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Our home is a pretty low-screen-time-household. And every few months, I am moved to limit screen time totally.

No television, no tablets, no video games. Completely unplugged.

My kids’ brains need the break to rewire when I see them growing increasingly screen-obsessed, but some days I still feel like limiting screen time is a punishment for me more than anything!

Our kids always surprise me with their ability to rebound from a television addition and how quickly they remember how to imagine, cooperate, create, and play! Going screen-free is good for their little brains. But I admit, I sure do miss being able to plop them in front of the TV or pass out some tablets while I exercise, prepare dinner, clean the bathrooms, or just take a breather to zone out and scroll.

Limiting screen time doesn’t have to mean the loss of your sanity!

I’m here to give you my favorite activities to occupy my kids that require little to no parental involvement, consume at least 20-minutes of my kids’ focus, and are totally screen-free. 

Lego Bath Time

toys in a white bathtub with a small child
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

A parent gave me great advice a long time ago: water can reset even the hardest days with children. Tantrums? Tummy aches? Rain? Just a case of the grumps? Every bad day calls for a bath, but a Lego bath takes it to the next level.

Throwing all three boys in the bathtub with a bin of Duplos or Megablocks keeps them all happily occupied for as long as I will let their skin prune up. They build boats, trains, towers, and more. Better yet, they fight less than they would during a regular bath. Everyone has a project they are working on, we cut down on splashing, and the warm water seems to magically smooth over the day’s frustrations and moods.

While the boys are contained to the tub, I can scrub the rest of the bathroom, fold laundry, or take my own shower. They are safely in my sight, I am keeping limits on screen time, and I can accomplish a few daily tasks? This is a bigtime winner!

Paint by Sticker Books

paint by sticker book for kids with octopus on the cover
©️ Amazon

Paint by sticker books are fun for just about all ages – even me! No matter what your kids are interested in or how fluent they are with letters and numbers, there is a book for them. One “painting” usually takes my kids upwards of 20-30 minutes and requires very little help on my end. They are great for reinforcing letters, numbers, fine motor skills, and art appreciation. What more could you want from an activity when you are limiting screen time?

These paint by sticker books are great for my pre-K math brained kid: the stickers aren’t too small but the numbers go up well into the 80s and 90s. There are similar books for kids in the 8-12 age range, as well!

This paint by letter book is perfect for my 3-year old who is working steadily on letter recognition.

Any time I can occupy my children with a mess-free, mom-free, educational activity, you’ve sold me! This activity also travels well. Just as great for waiting rooms or road trips as they are for day-to-day quiet time.

Squirt Gun Target Practice

boy squirting water outside with a foam water gun
©️ Amazon

A few foam squirt guns and a little chalk make this game inexpensive and super fun. Make it as educational (or not!) as you want. Here’s how it goes:

You draw monsters, bugs, letters, numbers, fish, anything on the wall outside. Give your children a bucket of water, and then have them aim at their “targets.” Your only job in this game is to call out the target, but bonus points if you have a child old enough to take over that responsibility as well. “Hit letter T!” “Attack the orange bugs!” “Aim for the sum of 4 and 3!” “What does ____ begin with?”

This activity requires a little bit of prep and a little bit of low-key involvement from mom, but you can definitely pull up a patio chair and mentally check out while the kids engage in some mess-free fun.

Fossil Digs

national geographic fossil dig kits
©️ Amazon

Whether you are a Pinterest mom and want to create your own like this, or it saves your sanity to order a kit like this, these fossil digs are a wonderfully time consuming and educational activity.

Warning: this one is messy. Take it outside.

If you want to really stretch the life of this activity, forget to read the instruction book (like me) and make them hack at this solid block of plaster with only the provided plastic pick. Water softens the block, but your kids will eventually chip away and get to the prizes buried within, and you’ll buy yourself extra precious time to sip your coffee in peace. Who says limiting screen time has to draw from your “me time?”

Sensory Bins

Little boy sitting in sand box playing with rice and colorful cupsI know, I know. You’ve seen millions of these floating around on Pinterest. This isn’t new, but it is so easy to mix up which contents you toss in and bins are endlessly fun for kids. On top of that, sensory bins are inexpensive, easy to throw together on the fly, and take as much or as little energy as you want to invest in them. When we limit screen time, sensory bins become a near-daily activity.

My favorites include:

Whipped rainbow bubbles

Dry beans

Water Beads

Rainbow (or regular!) Rice

Sensory bins are 100% an outdoor activity in our house. I have no patience for sweeping up rice or beans but don’t mind the inevitable spills if they are out on the patio or driveway. Rainy day? Take your bin into the garage or to the covered front porch. The little bit of mess here is worth it for the time it occupies our boys. I get some much-needed downtime and my kids play hard for ages!

Eliminating screen time is usually a pretty short-lived phase in our home.

When it is time to reintroduce television and tablet time, consider implementing a system like the Summer List to have your kids earn their screen time each day!

What do you love to do with your kids when you want to limit screen time? Do you have favorite games or activities that are screen-free, low-mess, and require little parental involvement? Share your ideas with us!

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