We’ve all been spending a lot more time at home lately and if you’re anything like me, you’re in need of some non-screen time activities that actually entertain your children for more than a couple of minutes.
Are you a busy parent with a seemingly never-ending to-do list? Are you trying to juggle work, and household chores with little ones running around?
Perhaps you have older children who you are homeschooling and looking for ways to occupy the younger ones.
Do you need just a little more free time to finish up that blog post, make a work call, prepare dinner, or take a few precious minutes to yourself?
You are not alone. We’ve all been there, wishing that we had just a little more time to finish the task at hand.
Thankfully, I’m here to help!
I’ve compiled a list of screen-free activities that have worked for our family. The best part is that they require little to no prep and most can be done independently, with your child sitting near you, instead of crawling all over you.
These non-screen time activities aren’t guaranteed to work every time. But hopefully, this list will give you some new ideas to rotate into your routine and will help buy you some extra time so you can start checking off that never-ending to-do list.
30+ Non-Screen Time Activities for Toddlers & Preschoolers
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Preschoolers will love using stamps. Toddlers will likely be a bit messy with the ink so you will have to supervise this activity and be careful that they don’t get it on their skin and nice clothing. My preschooler likse to help out by adding the ink to the stamp and handing it to my toddler.
2. Paint Sticks
These paint sticks are perfect for toddlers. The colors are bright and bold and they are a lot less messy than traditional paints.
3. Contact & Tissue Paper Art
This requires a little prep but it is so easy. Tape Con-Tact Paper to your window or wall. Cut out squares of Tissue Paper and let your child create masterpieces by sticking the squares to the contact paper.
Everyone loves stickers in our house. Puffy ones are perfect for tiny hands and are easier to get off of the paper. The re-usable ones are great because they can be used over and over again. Sticker books are also perfect for occupying little ones on longer car rides.
5. Play-Doh, Foam & Play Sand
These require supervision, especially for little ones who are still putting things in their mouths. My preschooler often plays with these while my youngest is napping. We use trays similar to these for less mess and easy cleanup.
6. Water/Sensory Table
Water and sensory tables aren’t just for summertime. They can be used all year long. In the winter, we like to add snow to our water table. Grab some mittens, shovels, buckets, and small toys and let them play their little hearts out. It’s perfect for those days when it’s too cold to go outside. You can fill your table with so many different objects including rocks, dirt, sand, rice, pasta, pom poms, flowers, and leaves. We recently bought these Water Beads and are excited to try them out in our water table.
7.Water Mats & Activity Books
Water mats and books aren’t completely mess-free but since it’s only water, I don’t usually mind if it gets all over the floor. You can always put a towel down so there’s less mess.
Mega blocks are great for tiny hands. My four-year-old is starting to enjoy playing with regular legos. Since we have a one-year-old running around, we only play with those during nap time or when I am able to directly supervise.
Blocks are such timeless toys. Whether you’re building fences for animals, towers, houses, or taking them in and out of the bucket, they are a great open-ended toy that provides endless play opportunities. Soft silicone blocks are perfect for babies. They have different textures and visuals that provide various ways to learn and explore through play.
Magnatiles are fun and entertaining and perfect for preschoolers. They do contain magnets that can cause serious health consequences if swallowed so children who are still putting objects into their mouths should be carefully supervised when they play with these. These are so much fun to build with and will even stick to doors and refrigerators. We especially enjoy taking them outside and sticking them to our garage door.
What’s not to love about books?! Both of my girls love them and spend hours looking at books each day. When I can’t sit and read with them, interactive books are the perfect option. There are so many interactive books that keep children engaged, from LeapFrog, Me Reader, Look & Find, Lift the Flap, Light-Up, Busy Books, and books that play music.
*Mom Hack- Getting new books is pretty exciting around here so I like to keep a stash of books that the kids can pick from when I need a few extra minutes.
12. Play Kitchen
Your child will love pretending to make meals with their very own play kitchen. You can help them learn about nutrition, ingredients, and making healthy food choices. Playing restaurant has been a favorite activity at our house.
