Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

Your Age-by-Age Guide to Screen-Free Activities Your Child Can Do With Minimal Supervision

Trying to come up with ideas to lure your kids away from screens?  Here's your age-by-age guide to keep children under the age of ten busy, with minimal supervision from you. Use these as ideas to get your family brainstorming -- the possibilities are endless!

Toddlers

Toddlers love sensory play and find it soothing, so in an ideal world, you give them sand, water or mud, let them make a mess, and then hose them down. That doesn't work so well, unfortunately, inside your apartment, but the tub is a great alternative -- just give them shaving cream or homemade bath paint or crayons to make a mess, and then wash it all down the drain. Of course, this doesn't work so well if you're on a conference call. So these suggestions take minimal supervision from you. You might have to use some old towels to mop up your kitchen floor afterwards, but try to see that as a benefit, not a bug.

  1. Use painters tape to completely cover a large toy.
  2. Line up your animals in a parade on painter's tape.
  3. Play with rainbow spaghetti. (Pictured above, courtesy of Little Learning Club.)
  4. Explore ice cubes and pouring toys with water in a baby bathtub on the bathroom or kitchen floor.
  5. Wash all your toys in a baby bath tub and dry them on a bath mat.
  6. Poke pom poms through an opening in a small bottle.
  7. Thread cheerios or pasta shapes onto a piece of spaghetti stuck upright into clay.
  8. Pour rice from a plastic bottle or measuring cup into smaller cups, in a baby bathtub
  9. Decorate a rock and make a house to keep it as a pet.
  10. Draw Grandpa a picture.
  11. Make a paper chain.
  12. Cut magazines up with toddler scissors.
  13. String a necklace out of pasta.
  14. Listen to an audiobook.
  15. Match pairs of socks.
  16. "Rescue" plastic animals that your parent has taped to a piece of cardboard.
  17. Trace pictures on tracing paper.
  18. Play with playdoh or clay.
  19. Poke q-tips or colorful pipe cleaners into an egg carton that your parent has poked holes in.
  20. Sit in a box and decorate the inside of it with washable markers.
  21. Play with bubbles in the sink, standing in a safety tower.
  22. Arrange clothespins on cardboard.
  23. Drop balls through a hole in the top of a box.
  24. Throw or stick small pieces of colored paper to a contact paper shape posted on the wall.
  25. Use a sponge and a bucket of soapy water to clean the kitchen cabinets and floor.
  26. Float toys in a baby bathtub and ladle them out onto a towel with a large slotted spoon.
  27. Dig a hole in the back yard while your parent is on the phone but outside watching.
  28. Play with sensory bags or boxes made by mom and dad, and rotated weekly.

Preschoolers

Preschoolers will love many of the activities on the Toddler List, above. Plus, they're ready for:

  1. Use old cardboard tubes and boxes to build a marble maze.
  2. Make a curving line of dominoes and knock the first one so they fall down in a row
  3. Make an obstacle course in your hall with yarn and tape
  4. Blindfold your sibling & take them on a tour of your house & yard, then trade places.
  5. Glue popsicle sticks together to make picture frames, decorate.
  6. Build a fort with blankets and pillows.
  7. Bowl in your hallway with soda bottles or toilet paper tubes
  8. Put on music and dance.
  9. Cut out a crown, tape into a circle to fit your head and decorate
  10. Make a drawing of your family.
  11. Use pipe cleaners to make animals
  12. Play at a sand table or with sand in a baby bathtub.
  13. Make a birthday card for the next person you know who is having a birthday
  14. Make paper bag puppets or sock puppets
  15. Cut out pictures from magazines and make a collage
  16. Make a zoo for your stuffed animals.
  17. Make a peanut butter and banana sandwich.
  18. Use masking tape to make a race track for your cars all over your living room
  19. Make placemats (Parents can laminate at the local copy shop)
  20. Set up a shop and be the shop keeper, with play money you make.
  21. Make your room into a rainforest by drawing plants and animals.
  22. Make a sculpture from pretzels and peanut butter.
  23. Do a something kind for someone, in secret.
  24. Make an obstacle course.
  25. Have an indoor "snowball" fight with your sibling, using socks.
  26. Play Simon Says or Mother May I with your sibling
  27. Play Tag or Freeze Tag
  28. Blow bubbles
  29. Mix ivory soap, kleenex and water to make clean clouds on a cookie sheet
  30. Paint sea shells or rocks
  31. Mix liquid hand soap, cornstarch and food coloring into paint and paint the inside of the bathtub.
  32. On a hot day, have a wet sponge toss in the back yard with clean sponges and two buckets of water.
  33. Make a spiderweb in a doorway with painters tape and throw scrunched up newspaper balls at it to see how many you can catch.
  34. If you have a yard, try some of these outdoor play ideas.
  35. Make a list of fun things you can do without a grownup.

Elementary Schoolers

Elementary Schoolers will love many of the activities on the Preschooler List, above. Plus, they're ready for:

  1. Make a scene in a cardboard box of the ocean, or a jungle.
  2. Make a book of jokes.
  3. Write Grandma a letter.
  4. Draw a picture of a desert island with all the things you would want on it.
  5. Cut out paper dolls and costumes for them.
  6. Get a magnet and make a list of everything in your house that is magnetized.
  7. Use a ruler to measure things in your house, recording their length.
  8. Give your dolls or stuffed animals a bubble bath.
  9. Make a boat using a plastic soda bottle base & popsicle sticks (use duct tape) for the top, then float it at the pond.
  10. Write down ten things you love about each person in your family to surprise them.             
  11. Brush the dog.
  12. Make homemade slime or playdoh.
  13. Draw a tree.
  14. Make a dollhouse out of cardboard.
  15. Learn a tongue twister.
  16. Make homemade ice cream in a baggie.
  17. Give the dog a bath.
  18. Cut paper snowflakes.
  19. Find shapes in the clouds
  20. Make paper airplanes and fly them.
  21. See how many times you can dribble the basketball.
  22. Cut a guitar out of cardboard and add rubber band strings.
  23. Paint a picture
  24. Draw a cartoon.
  25. Use a large container that fits in your freezer to make a giant ice cube filled with plastic animals; use tools to excavate the ice and rescue them.
  26. Wash the car
  27. Plan a treasure hunt, with clues, to do later with your parent.
  28. Draw your own puzzle on poster board, color it and cut out the pieces.
  29. Ride your bike
  30. Use boxes to build a castle.
  31. Use an eye dropper to drop vinegar tinted with food coloring onto a pie pan filled with baking soda.
  32. Start a journal.
  33. Make homemade wrapping paper.
  34. Organize your room.
  35. Write a story.
  36. Create a play with costumes.
  37. Use plain white paper and envelopes and decorate your own personalized stationery
  38. Cut up old holiday cards and make holiday stickers for next year by coating the back with gelatin glue, let dry (dissolve 2 tsp gelatin in 5 tsp boiling water.)
  39. Surprise your mom by making lunch.
  40. Make & decorate a calendar of the summer, with important dates marked.
  41. Put juice & cut-up fruit into ice cube trays to make ice cubes.
  42. Create a family newspaper/newsletter.
  43. Make dessert.
  44. Start a collection (leaves, rocks, buttons) and make a museum display
  45. Hang a clothesline in your room and clip photos to it to make an art display
  46. Create a circus performance.
  47. Learn a new card game
  48. Make a potion lab or pouring station outside with food coloring and containers (wear an apron!)
  49. Write the story of your life
  50. Write some limericks or haiku
  51. Decorate an old teeshirt with cool buttons & fabric pens
  52. Make rock candy.
  53. Plant a terrarium.
  54. Make a daisy chain.
  55. Make "funky junk" art out of old jewelry
  56. Read a book.
  57. Make snow globes or calming jars with glycerin and glitter.
  58. Have a water balloon fight (outside!)
  59. Memorize a poem to recite for your parents at dinner.
  60. Play a board game.
  61. Make a fairy house for your garden
  62. Create your own board game
  63. See if you can draw a picture with your foot.
  64. Draw on the sidewalk with chalk
  65. Play hopscotch
  66. Set up a restaurant and serve pretend meals
  67. Play jumprope
  68. Plant some seeds
  69. Make a windsock
  70. Use the hose and a tarp to make a slip and slide on your lawn
  71. Paint your toenails.
  72. Play dodgeball with a soft ball.
  73. Weed the garden.
  74. Make puppets with old socks, buttons & markers.
  75. Make bean bags and play a toss game.
  76. String beads to make friendship bracelets.
  77. Use the hose, pvc pipe and soda bottles to construct waterways in your yard
  78. Use pipe cleaners to make an indoor ring toss game
  79. Use a basket and string to rig an elevator to hoist stuffed animals up your stairwell
  80. Practice kicking a soccer ball.
  81. Make and fill a bird feeder.
  82. Make popsicles.
  83. Wrap your sibling up in toilet paper like a mummy.
  84. Make playdoh.
  85. Make slime.
  86. Learn a new card game.
  87. Read a book.
  88. Make a list of fun things you can do without a grown-up.

Middle Schoolers

Middle Schoolers will love many of the activities on the Elementary Schoolers List, above. Plus, they're ready for:

  1. Write a song.
  2. Learn to cook your favorite food.
  3. Make a giraffe, a spaceship or something else out of papier mache.
  4. Learn to play an instrument.
  5. Put on a play.
  6. Play ping pong. (No table? Play against the wall!)
  7. Make jewelry.
  8. Make a video.
  9. Build something from wood.
  10. Record a "letter" to send to someone.
  11. Plant seeds in a window box or start a garden outside.
  12. Put together a terrarium or aquarium.
  13. Make dinner for your family.
  14. Start a Science Journal where you write questions and then record your observations and discoveries.
  15. Learn a language.
  16. Clean out your closet.
  17. Every day for a month, do a random act of kindness.
  18. Read every book by an author you like.
  19. Wash the car.
  20. Hire yourself out to your neighbor as a mother's helper once a week.
  21. Learn a new boardgame.
  22. Draw a comic book.
  23. Get glow-in-the-dark stars and make constellations on your ceiling.
  24. Build a fort or treehouse.
  25. Tie dye a teeshirt.
  26. Write a poem.
  27. Camp out in your yard.
  28. Organize a bike and vehicle wash for your neighborhood kids (yes, you can social distance.)
  29. Go roller-blading.
  30. Read a book.
  31. Make a list of fun things you can do without a grown-up.


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