How to Keep Kids Busy: 8 Screen-free Activities to Help You Get Things Done
Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to it because I was too nervous, but once I got started I really enjoyed sharing with these moms and helping them connect with some of what I’ve learned about the importance of screen limits for our kids.
Of course, some of these women were already aware of many of the facts I presented, and quite a few of them already limit their kids’ screen time. Many of the moms, though, seemed to be thinking about taking more action toward reducing their children’s screen use.
One of the questions I get the most–from moms (and dads) like these–is, “If I take away screen time, what do I do with my kids when I have to get something (cooking, cleaning, an important phone call, a shower, etc.) done?”
Well, I’m going to do my very best to answer that question today.
First of all, let me say that there’s no one easy answer.
The problem is that it really depends on what how old your kids are, how dependent they are on their screens to entertain them, and what their interests and abilities are.
That being said,
Here are my top 8 screen-free ways to keep kids busy when you really need to get something done.
It’s almost dinnertime. Your kids are whiny, hungry, and they will. not. leave. you. alone. but you have to make dinner. What do you do? Have them help you! Send someone to the fridge to grab ingredients. Have someone help you dump, sprinkle, and stir. They’re busy, you are spending (quality!) time with your kids, AND they’re learning awesome life skills that will benefit them in the future!
Need more motivation to make it happen? Maybe your kids are really young and you don’t think they can cook yet. I’ve got news: if they can stand on their own, you can have them help you cook!
Check out this post on the awesome things your kids can learn from cooking–you’ll be so excited to try it out!
2. Clean with your kids.
Same deal as with cooking. If you need to clean your house (and who doesn’t?), but your kids won’t give you a moment’s peace, it can be really tempting to hand over the tablet and let them use their favorite app for a few minutes while you scrub. But, your kids can help you do many chores around the house, and it’s a lot more fun to do it together. Plus, your children will be learning (yet another) fabulous life skill that will come in very handy down the road for them.
My kids love to pull out their Dust! Sweep! Mop! Pretend Play Set to help me around the house. They especially love to use the broom to get stuff out from under the couch when it gets lost under there. But, if you don’t want to invest in kid-sized cleaning supplies, I must say E also has a special crocheted dishcloth that he LOVES to wash the table (and bookshelves, and his play kitchen) with. Yes, I usually have to wash the table again after he helps me, but he’s learning, having fun, contributing to the family, AND keeping busy!
3. Pull out a super special toy/activity.
Maybe you don’t have time to have your kids help you cook or clean, because, let’s face it, they WILL slow you down–at least at first. You can still keep your kids busy without resorting to screen time by pulling out a really special toy or activity that they LOVE but don’t get to do all the time. Because I’m just about the least crafty mom EVER, my kids think that art stuff is a really special treat. I pull out the Dauber Dawgs and they’re entertained for quite awhile. Maybe it’s a paint-by-number book or play dough, the GOOD markers, or the Lincoln Logs–whatever that special thing is–bring it out.
The drawback to this idea, of course, is that it won’t work if you use it all the time. So either save it for emergencies or at least have a decent number of special things on rotation to keep the excitement alive!
4. Listen to an audio book.
Both of my kids enjoy audio books, but this one works better for E, who is almost 4. We love audio books around here, and thought we usually reserve them for long road trips, I sometimes use them in a pinch when I need to occupy the littles for a few minutes to accomplish something without them following me around all over the place or talking incessantly. Audio books are most engaging when you have an actual paper copy of the book, too. Then, make sure you set it for the track that dings when it’s time to turn the page (usually track 2 for short picture books), and let the cd player read to your kiddos.
We get most of our audio books from the library, but we also have (and LOVE) the Jesus Storybook Bible. I bought the Deluxe version, which comes with audio cds. These don’t ding for page turns, but they’re awesome anyway.
The Jesus Storybook Bible is also awesome to read during your daily family worship time!
Check out this post about why you should be having family worship!
