81 Screen-Free Activities for Kids

81 Screen-Free Activities for Kids | Roots & Boots

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81 Screen-Free Activities for Kids | Roots & Boots
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Why screen-free activities?

You’ve probably heard it all before, but here’s a reminder:

  1. Too much screen time damages kids’ brains, emotions, health, and even physical development.  What’s more, “too much” screen time is probably much less than many of us realize.
  2. Screen-free activities act in the opposite way.  Instead of damaging our children, they help to build strong, healthy, well-balanced kids.  

Screen-free kids in a world of constant screens

Is it even possible to raise screen-free kids?  Probably not, in this day and age.

Truthfully, screens can be an effective tool when used properly.  The goal is not necessarily to raise screen-free kids, but low-screen kids.  Kids who know how to use screens as a tool rather than a pacifier or lifeline.

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My family’s story

In case you don’t know me in real life, here’s a quick snapshot of my kids’ screen usage.

My kids–all boys–are 16, 12, and 8.  None of them have phones.  Does this seem radical?  Judging from the phone usage of my kids’ peers, I think it probably is.  

My oldest has an iPod (yes, they really do still make iPods, although they’re hard to find) which he received for listening to podcasts, audiobooks, and music.  He does use it to watch some YouTube videos, mostly about specific topics he’s interested in.  He also has a Chromebook (small laptop computer) for schoolwork and running his enterprises.

My middle son, age 12, has a limit of one hour of screen time per day.  He is the one most drawn to screens, and it’s something I keep a close eye on.  He does not have an iPod, only a Chromebook.

My youngest, age 8, has an iPod for listening to audiobooks.

All devices (including mine and my husband’s) live and are charged on our main level, in public spaces.  Devices do not live in bedrooms.

200 Best Hoopla Audiobooks for Kids | Roots & Boots
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Movie nights

Furthermore, my boys are allowed to watch a pre-approved movie or show together while my husband and I are out on our weekly date night.  And our weekly family night typically involves a family-friendly movie.

This sums up my kids’ screen usage.  That’s correct: they play zero video games and we own zero gaming equipment.

How to avoid screens

Here’s the thing: if you truly believe that too much screen time is harmful to kids, you will find a way to limit screen usage.  Just say no.

Do you believe small children should be allowed to run through a parking lot?  Probably not.  You probably require them to hold your hand in order to keep them safe, whether they want to or not.

Do you believe children should be permitted to eat all the candy they want, every day?  Probably not.  You probably have rules or limits in place to make sure they eat healthy food and avoid too much unhealthy food.

The same goes for screens.  We are the parents.  We get to decide what is best for our children, and it’s up to us to enforce our family’s rules.

boys playing cornhole
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Change the emphasis

Especially if you are making a transition from a habit of too much screen time, perhaps it’s helpful to emphasize the positive (fun, interesting activities) instead of focusing on the negative (less screen time).

For example, instead of saying “only 1 hour of screen time per day”, you could require 30 minutes of reading per day, 30 minutes of outside time per day, 30 minutes of instrument practice per day, etc.  

In other words, instead of focusing on the “do nots”, we want to focus on the “do this insteads”.  If we can help our kids focus on positive screen-free activities, there will be little room left for screen time.

pallet fort
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81 Screen-Free Activities for Kids

Everything on this list is a “true story”, meaning that every activity listed below applies to at least one of my boys.  The only exception is #56 Sculpt with clay, which was inspired by a friend.  For some reason, none of my boys has ever gotten into clay!  

Bonus: many of these pursuits can be enjoyed independently, without a parent’s help. 

This list is not necessarily exhaustive, and you’ll notice that it does slant towards boys.  I provide it as an example of real-life activities from a real-life family (mine).  You’ll likely think of more activities to add to my list, from your own personal family experience.

In fact, I’d love to hear what you would add to this list.  Please share in a comment!

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Here are 81 ways to engage your kids without screens, in no particular order:

  1. Read a book
  2. Build a fort
  3. Raise a dog: assume full responsibility for its care and training (and maybe even breed to sell puppies as a way to save money for college or a car)
  4. Train a dog to do tricks, jumps, etc.
  5. Write a poem
  6. Create a word search
  7. Create a crossword puzzle
  8. Complete word searches or crossword puzzles
  9. Complete hidden picture activity books
  10. Solve Sudoku puzzles
  11. Paint by sticker books
  12. Invent a new game
  13. Practice an instrument
  14. Play the harmonica (My boys have used this book.)
  15. Play a jaw harp
  16. Play a kazoo 
  17. Tend animals: chickens, ducks, sheep, goats, etc.
  18. Grow a garden
  19. Grow cut flowers
  20. Learn to whittle
  21. Learn Morse code
  22. Knit a hat, dishcloth, etc.
  23. Weave on a loom (potholders make great gifts!)
  24. Draw
  25. Paint
  26. Make paper airplanes
  27. Learn lawn mower repair
  28. Build a Rube Goldberg “machine” (And read a book about him.)
  29. Create something out of cardboard boxes
  30. Fly a kite
  31. Climb a tree
  32. Hang a hammock
  33. Master the monkey bars
  34. Invent obstacle courses
  35. Learn to cook
  36. Learn to bake
  37. Build with Legos or other blocks
  38. Collect coins
  39. Write a letter
  40. Hunt for insects, reptiles, etc.
  41. Pin insects
  42. Build a frog or turtle habitat 
  43. Bird watch, keep a bird list
  44. Keep a nature collection 
  45. Press/dry flowers
  46. Make flubber 
  47. Use a yo-yo
  48. Learn magic tricks
  49. Go fishing
  50. Ride a bike
  51. Ride a scooter
  52. Ride dirt bikes, ATVs
  53. Jump rope
  54. Build wooden weapons: shields, swords, spears
  55. Call a grandparent
  56. Sculpt with clay
  57. Read to a younger sibling
  58. Listen to audiobooks
  59. Play a game
  60. Make loom jewelry or critters
  61. Work a jigsaw puzzle (We like this brand for younger kids and my middle son collect these 300-piece puzzles.) 
  62. Work on picture pegs (similar to Lite Brite, but without the light.  We have an old set but this is the same concept.)
  63. Work on magnetic mosaic tiles (apparently these Orb Factory sets are now hard to find!  We have a set that has entertained my kids for HOURS and HOURS, so it’s worth tracking down IMO.)
  64. Start a worm farm
  65. Start an enterprise: make, grow, or raise something to sell
  66. Play with pattern blocks or tangrams
  67. Practice origami
  68. Collect and solve wooden challenge puzzles (We love this brand!)
  69. Solve 3D brain teaser puzzles
  70. Solve metal brain teasers
  71. Offer mowing or weed-eating services for hire
  72. Make a gift
  73. Play corn hole
  74. Play Kan Jam
  75. Play ladder ball
  76. Jump on a trampoline
  77. Play tennis
  78. Learn/practice archery
  79. Learn/practice gunmanship
  80. Set traps
  81. Tan rabbit hides (or racoons, etc.)

What would you add to this list? 

Get the printable list!

Print the list and post it in a kid-friendly spot.

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Kathleen Henderson

Let's get real! I’m Kathleen Henderson, your Natural Living Mentor. I’m on a mission to help families see the joy in real food, while finding natural remedies and creating a nontoxic home. Learn more about my story >>

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