every day.
Become an Activist. What are your kids passionate about? Saving the planet? Being kind to animals? Dig into ways they can actively get involved, on a kid scale. Introduce your little activist to other young people making a difference, like Greta.
Create Chalk Art. Hopscotch on the sidewalk is a classic, but remember, chalk washes off almost all surfaces easily, including wood fences and benches. So let them go nuts!
Make A Milk Carton Craft. Usually where there are kids, there is milk. Lots and lots of milk, which means lots and lots of empty milk cartons. We say: Recycle those bad boys by rinsing them out with hot soapy water, allow them to air dry, and use them for craft time! Here are two super cute ideas to get started.
Make a List. Give them a topic: movies they want to watch, books they want to read, cities they want to visit, things to update in their rooms, friends to call, foods to try, every Fortnite skin ranked—and they’ll spend the afternoon debating and brainstorming in their journals.
Paint Little Finger and Toe Nails. Non-toxic kiddie polish is easy to clean up, so go ahead and let them take a crack at gussying up their own nails (or each others, if they have siblings).
Write a Book With Them. Have them tell you a story and you write it down. Then think about which words would be on a page together and which pictures you would draw to go with the pages. They can draw the pictures for the pages.
Armchair Travel. Was everyone excited for a trip that ended up getting cancelled? Do an art project on the locale and have them draw the things you were expecting to see or do. Research the buildings, plants, and animals that are different and write about it. Build a scene with recycled materials.
Make A Rock and Stick Garden. Do you already have a collection of rocks and sticks at home? If not, on your next nature walk collect some (responsibly) to make one.
Make A DIY Animal Charades Game. They draw pictures of as many animals as they can think of and cut them out into little squares (you can show them pictures of animals to help or have them look in one of their animal books for inspiration). Fold them, put them in a bowl and play charades. This works well for younger kids who can’t read yet, but can act out a “bear” like you’ve never seen before!
Practice With a Rubix Cube. Once kids’ get hooked on this old-school puzzle, they can spin for hours on end. The key is getting a book (or printing out instructions) on how to actually learn to solve it. We know kids as young as 5 or 6 who get the hang of it with knowledgable guidance!
Browse Some Books. Take out a stack of 10-15 books, have them look through them all independently and quietly. It sounds so simple, but kids need this quiet down time, too. If they can read, pick a few books they can read to themselves.
Create Your Own Coloring Pages. Print out simple photographs of friends, family members, or favorite memories in black and white and let the kids color them in.
Make Friendship Bracelets. Learn a few basic weaves and knotting techniques, then let them pick out their own colored string.
Draw or Paint a Self Portrait. Set up in front of a mirror and let them paint their own likeness!
Do a Selfless Act. Start a free mini library, walk an elderly neighbor’s dog, bring in a neighbor’s trash can, or simply help out a sibling or a parent. Aim to have them do one selfless act a day!
Jump Rope. This physical activity takes a lot of energy and can be done in a relatively small space. Come up with songs or movements to try. Got a big living room and a couple siblings? Double Dutch!
Teach Them a Hand Clapping Game From your Childhood. From Miss Mary Mack to Patty Cake, there is a ditty for every age group. Have them practice with a sibling or stuffed animal or wall.
Stickers. Need we say more?
Start a Collection. Speaking of stickers, starting and maintaining a collection is such a throw-back, old school tradition, but even our modern tech-loving kids seem to get into it. If you had a collection as a kid, pass it down to your kids and let them continue it. Or, just find something they like and let them add to it—rubber stamps, coins, unicorns, stickers, cool enamel pins, seashells, painted rocks, you name it.
Make Flarp. Making Flarp (a.k.a. slime) from scratch is an ooey-gooey activity that the whole family can enjoy. Plus it creates a sensory material that offers hours of ongoing play! You can find a great recipe right here.
Play Jacks. This low-tech game is fun for kids of all ages, and helps them perfect their fine motor skills.
Camp In. If you’re not up for a backyard campout yet, then try camping in. Bring your sleeping bags to the living room, tell silly stories with a flashlight in the dark, and make s’mores in the fireplace (or microwave).
Take Photographs. Do you have an old camera sitting around that got forgotten after the iPhone moved in? Teach the kids the basics then set them loose. You can even print out the images and make a book.
Learn Solitaire. Remember when our own parents used to say “play solitaire!” when we were bored? Time to teach your kids how to play. There are more than 150 variations of solitaire to choose from!
Have A Puzzle Marathon. See how many puzzles you can complete and leave them all out on the floor.
Host a Soup Party. Fact: Kids love helping out in the kitchen. And while there are endless simple recipes you can try out together, when it’s cold outside, we immediately think of soup. Why not throw a soup party for the kids? Set up a toppings station complete with Annie’s bunny crackers, croutons, bacon bits, shredded cheese, and more to take it up a notch. The kids will have a blast and warm their bellies at the same time.
For more at-home entertainment ideas, check out our piece on 10 Screen-Free Activities To Try Now, 4 Fun Art Projects Using Natural, Foraged Materials, and 10 Principles For Having A More Playful Family Life.
This article was originally published on March 19, 2020.
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