In Part 1 of this series, I wrote about the importance of decreasing “screen time” for our kids. So, what alternatives do we have for keeping our kids busy, entertained and out of trouble? How do we deal with those cold, wet winter days? Being stuck inside does not have to mean being stuck in front of the TV or computer!

Ideas for do inside, at home activities:
Toddlers and preschoolers—age 2-5:

  • Wooden blocks, large connectable plastic blocks (e.g. Duplos), plastic dishes (just wash them before you put food in them), cardboard boxes, and tubes. Any combination of these can be used for building things and playing all kinds of “make believe”.
  •  Dolls, teddy bears, doll stroller can keep a young child busy for quite a while.
  •   Toy cars, trucks, trains….
  • Soft balls (e.g. “nerf” ball), beach ball—any light weight ball that cannot do damage if it hits your favorite lamp or picture.
  •  Art projects—construction paper, used computer paper, non-toxic paste, cotton balls, washable crayons and markers can be used to create great art.
  • Dress-up—have a costume drawer and let your kids dress-up and play make believe. Use an eyeliner pencil or face paint to help make their costume complete.
  • Cooking—let your child help make a meal, or bake something together. (You not only keep your children busy, but you are teaching them great skills for the future.)

 Make sure your kids help clean up and put things away when they are done playing!!

 School aged—5-10:

  • Use blankets and sheets to make a fort in the living room.
  •  Blocks, Legos, Erector sets—school aged kids can become very creative with these.
  • Board games and card games.Read a book!
  • Build model airplanes/cars/trains.
  • Household chores; a must for ALL kids, starting by age 4—empty garbage cans,  fold and put away laundry, set/clear the table, do dishes, clean bathrooms,  dust, vacuum and sweep floors, rake leaves, yard clean-up…..the list is endless! Kids need to be contributing members of your family—mom and dad should not do all the work!

Adolescents–11 years and up

  • Middle schoolers and High schoolers need to be redirected away from the TV or computer (this can be far more difficult than it is for younger kids!)—
  • Enforce the limit of 6-8 hours screen time per week. A teenager who has grown up with a limit on screen time will be able to find plenty of things to do—it will take a bit more creativity to wean any kid off of TV or computer games.
  • More sophisticated versions of the ideas for school aged kids can keep teenagers busy. Encourage hobbies that do not involve a computer or TV.  Inside activities like sewing, cooking, building models (airplanes, ships, cars…), cycling (including working on bike)….help your teen to think outside the box for finding an enjoyable hobby.
  • Encourage team or individual sports–the options are much broader in middle and high school than in elementary school. Baseball, basket ball, football and soccer tend to be “cut” sports, and aren’t available options for all kids. Track, cross country running, cross country ski, swim, lacrosse, ultimate frisbee teams are more likely to take “all comers” and can be lots of fun for the less competitive kid, who is not a “super athlete.”
  • Paid jobs such as babysitting, yard work, newspaper delivery, lifeguard…encourage your teenager to take a lifesaving and water safety instructor class and become a lifeguard and/or swim instructor at your local pool!
  • Household chores are a must for these kids just like for younger kids—you only have a few years left to teach them how to live on their own!

During dry weather—even if it is cold, get your kids of all ages outside as much as possible. Take the time to be outside with your toddler or preschooler for a few minutes, several times per day—walk to the mailbox, water the flowers, play ball, go to a park and play on the climbing toys or swings.  Send your school aged kids outside to play—yard “toys” such as a swing set, tire swing on a tree, basket ball hoop make outside play more inviting.

City parks and recreation departments and public swimming pools typically offer a variety of great activities for reasonable prices. Swimming lessons in indoor pools as well as “free play time” fantastic winter time activities. Gymnastics, basketball, martial arts, music…..

We don’t think “physical activity” when we think of the library; BUT our libraries are amazing free resources! Check out your local library and see what it has to offer…story time for preschoolers, classes for older kids…let alone hours of entertainment in books!

There are more than enough things for our kids to do rather than sit in front of a screen, BUT, it takes some planning and creativity. Remember, it is not that screen entertainment is “bad”, it is that it is overused, resulting in our kids not exercising their bodies and brains enough!