Kids stuck on screens all day? Give their eyes a rest with these Interesting Screen-free Activities for Kids, suitable for kids of all ages!
With the pandemic continuing in our country and elsewhere, we’ve grown accustomed to this new life of masks, sanitizers and of course, online learning. Our kids are probably among the most affected due to the pandemic restrictions, and it’s not easy for them. From learning to communicating with grandparents, a large part of their lives have moved online. And when they go to screens for entertainment too, parents begin to worry.
Problems with Excessive Screen Time
This worry is not unfounded. It is not recommended for kids to have unlimited screen time, as it can have many adverse effects on their physical and emotional well being. Here is a quick look at some of them:
- Excessive screen time has been linked to childhood obesity as children spend increased hours without any activity
- Screens emit blue light which affects the release of melatonin, which in turn disrupts sleep patterns
- Too much time in front of a screen has also shown to increase chronic neck and back problems in kids
- Overdoing it on screen time also leads to behavioral problems, as well as depression and anxiety
- Younger children are more seriously affected by too much screen time, as it affects their language and social skills, along with causing decreased attention spans
Due to this, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screen time for children as follows:
- Under 2 years – No screen time
- 2-5 years – Less than an hour a day, under adult supervision
- 6-18 years – Preferably 2 hours or less
However, with the pandemic, it has become difficult to stick to these guidelines, especially since online classes often take up quite a chunk of this screen time. Older kids may also need to use screens for school work and projects even when there are no classes. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, kids ages eight to 12 spend an average of four to six hours a day in front of screens, and teenagers end up having as much as nine hours of screen time a day.
All this excess screen time is taking its toll on children’s eye health. According to the Wall Street Journal, experts are seeing an increase in eye problems in young children, particularly myopia and eye strain. When children spend extended periods in front of screens, the shape of the eye changes to adjust to a close range focus, leading to myopia. Decreased outdoor time and exposure to sunlight are other factors causing eye problems in the pandemic.
As parents, this can be concerning, since with the current situation, we’re still unsure about when offline classes will resume. Since our children are stuck with online learning for the foreseeable future, we need to make a conscious effort to ensure their eyes stay healthy. The Indian Academy of Pediatrics suggests balancing screen time with other activities that ensure overall development without affecting sleep and physical activity. Here are some ways to do it:
- Have a proper daily routine in place, with specified times for screens, physical activity, sleep, meals and entertainment
- As far as possible, have all meals together at the table, with all screens and devices switched off
- Avoid screen time at least 3-4 hours before bedtime
- Try to have some ‘unplugged’ time during weekends where the family does something together without involving screens
- Opt for phone calls to communicate with friends and grandparents instead of video calls
Along with these, you need to find entertainment options that don’t involve screens, and in today’s world that can be quite a challenge! That’s why we’ve rounded up 25 of the most interesting and practical screen-free activities for kids that they can do by themselves or with a parent’s help. You’re sure to find something here for every age group.
20 Interesting Screen-free Activities for Kids
There seriously can’t be a better screen-free activity for kids than reading! A study by the National Literacy Trust in America found that children today read less than any previous generation, and devices are partly to blame. Get your child some books suitable for his age and interests. Start with smaller books so they don’t get overwhelmed. Make it more interesting by setting up a small reading corner with a comfortable chair and a small basket or box to store books. Let them start with 15 minute sessions every day, and they will gradually increase the time themselves as they get more interested.
2. Play Board Games
When we were young, playing board games was a usual activity, but with the increased popularity of video games and computer games, board games aren’t as common. However, the pandemic has brought about a renewed interest, especially in classics like Monopoly, Connect 4, Pictionary and Scrabble. There are also some new ones like Hungry Hippos, Tumblin’ Monkeys and Dr. Eureka. Board games are great fun for the whole family and keep everyone occupied for a good while.
3. Write a Letter
Everyone laments the lost art of letter writing, as emails, instant messages and now emojis have taken over the world of communication. Let kids revive this art by writing a letter to their school friends or grandparents or cousins. It can be a simple letter about their day, something new they tried, a movie they watched, or it can even be a complaint about Mom to Grandma! Encourage them to use drawings, colors and stickers to perk up their letter. Nothing can compare to the charm of a handwritten letter, and when they get letters back from their loved ones, they will realize how delightful the experience is.
