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25 screen-free activities to wean kids off their screens

Kids glued to their screens? There’s nothing wrong with them spending some time online – chatting to friends, watching videos, playing games and reading are all good ways for them to socialise, relax and learn something too! But just as they need a balanced diet of food, they also need to play in different ways too – indoors, outdoors, with friends and with you. Sometimes they need to burn off energy while playing, at other times they’ll benefit from some peace and quiet.

So if your kids are spending all their spare time stuck to their screens, here are some tips from dads and mums across Scotland for things you can do to help unstick them.

If you're tired of tearing them away from TV before school

Screen swap #1: Toy story

When they go to bed, set up a little scene with some of their toys for them to wake up. You could write a little message for them from the toys. Try giving them missions from time to time, like drawing a picture of their toys, or making the best spaceship they can out of Lego.

 

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Screen swap #2: Tick tick tick off that checklist

Get them to write their own checklist of what they need to do every morning – like have breakfast, brush their teeth, brush their hair, and then get dressed. Then get them to tick it off each morning. Go through it together at the end of the day and ask them questions about what they wrote.

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Screen swap #3: World records

Use the timer on your phone to help your child figure out how long it takes them to get ready. Then see if they can knock a few seconds off their “record” each morning!

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When you’re out and about

Screen swap #4: Swap the iPad for a playbag

Want to avoid those hideous strops while you’re out and about? Ask them to pack a special play bag. Does teddy want to come? What games do they want to play? If you’re in a rush, you could just grab your free Activity Bag as you’re running out the door! 

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Screen swap #5: Speed racers

If you're in the car or on the bus, get them to pick a colour and guess how many cars they can spot in 5 minutes. Is the number higher or lower? Why not make it a competition to see how many cars you can see? Who gets closest to their number?

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Screen swap #6: I’m thinking of a number…

Another good game to play while you’re driving or on the bus is to ask them to guess a number you’re thinking of between 0 and 20. Is the number higher or lower? Is it odd or even? Is it a multiple of...

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Screen swap #7: Number hunters

See how many numbers your child can find hiding as you’re out and about. On letter boxes, signs, menus, clothes. What’s the highest number they can count to?

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Screen swap #8: Personal shopper

Avoid a strop at the shop by getting them to make their own mini-shopping list. Ask if they can spot "their" items as you go around the supermarket. You can find lots more tips for keeping them happy when you’re out shopping here.

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When you're juggling a million things at once

Screen swap #9: Swap to something they're obsessed with

If you want to wean them off their screens, it helps to swap it for something they're obsessed with already. Are they obsessed with comics? Why not give them 30 minutes to make a comic of their favourite character? Love watching films or YouTube videos? Can they design a poster for their favourite film, or write a letter to their favourite pop star or celebrity? If they’re all about games, can they design and make an obstacle course or maze for their toys? 

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Screen swap #10: Super family

Ask them what super powers your family members would like. What is everyone’s superhero name? What do their costumes look like? Can they draw you a picture and write a sentence or story about an adventure you go on together? Or maybe even draw their own comic strip. 

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Screen swap #11: Keep them busy with a cosy corner

Get your child to make their own special place with some of their favourite books and toys. They could use cushions and blankets to construct a really cosy den. Then see if they can read their toy a story. You can snuggle in too once you’ve finished what you’re doing!

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When your zombies have been on their screens too long

Screen swap #12: Jump around

Set your phone timer to 2 minutes or play a short song. Get them to bunny hop, star jump and skip. How many can they do? What moves can they make up? If you join in too this will encourage them – how about throwing in a few mum/dad dance moves too?

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Screen swap #13: Is it an… octopus?

Help them write down some animal names like cat, dog, unicorn and mouse on pieces of paper. Then ball them up and pick them out one at a time. Can you work out which animal they’re acting out for you?

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Screen swap #14: Treasure hunt

To get them running around for a bit, give them a list of little things to find around the house, or outside if you have a garden or communal area where they can play. Something red, something soft, something smelly… it’s up to you! See how many they can collect in 20 minutes.

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If you’re tired of them ignoring your call for dinner

Screen swap #15: Restaurants

While you’re getting dinner on, ask if they want to set up a “restaurant” for you. Can they write the menu for the night? What toys would like to come for dinner tonight? Can they set out cutlery and glasses nicely? If you have some kitchen towel, they could even try their hand at napkin folding!

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Screen swap #16: Mini chef

Following a recipe together is a good way to peel them off their screens – and to get fussy eaters to try new things! They can help measure out ingredients or wash veg or rice before they go in the pan.

 

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When you need them to do their chores

Screen swap #17: My reward chart

Get them to draw their own chore chart for every day of the week. Talk to them about what reward they’d like if they do their chores. Why not make it something you can all do together, like a trip to the park or the beach? If you give them lots of praise and encouragement, hopefully those chores will start getting ticked off! Our page on getting the kids to help around the house has more ideas.

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Screen swap #18 : Disappearing letters

Write some letters on a window or mirror with a whiteboard marker. Give your child a sponge. Then call out a letter and see if your child can identify it by cleaning it off. 

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Screen swap #19: Whistle while you work

Play their favourite song and see if they can sing along while tidying their bedroom, clearing the table or putting away their toys. Can they finish the chore before the song ends? Bonus points if they throw in a few dance moves!

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When they need to do their homework

Screen swap #20: Water pistol words

Want a more fun way to practise spelling? Get out a water pistol or water bottle. Then go outside and write messages to each other on the ground. 

Our page on helping your child with their spelling homework has more tips for making learning fun.

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Screen swap #21: Bulls-eye

Find something you can aim at, like a waste basket or a mark on the wall. Then get a ball (or even a scrunched up piece of paper) and throw it at it. Everyone scores 2 points for hitting it. The better your aim, the more adding up they need to do!

Here are more free maths games you can play together that will help get their homework done without them even noticing.

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Screen swap #22: When you...

If homework is a battleground in your home and you find it hard to get them to put away their screens and focus on their schoolwork, try using “When you…” “When you’ve finished your homework you can… watch a movie, play outside, call a friend…” This should help them get on with it quickly rather than waste time arguing over it.

Our page on supporting your child’s learning at home has more tips.

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When they need to go to bed

Screen swap #23: Wind down with a countdown

Younger kids don't always have a good understanding of time. So when we tell them they have “15 minutes”, they don't always know what that really means. So when you come to tell them their time is up, it really does come as a surprise to them!

One way to make it easier on everyone is by letting them know throughout the night how long they have until bedtime. You could show them on a clock what time-up looks like. Can they make up a chart of their bedtime routine, and time how long it takes to do everything?

 

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Screen swap #24: Funny feet

If you find it hard to get them to their bedrooms, a fun way to get them there can be to count the steps to their bedroom with them walking on your feet. You can also play “horsies” and put them on your back. As they get a bit older, they can play “lava” and see if they can get to bed trying not to touch the “lava” bits.  

Here are even more tips for counting down to bedtime.

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Screen swap #25: Swap out the screen for story time

It's best to keep screens completely out of their rooms at night. Screens interfere with their sleep and can make them a real grump the next day. Why not swap it out for some story time? Get them to pick their favourite story and snuggle in. You could ask if they'll read you a story too.

Here are some more tips for sending them to sleep with some story time.

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This article was created as part of

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Last updated: 16 Nov, 2020