The kids were staying home from school. All of them. And I was working from home. I use the word “working” loosely because let’s be honest—working from home with kids is a pre-pandemic delusion. After limping my way through the morning, I knew I had to get the kids really quiet for a Zoom meeting I had to lead. So I leaned on my free babysitter, the TV, which, of course, brought on the guilt.
Experts tell us to limit screen time, but that’s hard when it’s just so convenient and useful. Nothing works as well as a screen to keep kids quietly occupied when moms need it—until now. And I’m not talking about the usual reading, bubbles, and chalk. No, I found 19 unique alternatives to screen time. To make my list, the activity had to meet three requirements: easy to get out, played without adult help, and able to be cleaned up in five minutes or less. So which one of these 19 alternatives to screen time is the first one you’re going to have your kids try?
1. Outdoor Kitchen
Also known as a mud kitchen, kids can concoct gourmet “soups” from water and whatever they can find in the yard. Have the kids put on old t-shirts that can go right in the wash, and dump the “soup” in the grass for easy cleanup!
2. Rice/Corn Box
Fill shallow, plastic containers with large bags of corn or rice for a cleaner, more novel alternative to the sandbox.
3. Cardboard Box Village
Collect cardboard boxes for kids to create a village of “houses” for their toys!
4. Toilet Paper Marble Run
Give your kids some empty toilet paper rolls, scissors, and masking tape. Then have them creatively tape rolls to the wall, forming a continuous ramp for a marble to travel down.

5. Outside Digs
Send your kids outside to get some energy out digging for rocks or worms. Don’t be surprised if they bring their treasure in to show you!
6. Homemade Putt-Putt Course
Gather a couple of kids’ golf clubs, golf balls, and basic building blocks. Using the blocks, books, cups, or other household items, they can create their own putt-putt course.
7. Sticker by Number Mosaics
In these unique sticker by number books, kids match shapes with their numbers to create beautiful mosaics!
8. Taking Old Gadgets Apart
Give your child a broken watch, toaster, calculator, or even a phone, and let him or her take it apart with a tiny screwdriver to explore the inner parts. Letting kids take something apart with tools is one of the best ways to grow their curiosity.

9. Tiny Homemade Books
Kids can create tiny books for their dolls or LEGO Minifigures to “read,” and all they need is paper and colored pencils!
10. Subscription Box or Quiet Box
Subscribe to a monthly science or craft box for kids, and save it until you need quiet time! Or create your own “quiet box” using these ideas as a springboard.
11. Clean and Paint Rocks or Shells
Have your kids collect rocks or shells and clean them with old toothbrushes and warm, soapy water. Then, using paint or markers, they can cover them with colorful designs they’ll be proud to display.
12. Paper Fortune Tellers
An oldie but a goodie, kids only need paper and pencil to create a “fortune-telling” game they can play with their friends.

13. Slinky Races
Collect slinkies of all sizes and challenge your kids to master sending the slinky down the stairs, or set them up to have races.
14. Create a Board Game
Give kids a sheet of cardboard or foam board, markers, a ruler, and dice. Challenge them to create their own game, complete with game pieces.
15. Q-Tip Mazes
Provide a container of cotton swabs and a flat space to build on. Kids can create mazes, lining up the cotton swabs in various directions and using their LEGO Minifigures to “walk” through them.
16. Rubber Band Games
Have your kids set up little army men or Dixie cups on a couch or table, and challenge them to see how many they can shoot down with rubber bands.
17. Chain Reactions With Craft Sticks
Using a big bag of craft sticks, kids can layer sticks to create a cool chain reaction that they’ll want to repeat over and over.
18. Stop-Motion Movies
From script-writing to set design, your kids will spend hours creating their very own LEGO movie! All they need are LEGOs, a well-lit space, and a smartphone with an app like iMovie.
19. Pet Creations
With basic craft supplies like cardboard boxes, string, feathers, and felt, kids can make all sorts of creations for their pets. From hideaways to homemade toys, your kids (and pets) will be busy making and playing with them.

What are your kids’ favorite alternatives to screen time?

If we didn’t have a TV, tablets, or phones, what do you think we’d spend more time doing?

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ASK YOUR CHILD... If we didn’t have a TV, tablets, or phones, what do you think we’d spend more time doing?

What are your kids’ favorite alternatives to screen time?

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