4. Try STEM Activities
STEM refers to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEM education encourages children to question, seek answers and experiment to find solutions. STEM has become an integral part of modern education as science and technology advances at a rapid pace. Online classes may cause kids to miss out on a lot practical experiences, so have them participate in some STEM activities at home. Even young children can perform simple experiments like testing density, building structures, sprouting a seed, playing with magnets and many more. Let older kids maintain a science journal where they can track and record their experiments and findings.
The pandemic has seen an increase in anxiety – in adults as well as children. The uncertainty of our lives, as well as fear of getting ill affects kids more than adults, especially since they often have incomplete information and bigger fears. Journaling is one of the best ways to relieve this anxiety and to get some clarity in their thoughts. Writing in a journal everyday can be a little overwhelming for beginners, so start with a gratitude journal. Write down 3-5 things they are grateful for that day. Gradually, they can start writing about experiences and feelings. Some children may prefer sketching or doodling instead of writing – let them do whatever makes them feel comfortable.
6. Try Cooking and Baking
Cooking is a life skill that everyone should have – boys and girls. Rather than waiting for them to grow up and learn it on their own, it’s far easier to teach them right from an early age. Even young children can find some way to help in the kitchen, like measuring, stirring, pouring, washing dishes and setting the table. Older children can start to prepare simple meals like sandwiches, and pre-teens and teenagers can learn basic knife skills and how to operate the stove. Who knows, they might even discover a career path! Get children interested by making their favorite dishes. Young children often enjoy the process of baking and watching liquid batter turn into fluffy cupcakes and cakes.
7. Draw and Color
There is a reason there has been an upsurge in demand for adult coloring books – they are known to relieve stress and improve attention, at a very low cost! This is also why drawing and coloring are great for kids, and it helps them give vent to emotions they can’t articulate through speaking or writing. All you need are blank sheets – you can even use the backs of documents you no longer need. Coloring pages are easily available to download and print for free. If a blank page is too overwhelming for a child, you can give them prompts, like to draw something from a dream, or a picture of a gift they’d like for their next birthday.
8. Get involved in Gardening
As soon as lockdown began, many of us took to gardening, and studies from across the world show that this has become more than a panic hobby. Many people have expanded their gardens and are growing their own herbs and vegetables. Gardening is a very relaxing activity, and it also has many benefits for children. It is an opportunity to connect with nature, even when living in a city high rise. It teaches patience, nurturing, and the importance of small everyday tasks. If this is a new world for you, start with something very low maintenance, like a money plant or mint and then try growing your own microgreens.
9. Play with Puzzles
Puzzles are something that appeal to people of all ages, and especially to kids who love a bit of a challenge. There are many kinds of puzzles out there, ranging from crossword, sudoku and word searches to actual jigsaw puzzles, Rubik’s cube, magnetic puzzles and many more. There are some really intricate puzzles available today, and you can choose one based on a complexity level your child is comfortable with. Many of the word puzzles are available for free online, and you just need to print them out.
There are many proven benefits of dance for children, and it solves many problems in one go! It gets kids moving, it relieves stress, it increases appreciation of the arts, and it’s immensely enjoyable. You don’t need to join a formal dance program – all you need is some open space and a few upbeat tunes. Kids can dance on their own, with their siblings or with their parents. Let them choose any song they like and simply move their body however they like.
11. Start a Project
This is an idea for slightly older kids who have a little more patience to see the project through. You can choose any project – it can be a small skit that the kids are putting up on their own. It can be constructing a doll house or play kitchen out of cardboard boxes, or it could be repainting or repairing something in the house. Pre-teens can try something more advanced, like an electronic project, for which you can find ready made kits. Go through all the steps, like planning it out in detail, gathering all the supplies, and reviewing the project at every stage. Not only will this teach them valuable life skills they’ll need in their adult life, it also encourages them to stick with something and see it to completion.
12. Play Active Games
The lockdown has restricted the movement of kids outdoors, and this can be more stressful if you live in an apartment or don’t have a front yard of your own. This can naturally cut down on kids’ natural activity, so you need to find ways for kids to stay active indoors. You can get some simple indoor activity toys and games that make this more fun. It can be something as simple as a hula hoop or a bowling set – as long as it gets kids to move, it works!
