In its place, screen time can be a welcome way to keep kids occupied. But when we don’t set limits on screen time, kids can quickly lose their enjoyment of everything else. Proverbs 25:28 says “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Both kids (and adults) need “walls” or boundaries to keep technology in its proper place.
Most Christian parents I know would like their children to spend less time in front of a screen, and we realize there are better ways to occupy our kids. But wanting something is a lot easier than making it happen!
When my son has reached his limit of screen time for the day but is begging to watch a show, it’s so easy to give in. If I relent, both he and I get what we want in the short term—he gets effortless entertainment, and I get 20 minutes to respond to emails. But giving more screen time works against my long-term hopes for my son. I want him to develop creativity and a healthy attention span, to learn how to entertain himself, and to be physically active.
It’s easier to respond to screen time whining with a cheerful “no” when I can think of alternatives to suggest. Since ideas can be hard to come up with in the moment, here’s a list of 44 activities that don’t involve screens.
Minimal Parental Involvement
- Let kids build a fort with chairs and blankets.
- Listen to an audiobook while drawing the story in pictures. Librivox offers free audiobooks in the public domain. You can also borrow audiobooks from public libraries using apps like Libby and Cloud Library.
- Listen to music while coloring. Check out Bible memory songs like those from Seeds Family Worship or Slugs and Bugs.
- Listen to Adventures in Odyssey.
- Room time. Give kids a set period of time when they must play in their rooms by themselves (perhaps start with 30 minutes and work up to longer).
No Prep Required
- Teach your kids to play “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?”
- Hold a snail race. A snail race is the opposite of a regular race. The last one to the finish line wins. The catch is that every participant must keep moving and never stop.
- Take a bath with toys in the middle of the day. This is an especially good option when kids are sick.
- Play “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”
- Play Bible charades. Each person takes a turn acting out a Bible story (without words) until the others guess it.
- Play “Simon Says.”
- Play “I Spy.”
- Look at family photo albums together.
- Do the “Hokey Pokey.”
- Name that tune by humming without words. First to get the tune wins!
- Fill a sink or dishpan with water and let kids play in it with toys.
- Have a dance party! Try this playlist.
- Play “Ring Around the Rosie” until you get dizzy.
- Create an indoor obstacle course with cushions and furniture. Time your child and see how fast he can move through it.
- Go for a walk. You can turn a regular walk around the neighborhood into a game by guessing the number of cars (or mailboxes, or birds, or out-of-state license plates) you’ll see and then counting as you go.
- Teach kids to limbo. Use a yardstick or a broom as a limbo bar.
- Play hallway hockey. Players at either end of the hallway aim to get the puck (or ball) past their opponent.
- Make a balance beam on the floor with masking tape. Small children will find it challenging to walk in a straight line putting one foot in front of the other. Once they’ve mastered that, try it backward!
- Show kids how to pull each other around the house on a blanket sled.
- Play tic-tac-toe.
- Use scissors to make paper dolls or paper snowflakes.
- Ask your child to make up a sequel to a favorite story. If she isn’t writing yet, she could draw the story in pictures.
- Teach kids how to play “War“ with a deck of cards.
- Do a jigsaw puzzle or use a piece of cardboard to make your own puzzle.
- Make paper airplanes.
- Give your child a mirror and ask him to draw a self-portrait.
- Decorate a box. Save the box from your latest delivery and encourage your child to turn it into a house, a robot, or whatever else she thinks it looks like.
- Make a telephone using disposable cups and a piece of string.
- Let your child design his own coat of arms.
Requires Supplies or Toys
- Play with bubbles.
- Draw with sidewalk chalk outside.
- Have a contest to see who can build the highest block tower that doesn’t topple.
- Play with Play-Doh.
- Play with kinetic sand.
- Play with Legos. For fun, challenge kids to build something that doesn’t come from a kit!
- Build your own mini-golf course using horizontal paper cups for the holes.
- Work through a paint-by-sticker book.
- Play Uno.
- Try out one of the many structured games for Nerf guns.
As you divert your kids away from screens to other activities, talk to them about why you limit screen time. Help them see that while technology can be a gift from God, if we don’t keep it within limits, it’ll keep us from better things that God gave us to enjoy.
I’m thankful that our worth as parents—and children of God—doesn’t stand or fall on how much time our kids spend in front of screens. But parents have the God-given privilege of making choices on behalf of their kids. One day they will be making their own decisions, and we want them to make wise choices. We can start them on that path by making good choices on their behalf today.
Check out Polly and the Screen Time Overload by Betsy Childs Howard, now available from Crossway and TGC Kids. With easy-to-understand language and engaging illustrations, Polly’s story will help families start an ongoing conversation about self-control and how to enjoy technology within boundaries. (A version of this article also appears on Crossway.org.)