5. Have a quiet time.
My almost 4-year-old, E, still naps most of the time, but even when he doesn’t, he stays in his room and plays quietly while his little brother is sleeping. This is very consistent when we’re at home, and we try to keep it up, if possible, even when we’re staying somewhere else. There are a couple of reasons for this:
First, I need a break. He usually does, too. My introverted self needs a break from constant human interaction and he needs a rest from all the stimulation that life throws at him.
Second, he practices playing on his own AND gets a chance to use his imagination and his toys without his little brother constantly interrupting him.
This can be a rest time for me (and this is really the only thing on my list that works if what you need to do without your kids is take a nap), but usually it’s my most productive time of the day. And, guess what, if I can get stuff done and there’s still a little bit of time before baby brother wakes up, I’ll get E early and have a few minutes of special one-on-one time with him, too.
6. Have your kids play outside.
You know I love that outdoor play! It’s so beneficial to kids to get outside as much as possible, and they can find so much to do with little prompting by parents. Sometimes I have to get things done and I send my boys outside to play so I can do them. This is a fairly recent development for me, because A is just now turning 2 and I was uncomfortable until this summer sending him outside without me. I still don’t let him leave my sight, so this activity doesn’t work all the time. I use it when I’m working in the kitchen and can keep an eye on the kids through my sliding glass door. For those of you with older kids, it might be a more flexible option.
Check out my full post on the benefits of outdoor play you haven’t heard before!
7. Head to the library.
Obviously this won’t work if you what you have to do is at home, but if I have to get something done online (like blogging or one of my very part time work-from-home gigs), sometimes taking the boys to the library buys me an hour of good work. This, of course, depends on the kids AND on the library.
Our library is awesome, and has toys and puzzles as well as crayons and coloring pages in the children’s section. Oh yeah, and they have plenty of books, too! My kids will play at the library quite happily, and though my work is not uninterrupted, it’s definitely easier for me to get things done there than it is at home sometimes. A change of scenery can add just enough novelty to keep kids busy for quite awhile.
8. Swap childcare.
For many moms, babysitters are not a great option. First of all, you have to pay them, and if you’re anything like me, your budget doesn’t exactly stretch to accommodate extra childcare. But, of course there are times when you have to do something and you either cannot include your children or you would much rather not have them with you.
I manage to keep my kids with me during almost everything I do, but I’m blessed with a super-flexible very part-time work-from-home job and a limited desire to leave the house. Not everyone has those luxuries, and I get that. Sometimes there are just things you have to do without the children, and sometimes you just need a break from full time momming for a minute (we’ve all been there).
Maybe grandma and grandpa live nearby, but many of us don’t have trusted AND free/inexpensive childcare providers available for our kids.
One thing that can really work is to get together and swap childcare with another parent in a similar situation. If your kids love to play together, invite the child over, give the other mom a break, and then switch places the next week (or whenever works, obviously). Just don’t forget to keep having playdates with the other mom around too, because you’ve got to have some adult conversation sometimes, mama. I have a handful of people in my life that this deal can work with, and even though I don’t use it too often, it’s nice to know that the option is there if I need it (like that time I went into labor 7 weeks early and my husband and I had to leave my 22 month old for a day with our really amazing friends).
Note: This option will not work with casual acquaintances, but only with friends/family that you and your child know, love, and trust implicitly. Safety first, always.
Another note: This option is only screen-free if the person you’re swapping childcare with is respectful of your screen limits. My loved ones know that we don’t let our kids watch tv or play with tablets, etc. and they have always been respectful of our boundaries. It’s worth a conversation if it’s important to you, and, if not, a little bit of screen exposure isn’t the end of the world. Just something to keep in mind.
You can eliminate your child’s screen-time AND still be productive.
After reading these 8 suggestions for how to keep your kids busy without screens, you should have some ideas in place for the next time you just have to get things done! My goal is to help you understand that limiting, or even eliminating, screen-time doesn’t mean you have to constantly be actively entertaining your kids.
Spending time screen-free does give you the opportunity to be more hands-on and spend more time teaching your children that useful work honors God (Colossians 3:23-24) (and more fun when you do it as a team).
Encouraging more screen-free time will also mean that your kids will gradually become more comfortable and creative with how to spend their unstructured time.
And, in the end, you’ll be able to get even more done when you need to.
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