Updated: Jul 21
If you've been following our 3 part series on screen time, you know that in our family we established that we had too much screen time (more than 2 hours a day) and how we sat down to collaboratively come up with some clear parameters as to when and how much screen time is ok. That is all well and good, but what do you do instead?
When I change any routine - whether this is for the family, or for myself (e.g. new exercise routine) - it can take time and is likely to come with some initial pushback and effort as we all get settled into the new plan. So I've found having a list of fun alternatives to try in my back pocket can really help, especially when the kids are bored, frustrated and unhappy.
That is what this week's topic is all about: activities to do instead of screen time.
I know that my children are certainly at a loss initially – and I know I will get lots of ‘I’m soooooo bored, Mummy’ for the first few days, as we all settle into having less screens.
So, as a starter for 10 – here are some ideas of things to do instead. You can also download a free list of these. I’ve split activities out for younger and older children, plus things that they can do themselves versus things where you will need to get involved.
First off, things where the parent needs to get involved:
1. Crafts are a classic - and I have researched some ideas that are slightly different from the standard that my children and I were drawn to.
o Build a snow globe: this one is surprisingly easy but is wonderful for children even long after it has been made. My daughter loves a snow globe and will sit endlessly watching the glitter 'snow' down on whatever 'landscape' we have created. You need an old jam jar (ideally with a rubber seal) and some festive glitter as the snow. Then you can either use glycerine and water to make the glittery snow fall slowly, or baby oil.
o Make a bird feeder: again, a really easy one to do. You simply combine any form of lard or even peanut butter with seeds, let them go hard and hang them up outside for the birds. This one also lasts in terms of the children's fascination of it - as they can watch the different birds come into your garden and explore.
o Paint a rock: this was a hit in our neighbourhood just before lockdown - families would paint rocks and write a little message on the bottom (like 'smile' or 'be happy') and then leave them in obvious places around the neighbourhood (like at the playground) for other families to find. The idea was then for you to put out another stone of your own or re-hide the one you'd found somewhere else. Somebody had even set up a facebook group for people to share what stones they had found and where.
o Make a piggy bank out of balloons and paper mache. This one is more effort and mess, but I remember my mum making these with us when I was a child (she was a primary school teacher) and I still have my piggy bank all these years later. You basically blow up a balloon and plaster paper mache all around it, adding egg cartons to the bottom for the 4 feet and two pointy ears made from card. Then you paint the pig pink (or whatever colour you like) and add a face in black marker once everything has dried.
o Make a bath bomb. I have not yet made this, but love the idea. Especially, as it will make bath time exciting too. I have found a recipe with bicarbonate of soda, citric acid and cornflower that you then mix with a base oil such as olive or sunflower oil, and an essential oil (such as lavender) and food colouring (if you wish) to make a nice smelling bomb that will fizz when it goes in the bath. It looks like a whole lot of fun and if the lavender helps with bedtime, it's a win in my book ;)
2. We love doing some cooking or baking together - and I have found this is a great way to get the children to explore new foods and tastes and build their confidence and independence in the kitchen. Depending on the age of your children and their confidence in the kitchen, the below ideas will be suitable for them to do by themselves, or as a family activity together with you.
o Bake biscuits with the children - we often do this in the run up to Christmas, but also at other times in the year - whenever we feel like a little bit of an activity with the added bonus of a cup of tea and a homemade biscuit at the end of it.
o Bake a cake or cupcakes - there are loads of pre-mixes out there that are super easy to make and just as much fun. My children love the Betty Crocker cakes and the Tesco's own cookie or cupcake mix :-)
o Make soup or a smoothie together - this has become very popular with my eldest in particular. He seems to love the idea of adding different ingredients into a large pot or blender and seeing what the combination will turn out to be like. Some are better than others, but he's had lots of fun along they way, and so have the younger two, as they sometimes get drafted in as 'sous-chefs' or tasters.
