Most of us have good intentions trying to make sure children have a balance between screen-time and scree-free play, but putting it into practice over the long summer holidays can be a bit of a challenge. Fear not!
Lorraine Allman, the author of ‘A Parent’s Guide to Easy, Screen-Free Activities Children Will Love’, which is published by Can-Do Child, is here with her top play ideas and some great advice to help children achieve a more harmonious Summer of both screen-time and screen-free play.
First, let’s do the science. It’s well proven that outdoor, screen-free play supports children’s social, emotional, and communication skills, as well as improving their mood not just through exposure to natural light, but also by having the physical space to play and explore. This also develops their gross motor skills, and a greater sense of awareness and connectedness to their external environment.
Those words, of course, are not going to cut it with children when they’re in the middle of Roblox or Minecraft, so we need to be a little sneakier, and build screen-free play into the everyday which doesn’t require raiding the arts and crafts, or spending a fortune on new toys. Neither does it mean parents ‘entertaining’ children the whole time – that’s not only unrealistic, but it also gets in the way of nurturing children’s imaginative skills. So, what to do?
Here are my top 7, tried and tested, easy screen-free play ideas children will love:
1. Create a ‘free play’ box – Unstructured, free play is so beneficial for children. Encourage this by gathering together a range of (age-appropriate) everyday items such as paper, buttons, bottle tops, paper clips, cardboard tubes, fabric offcuts, crayons, jar lids, scissors, contact paper, kitchen towel, clothes pegs, sticky notes etc. Put them in an empty shoebox or small crate, mark it ‘Play Box’ and hold your nerve. Caution: you may be surprised at just how long children spend playing with, and creating new things with the items in this box.
2. Shadow Art
Part-sunny, part-cloudy days are perfect for this activity! Simply place your child’s favourite small toys around the edge of a piece of plain paper. As the shadows are cast, trace the outlines. Create a fuller picture by adding in details later, or the activity could be extended to create a shadow puppet theatre.
3. Eat a Rainbow
Take your child shopping, and give them a list of the colours of the rainbow (with colour blocks if necessary). Have them tick off each one every time a food item with a colour on that list is put in the shopping basket. Back home, plan and cook a meal which includes as many of the colours as possible. Remaining ‘colours’ could be used as snacks – the main thing is this will be the day they ‘eat a rainbow’.
4. Boredom Busters Lucky Dip Jar
Write play ideas on lollipop sticks or strips of paper, and pop them in a jar. The next time you hear the words “I’m bored” direct them to the lucky dip! The list of ideas is endless, and costs virtually nothing. Ideas include draw a self-portrait, build something that floats, do a random act of kindness, create an object from cardboard boxes beginning with a letter of the alphabet, make a picture from bottle tops, make up a word search game, or create a maze from sticks and stones. Extra tip: Getting children involved in suggesting activities for the jar makes it much more likely to succeed.
5. Star Reader
Reading may not appeal to all children, but the star reader idea is a great summer challenge. Print out this free poster, crossing off each activity as its completed. A small reward for completing it is ‘optional’ but a nice surprise. Or you can make up your own – what new ways of reading can they come up with? The printout includes activities such as:
Read under the shade of a tree/Measure your tallest book/ Read a book with a number in the title/ Listen to an audiobook/ Read in the dark with a torch.
6. Which way to go?
Make a familiar walking route more interesting by taking a die with you. As you approach junctions, roll the die to make the decisions about where to go next e.g., rolling 3 = straight ahead, 4 = turn left, 5 = turn right, and so on. See where you end up!
7. Explore your day in colour
What colour is today going to be – red, blue, yellow, green? You decide!
Now to explore your day in that colour. Let’s say you chose green. You could:
- Collect items from around the house which are green
- Eat green food
- Look for green insects or animals
- Take a photograph of green flowers
- Paint a green picture
If you still can’t drag them away from the screen, try taking the technology outdoors with geocaching, digital cloud art, a QR treasure hunt, or even phenology – all of these help children use technology to connect with the real world.
If you like these activities, take a look at Lorraine’s best-selling book “A Parent’s Guide to Easy, Screen-Free Activities Children Will Love” packed with 170+ budget-friendly, easy screen-free ideas supporting independent play, and family fun.
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