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20 Activities To Keep Your Child Busy — No Screen Time Required!

Leading New York City pediatrician, Dr. Nikolas Papaevagelou offers ways to entertain your children while teaching helpful skills.

Getty Images
Getty Images

For many, it’s been 4-weeks of self quarantine here — and many of the parents I talk to are going a little stir crazy. They’ve exhausted all of their playtime ideas and not only are the kids getting bored, they are too. Most parents are resorting to having their children watch TV or be on their iPad for a good part of their day.  With the parks and all recreational resources closed, parents are resorting to increased TV, video game or iPad time.  Whether you have a toddler or school-age child, there are things you can do, with minimal screen time, to entertain them. 

I have a 13 month old daughter that needs constant attention, so my wife and I are getting creative. We don’t want to depend on the TV, but even we’ve struggled. Whether you have a toddler or school-age child, there are things you can do, with minimal screen time, to entertain them.  Try one — or all! — of these to help switch up your routine. 

Mimicking adults. My daughter loves to help with household chores. This pretend play is something that most toddlers enjoy. My daughter’s day usually starts with making the bed. She gets so happy and excited to help out and my wife has found a great trick to get her even more excited by hitting the bed, making lots of noise, and spreading the sheets. My wife gets very animated and my daughter loves it. My daughter has also picked up on dusting and loves to wipe down every surface possible. One last thing is doing laundry with your little helper and afterwards have your child help with folding the clothes. My daughter loves to see my wife fold and automatically picks up the clothes and unfolds them. This can really last for a very long time.

Play dress up. Nothing better to do than play dress up with your child. I’m sure you have plenty of spring clothes that your child is never going to wear since you’re stuck at home. Might as well dress and undress your child with as many outfits you have and start taking pictures. The great thing about this activity is you can make it a learning experience by having your child trying to dress or undress on their own or with as little help from you.

Singing and dancing. Seems simple, and it is, but it’s fun! Bonus, it’s a form of exercise and kids love it. Hey you never know, your child might be the next “American Idol” after this quarantine.

Stretching and exercising. This is a benefit for you both to keep your mind and body healthy. You can make 30 minutes pass by really fast. My daughter has seen my wife squat and has found it to be the funnest thing ever and has learned to squat herself. You can also use your child as a weight for several exercises if you want to work out yourself. After the exercises stretch yourself and teach your child to stretch. There are many online “mommy and me” workouts to try too! 

Help with cooking. You can actively have your older child hand you over things or even stir up the batter for you. My daughter loves to wear oven mitts and pretend she’s cooking in her little kitchen set we had bought for her. 

Have an indoor or even outdoor picnic (if you have a backyard). After you’re done cooking or baking with your child, throw a blanket in the living room or your backyard and eat what you cooked. Your child would enjoy this pretend activity and you can enjoy a well deserved glass of wine.

Read books. Story time doesn’t have to be only before bedtime. Go through all your children’s books and even start naming them and having your child bring them to you. Again, making something simple into a lesson of listening and following directions. My daughter gets so excited when I tell her to bring me her books and as she reaches near me. I can see the satisfaction of her accomplishment in her walk and in her eyes.

Kick a ball around the house. There’s not much that you need other than a soft ball that you can kick to each other and if you have a backyard you can even play a fun game of 1-on-1. 

Play indoor basketball with a small hoop. Make a hoop out of your laundry basket and have a shooting game with your child. Of course you have to once again make sure you keep losing, otherwise it will not be as fun for them. Win a game from time to time to make things interesting and a bit more competitive for them.

Clean up the room. After all you still have to teach them to be neat and tidy, but you can make it fun and award them with stickers or doing other fun activities if they help you clean up fast.

Potty train. You’re stuck at home with a toddler, why not get started with that. I’ve had some success with my daughter, but again it’s a work in progress. We started introducing the potty a few weeks ago and she wanted nothing to do with it. We didn’t push but slowly started sitting on it without complaining. So everytime my wife went to the bathroom my daughter followed. Now we time every 30 minutes a trip to the bathroom and sitting on the potty for 5 minutes reading books. She’s only 13 months but has already pooped in it once and voided twice. If it’s stressful for your child do not push.

Playing with balloons and blowing bubbles. All kids love balloons. As a treat blow up some balloons and start playing catch with your child. If you’re talented enough you can try to even make balloon animals. Kids also love bubbles. Take your little one and just start blowing unlimited bubbles and have him chasing it around the house or the back yard.

Go for short walks. Being quarantined in the house is not fun, and going outside could be dangerous, but with proper precautions of not touching door handles, walls and other objects,wearing a mask, and having hand sanitizer take your child for a walk around the block to get some fresh air. Practice social distancing and avoid crowded streets.

Write with chalk on the sidewalk. Kids love drawing and making a mess, why not on the sidewalk or your backyard if it’s made out of cement. 

Practice your numbers, colors and ABCs. For your older toddlers make it fun and make it educational. Use the books you have to learn letters. Use the clothes you and your child wears to learn colors. Keep repeating the letters and numbers slowly. We don’t know when this quarantine is going to be over. Learn a letter and a number daily and at the end of the week have them put all they learned together.

Arts and Crafts. Be your child’s own scientist and help them make slime or playdough. Google fun ideas online just using household items. This activity is more for the older children since it will require multiple steps in achieving your final goal, which in turns needs a greater attention span.

Treasure hunt. Also for your slightly older children but you can hide little things around the house and have your child go look for them. You can play along by telling them if they’re hot or cold near the items you’ve hid.

Bring out the board games. One of my favorites is hungry, hungry hippos. You can play many of these games for long periods and keep your child or children occupied.

Lots of Hide & Seek. There’s not much to say about this game other than hours of fun. It’s an old time favorite and you can play this game for hours. Make sure the house is appropriately proofed for this game. 

Bath time. Almost time for bed and to keep the routine constant, give your child a bath to soothe and help wind down before bedtime. If it normally takes you 5 minutes to give your child a bath, take advantage and fill up the bathtub and have them sit and play in the water for an extra 10-20 minutes.

Always remember to stick to your child’s schedule. Don’t start the indoor picnic during his usual nap time. Try to keep things in schedule as much as possible, since kids do a lot better when things are on a specific schedule. This is your opportunity to learn your child inside and out and create the schedule you always want them to have. Be safe and have fun!

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