I've created a free download with our favourite recipes for you here too:
3. Play together: I've realised that I do this far less often than I used to, but whenever I do it's still just as much fun. It releases some much needed pent up energy for the kids and me and we giggle and connect quickly.
o Play catch together - I played catch as part of a gym session the other day (you could bring your children along) and it was awesome! All the adults and children got a proper workout and it was plain and simple fun chasing each other, 'freeing' those that had been 'captured' and trying to catch others in return.
o Throw a ball - another really, really simple one. Josh and I often throw a ball to each other in the garden and see often we can get it back and forth without dropping it - and as we get better at it we add challenges, like throwing with the other hand, or backwards, or with your eyes closed... And for the younger children, when a ball might be too tricky, use a balloon and see how long you can keep it in the air for. This is also a great option for indoors.
o Play ‘Marco Polo’. This is a new favourite of ours. You are blindfolded (or just close your eyes) and the kids hide in the room. When you say ‘Marco’ they need to say ‘Polo’ and you try and find them through following their voice – lots of giggles guaranteed!
o Dance like nobody is watching - get the kids to pick their favourite songs and dance together. You might be surprised by the variety of songs that they already know, or the choices they will make - Isla and Joshua recently 'found' Macarena and were amazed that I could do the routine (Ha!! Good old 90s dance tunes) - and when it was Rupert's turn, he opted for the Paw Patrol theme tune which was fun in a completely different way.
o Play teddy bear’s picnic. The 5 minute Mum book by Daisy Upton introduced me to this idea. You basically sit out all the teddies and dolls that will be at the picnic and write out 'orders' for them on card (one for each toy). Then you get your little one to read them out to you and go and 'serve' the toy the thing that they had ordered. I did this with Isla the other day and she loved it - and we got to practice some of her tricky words without even realising it.
Or play anything that they choose to play - from train tracks to Barbies to babies to Lego - let the child lead the way and get you involved in whatever it is that they are playing!
And then, you have all the standard things that the kids could do themselves - you may need to set things up for them and sit close by, but you should be able to get 5 minutes peace too and enjoy that cup of tea or coffee that you've been looking forward to all day!
o Do some drawing or painting
o Make a card
o Play independently
o Jump on the trampoline
o Make a den
o Get dressed up
o Play in the PlayTableCloth
One final note: Don't feel guilty if your child is bored. Being bored is important for happiness
You are not your child's personal entertainer. There will be times when you'd rather just sit down and have a cup of tea rather than ride bikes, do crafts or baking, play with the kids, or do any of the activities on our list. And that is fine too. At this point I often feel tremendously guilty that I don't have the energy or the will to continue to play and 'be' with my children. But recently, I've tried to see this from a different light. Not only does putting my needs and desires first every now and again show my children that this is ok for them to do so too (and this is a really important life lesson). In addition, I was recently introduced to Jesper Juul, renowned Danish family therapist.
According to him, boredom is important as it helps children find their own inner balance. It might take a few moments of uncomfortable 'I'm so bored, Mummy!', 'What can I do?' but this is due to our children being so used to being stimulated externally. Whether this is at school, in the numerous structured activities they do, or even through us giving them things to get involved in all the time. So, it is natural that it takes a little bit of time for them to get back in touch with their inner creativity. Allow them this space to discover what ideas they have inside of themselves and that satisfaction of being able to express themselves through this and recharge. When children are given the space to follow their inner creativity they become less dependent on constant external stimulation, motivation and recognition. They learn what intrinsic motivation and validation feels like and develop this important part within them.
And, if you happen to both be bored together (and you don't jump in to 'fix it') you may be surprised where just being with each other takes you. Once you've got over the automatic need to entertain and you relax into that sense of everything slowing down, real closeness can develop and kids open up with all sorts of thoughts and ideas that might be buzzing round their minds.
JULY 2023 UPDATE: OUR MONDAY NIGHT CONVERSATIONS HAVE BEEN REPLACED BY OUR TIP TUESDAY REELS. TIP TUESDAY, ALONG WITH ALL OLD MONDAY NIGHT CONVERSATION VIDEOS CAN BE FOUND ON OUR YOU TUBE CHANNEL HERE:
Playlist for Monday night conversations:
Playlist for Tip Tuesday conversations: