Forget the tech and try these simple screen-free alternatives to keep your kids entertained while you’re running errands.
You’re finally at the checkout when your toddler starts shouting at the top of her lungs. You quickly hand her your phone before anyone starts to stare. Sound familiar? Using your smartphone to occupy your little one is easy in a pinch, but Dr. Jodi Gold, a pediatric psychiatrist and author of “Screen Smart Parenting,” says parents and babysitters might want to change that approach. “The primary issue with letting young children [use devices] is allowing screen time to replace real-life interaction and play,” she says. The next time you’re stuck in a waiting room, try these five screen-free activities and games for kids:
- Build an Activity Kit
With busy schedules, the idea of preparing activities to take with you on busy days might make you want to throw your own tantrum. Asia Citro, former teacher and author of “150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids,” explains that it doesn’t need to be difficult. “I love Pinterest for ideas, but it can give parents the impression that they need to be complex,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be complicated, and it’s easier than you think, once you try it.” So what’s a good place to start? Put together a small activity kit using mini plastic figures or small building materials like Lego. Use sandwich bags or reusable pouches to store the pieces easily in your bag, and bring them out while you’re waiting for the doctor to call your name.
- Enlist Handy Helpers
When you’re getting the grocery shopping done, try including your kids in your tasks rather than finding something separate to entertain them. The key is finding a way to make it fun for kids. Kathy White, parenting coach and founder of Joyful Parents, says: “If you don’t want your children to be on a smartphone, then you have to be willing to get creative.” Creating a challenge is usually a great motivator, so make a game of it. See who can spot their favorite cereal on the shelf first, or set a timer and see if your kids can beat the clock to find the cheapest box of pasta.
- Seek Out Screen-Free Car Time
You know that running errands with kids in tow can be stressful, but you can make it easier with some interactive word games. “Have a few family games that are all-inclusive and allow for interaction,” White suggests. Alphabet games are easy, educational and simple enough to be played while driving. “For example, name animals in alphabetical order from A to Z,” White says. If your kids haven’t mastered the alphabet yet, use the world around you for ideas. Play a game of “I Spy” and see if you can guess what item your little one is looking at.Check out these 53 Fun Car Games for Kids for more ideas.
- Make Things Puzzling
Puzzles are great activities for kids, but are best suited for situations in which you’ll be sitting for a while and have access to a flat surface. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, either — simply pick out a few mini-puzzles from a dollar store to have a variety on hand. Put the pieces in a sandwich bag and take a picture of the box to reference while solving the puzzle.
- Draw Things Out
“With young children, the goal is to teach them that technology is a tool and not an end point,” says Dr. Gold. Hand them a notebook and a pencil and you’ll open the door for all kinds of open-ended play and creativity. Older kids can practice their spelling by playing Hangman. You can jot down a quick grid on two pieces of paper and black out a few squares to make a game of Battleship, which sharpens strategy and problem-solving skills. Younger kids can hone fine-motor skills when you ask them to draw a self-portrait or a fantastic creature. This is a great way to pass the time while you wait, and it encourages your kids’ creativity.
Next time you’re out with your little ones, reach for these low-tech games for kids. You might be surprised at just how fun errands can be. And if you know you’re going to be running errands all afternoon, there’s no shame in hiring a sitter to watch your kids for a few hours. You’ll get things done faster, your kids won’t be dragged around the neighborhood and everyone will be happier.
Need help separating your kids from the phone? Here are 8 ways to limit tech-time.
Shahrzad Warkentin is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom in Los Angeles.