13. Build a Fort
Most young children enjoy playing with pillows and making their own buildings with them. Take it a step further and build a little fort. If you have enough pillows and cushions, you can use them. Or you could put a bedsheet on a table so that it hangs down the sides and you have an instant play house. You can also make an obstacle course with makeshift tunnels and hurdles – it will keep little kids active and busy for hours.
14. Make DIY Toys
Who says you need to spend loads of money to be entertained? You can easily make your own simple toys with things you have lying around the home, and kids will enjoy playing with things they made themselves. Cardboard boxes are incredibly versatile and you can make all sorts of things out of them. You can also recycle old containers and ladles to create a pretend play kitchen. Old clothes and costume jewelry are perfect for a dress-up corner. A pipe cleaner easily turns into a bubble wand, and you need nothing but a light for shadow play!
15. Try a Room Makeover
One problem most parents across the world have is with getting their kids to clean their rooms. It starts out with not putting toys back into the box when they’re toddlers, and ends up with teen rooms that look like a cyclone hit them! Avoid this in the future by getting kids interested in how their rooms look right from a young age. Go through magazines or use your imagination to come up with a room makeover plan and set about executing it. Even just rearranging the furniture or changing out the cushion covers can make big difference. You can then mix and match decor items from other rooms to create a space they’ll be more invested in.
16. Make Recycled Crafts
Kids have powerful imaginations, and they’re at a stage in their lives when everything seems possible. Make use of this by encouraging them to find new uses for old items. Empty containers, plastic bottles, newspapers, bottle caps – all these things we throw into the trash can be upcycled or recycled into something else. You can of course, find ideas online, but since this is supposed to be a screen-free activity, let the kids rack their brains and think about how they can turn trash into treasure.
17. Celebrate a Festival
We live in a huge world with 195 countries spread across six continents, and each one has their own unique culture. Even in a single country, you’ll find many different styles of clothing, cuisines, music and languages. Just take India for example! Unfortunately we can’t travel during the pandemic but you’re sure to find a festival every couple of weeks, and it’s a great opportunity to learn about a particular region. Set up a calendar with festivals you’d like to celebrate, and go all the way. Make decorations, try out a regional dish, try to dress up like the locals of that place and learn a few celebratory phrases in that language. It’s an exciting project that’ll also increase kids’ appreciation for cultures different from theirs.
18. Try a Creative Challenge
A wonderful way to keep kids occupied for an entire month is to opt for a creative challenges. You’ll find many ideas online, like a 30-day photo challenge or a 30-day doodle challenge. Find one that suits your child’s interests and then mark each day on the calendar as you complete the day’s task. Make sure the challenge is something very simple – like click a photograph a day – or it’ll be cumbersome to keep up for an entire month. Look for activities that don’t require screens; for instance, go with a digital camera instead of a phone for a photo challenge.
19. Learn a New Skill
Since the kids are at home with you all day, it’s a great opportunity to teach them something you know. It could be anything, from making the perfect sponge cake to embroidery, it just needs to be age appropriate. Avoid assigning activities according to gender; keep it open so anyone can learn anything. Spend a little time every day teaching this new skill and it’ll turn into a lovely memory for both you and your child in the years to come.
20. Go Outside
No, we’re not asking you to break lockdown rules and travel; we’re talking about taking a small walk in your neighborhood with your kids. Simply walk down the street and encourage your child to observe. How many floors a building has, the color of the flowers on a tree, the writing on the signs. This will relieve your child from the stress of being indoors all day, and will help her get some sunshine and fresh air. If you take pets along with you, it can also turn into some good exercise.
At the end of the day, don’t stress yourself out too much. In a situation like this, it’s understood that kids will spend a little extra time on their screens. It’ll work better if you don’t constantly nag your child about screen time and instead, build the screen-free activities into his day in an organic manner. Remember, you don’t have to plan every single second of your child’s day. Leave plenty of white space between activities so your child’s brain has time to take a break from all the stimulation. Boredom is also important for children as it helps to develop their imagination and problem solving skills. Don’t forget to be a good role model too, by putting aside your device and spending more time on books, games and physical activity. After all, we need to practice what we preach!