7 Strategies for Keeping Kids Entertained Without Screens

Children playing in a watery area with thick vegetation
credit: Johnson

Babysitters have told me in the past that my house is boring. There is no TV, and up until recently, there was no WiFi, only a hardline connection that didn't help with their smartphones. They had to babysit the old-fashioned way, sitting on the couch in front of the fireplace, reading a book. (Tough job, huh?) The house is still very much that way -- no television, no tablets, and only two smartphones that are password-locked, devoid of all games, and accessible only to Mom and Dad. (I do have a computer for work.)

Our children are expected instead to play and grow up without the aid of technology. This is an archaic way of thinking and many people don't understand it. But I maintain that we don't understand enough about the effects of screen addiction -- what it does to our children's developing minds and how it robs children of time better spent elsewhere, doing other things. I predict the day will come when we'll realize how damaging these addictive devices are in the quantity they're currently being consumed; indeed, the evidence is already starting to trickle in.

But back to the practicalities of raising screen-free kids, which is the point of this article... it's hard. It means kids will be louder, more energetic, more rambunctious, and more present all the time. Because they're not hunched over an iPad in a distant bedroom, quietly mesmerized by a game or show, they're racing around the kitchen where I'm trying to cook, or building blanket forts as I'm trying to vacuum, or excavating holes in the freshly-planted garden. In other words, they're acting more like kids should be acting, chaos and all. Choosing to raise our kids in this way has forced me and my husband to come up with strategies for keeping them entertained without falling back on the easy solution of handing over a screen. It does make our job harder; after all, the allure of screens is probably strongest for the parents, for whom it means peace and quiet, and a break from the constant barrage of demands.

In the following list, I'll share with you some of our key strategies in hopes that these, too, can help you to get your kids off screens and living real life more fully. Be prepared, though. It's louder, crazier, and infinitely more fun.

of 7

Get rid of the devices.

credit: Arjan -- They're mesmerized.

Just pitch them. Seriously. If they're out of sight, they're out of mind -- temporarily, at least. But if they're not even there, no amount of begging can make them materialize. Go out on a limb and do what you've secretly always wanted to do. Donate the TV and the tablets and start fresh. (It's possible. I've lived without a TV or tablet for my entire life.)

of 7

Stockpile quality outdoor gear.

credit: Katrina

Do not let lack of clothing keep your children from playing outside. Outdoor playtime is an absolute must for any child in a screen-free household. Invest in high-quality rain and snow gear that will insulate them from head to toe, while not impeding their ability to play. This is far more useful than brand-name clothing.

of 7

Create a yard that's conducive to play.

credit: rabble

Too many children have fenced play-spaces and expanses of lawn that are absolutely sterile. A kid needs something to do outside. Whether it's trees to climb, leaves to pile, sticks for whacking, mud for mucking, sand, a hedge, a garden, a pile of rocks, or a source of water, make your yard a space where kids can play creatively with loose parts for hours on end. It may not look perfect out there, but the disorderliness is worth having children who are healthy and happy.

of 7

Build up an excellent library.

credit: Jim Barnes

Access to good books will help foster your child's love of reading. Fill your home with stories of all kinds, in every room, and then read them to your child. The more you read, the more inclined your child will be to read on their own as they grow up. Eventually, you'll reach that magical stage when older siblings start reading to younger.

of 7

Give them chores.

credit: David D

The older kids get, the less household work there should be for the parent, as the burden gets shared. Chores fill the time, too, and create space for wonderful, meaningful conversations. It also teaches valuable life skills, such as cooking (never to be underrated). To quote my mother, who recently took care of my kids for a week:

"Work WITH them and talk, talk, talk together. Relate stories while you sweep and peel potatoes. Kids need people that will communicate with them and show them how to do things."

She recounted one cute anecdote of working alongside my child:

"He said he was feeling mean and tough, so I told him that was exactly the kind of boy I needed for the job. I had some mean, tough pots and pans that needed washing, so I set him on a stool in front of the sink and he washed them. Afterward he said, 'That was fun!'"
of 7

When it comes to toys, quality matters more than quantity.

credit: Zhao

It's not the number of toys in a house that will keep a kid entertained, but rather the number of ways in which those toys can be recreated and reimagined. Static toys that serve a single function will quickly become boring. Opt for ever-evolving toys, like LEGO, Playmobil, costumes, craft supplies, etc.

of 7

Build forts.

credit: Personal Creations

Kids instinctively crave cozy, private spaces, which is why the appeal of forts never grows old. My kids are constantly building forts, whether it's blanket forts on the dining room floor or evergreen bough forts outside in the yard. Be patient with the messiness; know that it can all be put away, but for the time being, it's magic for the little ones. What are your strategies for keeping kids entertained without screens?