Sometimes it’s fun to decorate a space that is normally off-limits. If you don’t have window clings, you can tape paper cutouts to the window. We taped hearts to the window for the Happy Heart Hunt during the COVID-19 pandemic and my toddler really enjoyed ripping them off several times a day. You can cut out various shapes and allow your child to make their own designs on the window.
14. Climber/ Pickler Triangle/ Play Mats
If your kids are climbers like mine, they will LOVE having these in the house. The climber that we have is from a seller on Etsy and it has been worth every penny. It is a customizable climber so we can change the shape. We can lower it for our toddler and make it higher for our preschooler. Climbers and playmats are especially great on rainy days, during the cold winter months, and while being stuck at home for several months at a time (hopefully this never happens again).
Trampolines encourage children to get moving and jump out some of their never-ending energy. We still use caution, especially while our youngest is on the trampoline. These squares are great to have underneath it to add some extra padding in case anyone falls off.
16. Farm & Dollhouse
Both of my girls have loved playing with their farm and dollhouse. The dollhouse sat in my oldest daughter’s room for a while and was rarely played with. We moved it into the living room and it became the favorite toy in our house. On warm days we even take it outside on the deck and they will spend hours playing together.
17. Rocking and Ride-On Toys
Who doesn’t love tossing or kicking a ball around? You can roll balls back and forth, play catch, toss them into baskets and see how far they roll. You can even add balls to a kiddie pool or play yard and babies and toddlers will love playing in their own ball pit.
19. Animals & People
Animals and people make great additions to every toy collection. You can build homes for them with other items on this list like legos, blocks, and Magnatiles.
20. Build a Fort
I think it’s safe to say that all kids love forts. Whether it’s a pop-up tent, teepee, or just a sheet tossed over the kitchen table, forts are fun. My girls like to fill their forts with their favorite toys and books and then spend hours playing in their houses.
21. Color Wonder
I love Color Wonder markers because they only color on the special Color Wonder paper. Your toddler can use them and you won’t have to worry about marker getting on their skin, clothes, or the wall. We have several that we keep in our church, car, and diaper bags.
22. Piggy Bank & Coins/ Jars & Buttons
Kids love putting objects into containers and coins are no exception. You will want to supervise your little ones to ensure that they don’t put the money in their mouths. I suggest washing the money before-hand or at least washing your child’s hands after they have handled the money. You can also use these buttons and have your child add them to jars and other various containers. My toddler and preschooler both love playing with these buttons that come in various sizes, shapes, and colors.
As someone who does 90% of her shopping online, we usually have an abundance of boxes. Appliance boxes make amazing houses, diaper boxes make great cars, and it’s always fun to color on something other than plain old paper. So grab some crayons or markers and let their imaginations run wild.
24. Dry Erase Board & Markers
I keep a dry erase board and markers handy for when I’m working from home. There’s something about doodling and being able to erase your creations that keep little minds occupied.
25. Fun Craft Supplies
Art is a fun and natural activity that supports free play in children. It enhances fine motor skills and encourages self-exploration and creativity. We have art supplies available for everyday use, as well as some that only get pulled out on special occasions. These help keep things new and exciting, which seems to hold their attention longer.
Set up a blanket, grab a few healthy snacks, and have an indoor picnic that your little ones are sure to get excited about (until the snacks are gone anyway).
27. Board Games
My four-year-old enjoys playing board games her own way. Games currently don’t give me much time but I think as she gets a little older, she will enjoy playing independently with her sister for longer periods of time. The animal memory game, shown above is one that my preschooler and toddler can play together without my help. My preschooler asks her sister to find an animal and they both make the animal sounds together. If your child is an animal lover, I highly recommend it.
Do your kids love animals, Frozen, colors or shapes? There are so many different options for card games. I’ve found that if my little ones recognize who or what is on the object, they tend to stick around a little longer. Toddlers also love to take all the cards out and put them back in. My preschooler is able to match the cards. You can add to it by asking your child to find an item around the house with a similar shape or color and put it on top of the card. This flashcard game is one that we have really enjoyed playing. You can also make your own deck of cards or matching game with photos of loved ones on it. This has been on our wish list for a while and I think my girls would love to have a game with pictures of themselves and their loved ones.
