I know the struggle is real when you’re trying to rid yourself of the guilt of letting your kids watch too much TV and then when you end up spending the time you must be sleeping scrolling through the hundred million pins on Pinterest to find activities to keep your kids engaged without a screen involved.
I am also aware of how much more painful this is if you suck at DIY (irrespective of the difficulty level) and if messy play isn’t really something you can tolerate for a prolonged period of time. This is also why I don’t exactly involve my children in cooking/baking often. It’s strictly saved for days when I can’t give two hoots about mess or cleanliness. Trust me, I’m all for teaching them young but more often than not, the resultant mess is something I just cannot deal with and by now you should already be aware of how painfully impatient I am.
So, here are some ideas to keep your kids engaged without a screen and with minimal to no mess. Most of these are Pinspired or extra curricular activity ideas that his teacher shares that I’ve tweaked here and there to work for us. Feel free to add your own twists to the activities if you’d like.
Idea 1: Revamp the existing space & reuse old, forgotten toys:
This is probably the easiest thing to do and is my own brilliant idea if you could call it one. Rearrange the shelves/room and bring out things that have been long forgotten. What I usually do around here is to put away toys the kids are bored of or not interested in playing with away from their eyesight and bring it out a few weeks/months later to see if it works. This is a set up we did for their birthday party last year too.
Idea 2: Reuse/Recycle:
Use recyclable/reusable things in the house to let them create/make toys. A tip I got from my son’s teacher is to have a large bag/carton where you put away things like used milk cans, cardboard boxes, egg cartons, cans, bottle lids etc. and encourage the kids to make something using these every once in a while.
My suggestion is to add some things that will help them decorate and/or textures to their final output. Think rhinestones, bits of scrap cloth, pom poms, pipe cleaners, googly eyes etc. and don’t forget colorful tapes, glue and a pair of kid friendly scissors.
Idea 3: Blow Painting:
You’ll need a straw and some watercolors to do this. Place drops of watercolor on a paper and let the kid blow at it using a straw to create germ like patterns. Once they’ve dried, draw or stick google eyes and dress them up if you’d like. We used this to talk about viruses and bacteria (nothing hardcore because this amma needs to brush up her science for that first) and then went on to making stories about them and their possible features/powers and the good ones like the ones that help make thachchi (curd/yogurt) etc.
Idea 4: Write & Make Music:
This was an extra curricular activity option from school and was a big hit. We’ve done it multiple times since then. You start off with handing them a sheet of paper and some color pencils/markers and ask them to make a pattern they want. This will be the musical notes. In the meantime, you fill some glasses with water (different levels) and add food color or water colors (like I did) to it. Make sure you’re using the same colors/shades for making the pattern and in the glasses. Once they’ve drawn their music pattern/notes, they need to play this music by tapping on the glass corresponding to each note.
Ask them to make up a song or sing a song that they already know to this music. Since there is water involved with an opportunity to get messy, this one is always a winner. Be careful with the glasses though.
Another option here is to make their own musical instruments with what we have at home. We made a ‘rainmaker’ and it was a lot of fun and surprisingly it still exists and is being used even after all these weeks.
Idea 5: Stationary Biking:
This is a genius idea I came across on one of my favorite Dubai based blogger, Helen’s Instagram stories. This would work if your child still has a bicycle with stabilizers on. Prop it in place by pushing each one of the stabilizing wheels into a shoe. Put on a virtual cycling/biking scenery video on Youtube if you’d like and let them go on a virtual bike ride to wherever they choose to go that day. This isn’t technically screen free, but it’ll buy you some time while they get some physical activity on.
Idea 6: Story Cards:
We have and love a set of picture story cards from The Story Merchants but this activity is easily customizable even if you don’t have a set. Just draw/make your own depending on what interests your child. You will want some ‘Who’, ‘What’ and ‘Where’ cards. You may choose to add connector cards like ‘because’, ‘and’, ‘so’ etc. if you’d like.
You lay out a few cards and ask the child to make up a story using these or you can ask them to keep going with a single story as they pick up one card at a time. I’ve found this to be super helpful in getting them to read words, use descriptive language and to make them think/imagine scenarios.
Alternately, you can choose a story they already know and make/print out story sequence cards for it and ask them to arrange it as they narrate the story to you.
Idea 7: Make Rainbow Crayons:
I know we all have tons of pouches/boxes of broken crayons in the house. Remove the paper from these bits of crayons, cut/break them into smaller chunks. Fill a muffin tray or any shaped mould you may have with these in any color combination you like.
Stick it in a preheated oven at 150°c for 15-20 minutes (oven times may vary) until they are completely melted. Alternately, you can leave them in a place that gets direct sunlight and let it melt (may take at least 2-3 hours or longer) or at least that’s what some of the blogs I found this idea on suggested. However, this didn’t quite work for us – a lot of crayons turned squishy but didn’t quite melt. So we partially sunned them and then let the rest of it melt in the oven. Once melted, let it cool completely and set again before you remove and use these ‘rainbow’ crayons.
Idea 8: Learn & Make 3D Shapes
You’ll need toothpicks and some blu-tack or play dough to make these. This was an activity from school the week they were learning about 2D and 3D shapes.
This kept him and me occupied for a LONG time. In order for the interest to not wane, we timed the activity to see who finished first. That kept it competitive and engaging.
Idea 9: Creating Themed Layouts with Kinetic Sand/Moon Dough:
If you already have kinetic sand this activity is easy peasy. An alternative idea is to make your own moon dough, it’s super easy. Choose a theme and ask them to make things relevant to the theme using the kinetic sand/moon dough.
We made a space themed layout.
Idea 10: Go read my older blog post with a few ideas to keep younger children occupied.
Bonus Idea – Make an obstacle course inside the house with plastic cups, cushions & pillows, chairs and stools, basically whatever you can use or outside if you have access to an open space. This is super fun not just for the kids but for the adults too.
Here’s something we did as a quarantine birthday surprise.
Bonus Idea 2 – Make them workout with you when you do. PE with Joe is amazing and so is Cosmic Yoga for Kids. Not exactly screen time free but you’re all getting some physical activity in, so that counts.
So yes, that’s a fairly comprehensive list of things we’ve been doing other than the usual reading, coloring, writing (every single wall in the house included. Don’t ask!). The younger one usually tags along for most of these activities even if she can’t truly understand or follow instructions. So that’s an added bonus. Have more fun ideas? Please do share in comments below.