I have fond memories of my lite-brite as a child. We recently purchased one to help us through quarantine and oh how they have changed. They are no longer big and bulky and they have various light settings. I was pretty impressed. My preschooler hasn’t figured out how to create the images herself but she enjoys putting the pegs into the holes and creating her own designs. This is an activity we often do while my youngest sleeps because the pegs are quite small. She is always fascinated by the lights when she wakes up though.
30. Set up a kid-friendly work station.
Both of my girls love to work with me. My oldest especially enjoys practicing her letters and typing on the keyboard. If you have an old keyboard and box, you can set up a pretend computer. You can tape images onto the box or paint it with chalk paint and they can design their own images.
Here are some things that are guaranteed to buy you time. BUT there will likely be a huge mess along the way. Good news, your kids will have FUN and you will get things DONE!
31. Tissue Box and Toilet Paper Roll
There is always the potential of another toilet paper shortage and I’m all about less waste, so be sure to re-use the paper if you brave this one. I’ve never willingly let my kids play with the toilet paper roll but I have walked into the bathroom to find it half unrolled before. Sigh… The tissue box on the other hand has bought me some time before and my OCD still cringes every time I see that particular box with all of the tissues jammed back into it.
**Mom Hack- Put a hair tie or rubber band around the toilet paper roll when not in use. It will save you from walking in to find toilet paper all over your floor.
32. Kitchen Gadgets
Although I don’t recommend banging on pots and pans during a conference call, your kids will love starting their own kitchen band and parading through the house. Colanders, spoons, funnels, baking sheets, cups, and tongs are all fun options to play with. I’ve definitely let my kids DESTROY the Tupperware cupboard a time or two. The kitchen was a disaster BUT dinner was made, bellies were full, and hearts were happy.
33. Office Supplies
My oldest loves to use every single pen, pencil, and marker that she can find to color in the squares on my desk calendar. My youngest loves taking things out and putting them back in. She also thinks it’s hilarious to rip the paper from post-it notes and pull rolls of tape apart. She may have destroyed a couple of white-out pens a time or two. I don’t recommend the white out tape as it’s actually quite messy and a waste of money; but I was desperate.
34. Let Them Clean
Both of my girls enjoy helping around the house. They are at an age where it is fun to help dust, sweep, mop, sort laundry, and they especially love to water plants and help load and unload the dishwasher. We have this kid-sized cleaning set and use e-cloths to dust and wipe down tables and windows. All you need is water so it’s safe for kids of all ages. If you’re in the kitchen and need a few more minutes to get dinner ready, see if your kids would like to help put dishes away or set the table. Their answer might just surprise you.
A Few Tips:
To keep toys new and exciting, you can rotate them. I know some moms who do this on a weekly, monthly, and even seasonal basis.
I keep a stash of art supplies that I only use for special occasions. There are also a few toys that are only played with when I need to get something done or when we go on long car rides.
Whether you are working from home, homeschooling, making the family meal, or completing household chores, these tasks can be daunting with children climbing all over you. I hope this list of screen-free activities has provided you with some ideas to help occupy your toddler and preschooler for just a little bit longer.
I also want to suggest the option of encouraging your little ones to help you with age-appropriate tasks around the house. Allowing your children to help might mean that the laundry isn’t folded correctly and it’s quite possible that you will end up with a bigger mess than before.
However, you are instilling good habits for your children. They will be learning responsibility and skills that will serve them throughout their lives. You’re teaching them the importance of teamwork and creating more time to spend as a family doing things that you all love and enjoy.
Life isn’t about perfection. It’s about embracing the imperfectness and enjoying the beautiful chaos along the way. I hope this list of screen-free activities helps you tackle your to-do list so that you and your family can spend more time doing the things that you love most.
Love & Blessings,