Keep Them Occupied

child drawing a picture in her notebook
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Kid-Approved: 20 Screen-Free Indoor Activities

Because you need to keep them busy (and keep yourself sane)

Sure, it might keep them occupied (read: quiet) when you have to get something done, but sometimes, it can feel like there’s just too much tech. That’s when you might decide that it’s time to slow down the screen time and do something that doesn’t involve smartphones, tablets, or other devices. But what else is left? A lot, according to these moms who offered up 20 screen-free indoor activities for kids that will keep them busy and just might build in some bonding as well.

The problem is that it’s just so hard to turn off the tablets and video games and smartphones. They're fun, entertaining, and provide instant gratification, so really, who would want to get rid of that? As it turns out, though, there might be so much more that you and your kids are missing, if only you put down your screens. “Screen-free activity time leaves space and availability for special family moments to occur that create memories that truly matter and will always be remembered and treasured,” pediatric occupational therapist and author Dr. Elizabeth Jennings tells Romper in an email. “When kids are able to spend active, engaged, face-to-face quality time together with their families, they improve their social, mental, and self-regulation skills, in addition to an increase in their activity level, resulting in less physical, emotional, and behavioral problems such as obesity, depression, and aggression from extended screen use.”

So now that you know that it’s good to turn off the tech every once in a while, what are you going to do with all that time? Start with some of these activities that kids and parents give the thumbs up to, and see what life is like sans screens.


Break out the classic board games

“When it feels like we’ve had too much tech, I put the kids’ Kindles away and we play Chutes & Ladders or Candy Land. These are games from my childhood, and I find them very relaxing to play. The littles learn about taking turns, so it’s a win/win.”

— Marla, mom of 2


Bake and embrace the mess

“Baking has become so big in my house! I used to do all the cooking on my own because I didn’t have time to explain how to do everything. Now, I put my kid on the counter and she helps me to mix and measure different ingredients. We’re not making filet mignon (it’s more like boxed brownie mixes), but it’s relaxing and fun — and we get to eat afterwards!”

— Chantrelle, mom of 1


Gather some books and read together

“We discovered that we like to read together. If I take out a bunch of books and we all sit down as a family, the kids enjoy reading. It doesn’t last long, though, because the baby wants to see what his older siblings are reading, and he sometimes drools on their pages, which upsets the kids. For however long it lasts, though, it's peaceful.”

— Nadira, mom of 3


Grab crayons and color away

“Coloring is seriously underrated! I buy my kids a fresh pack of markers and crayons, get some coloring books from the dollar store, and it’s a party! I’ve even bought myself some adult coloring books to do while they’re busy, and they become entranced by it.”

— Lourdes, mom of 3


Clean with your kids (yes, it can be fun!)

“Sooo, it might feel like cleaning is more of a chore than something fun, but my kids have actually grown to enjoy it. I’ve explained the benefits of being able to find what you need… and also being able to see the floor in your room. When they’re bored, they’ll organize their drawers or clear out the shoes in their closets. They’re not Marie Kondos by any stretch of the imagination, but they are seeing that being tidy is kinda cool.”

— Izzy, mom of 2


Do some fun crafts

“I love to craft, and so it’s thrilling to me that my kids have also adopted my affinity for Michael’s and Jo-Ann’s. I have so much stuff, so if they have nothing to do, I’ll haul out a box of craft paper, fun scissors, and glue, and they’ll go to town making cards or cutting out shapes. It’s been great for my little guy who is learning how to trace and use a scissor for the first time.”

— Charlie, mom of 3


Put together a puzzle

“I feel like puzzles get a bad rap, but they’re so much fun. I wouldn’t suggest starting out with a 1,000 piece puzzle of a dark night sky, but one that has an interesting picture and has larger pieces can be perfect. Only issue: 7 month-old likes to gnaw on the pieces.”

— Andrea, mom of 2


Stage a show

“My little one is a total diva and loves putting on performances. So I let her put on my shoes, spritz her with some perfume, and she grabs some feather boas from an old Halloween costume, and she puts on a show. She sings, she dances, and she has a blast.”

— Julia, mom of 1


Bring the Great Outdoors inside

“We create an indoor picnic for our kids. When it’s too cold to camp outside, we lay some blankets out on the floor, pitch a small tent, and go camping inside. It is so much fun! We make stovetop s’mores, have hot dogs, and the kids love it.”

— Phoebe, mom of 4


Create an indoor sports arena

“My boys get itchy to play outside during colder months, but we live in Minnesota, so that’s not always possible. I’ve learned how to make indoor sports for them to play, like soccer or even obstacle courses made of pillows and cushions. They love it, and they always fall asleep so fast at night after they’ve spent time playing.”

— Sabrina, mom of 3


Have fun with stickers and stationery

“I don’t know of any kid who doesn’t like stationery and stickers. I buy tons of craft paper and stickers, and let the kids make whatever designs they want. They’ll make cards, write stories, or just, you know, put stickers on the wall.”

— Donna, mom of 2


Let your child channel their inner dancing queen

“We do a lot of dance parties in our house. We blast some music, and we just stop and dance. It’s good exercise, and it works great, especially for those times when my child needs a mental break from any stress she’s having in school.”

— Diane, mom of 1


Set up a scavenger hunt

“My kids love when we do Easter egg hunts, so I figured, why do we have to only do this one time a year? We set up indoor scavenger hunts. I theme them so that one day, they might be hunting for teddy bears, and other times, they might be looking for candy. We all have so much fun.”

— Nikea, mom of 2


Get some journals and let them write out their feelings

“I think writing in a journal is good for your soul. I encourage my kids to do it on days when they’re frustrated or bored. It’s a great way to vent their feelings in a safe way, and it also helps them practice their penmanship, which is something that I feel this generation kind of struggles with. It’s more intimate to put pen to paper and in the future, they’ll get to see their own thoughts in their own handwriting, which I think is cool.”

— Alessandra, mom of 2


Write letters to family (in addition to FaceTime)

“Because of the quarantine, my kids haven’t been able to see their grandparents. And bless their hearts, they’re not the most tech savvy. So the kids have started writing actual letters to them. It’s been such a sweet experience; they write to them weekly about things that are going on, and my parents have been loving getting these letters in the mail from their grandchildren.”

— Yvonne, mom of 2


Make a spa night


“I think we can all say that we’re a little stressed out now. One night on a whim, we did face masks, and the kids loved it. (They thought they looked like monsters!) So the next time we did it, we went all out — white fluffy robes, fun facials, cucumber slices on the eyes. I put on relaxing music and lit my lavender candle, and the kids had a blast.”

— Chelsea, mom of 3


Declutter your space

“This has been a great time to do some decluttering, and so I’ve had the kids clean out their closets. But the goal has not been to simply dump stuff in the garbage (although that’s great, too), but to assign a charity to receive our donations. Somehow, knowing that their used toys were going to go to kids in need helped motivate my kids to really clean house.”

— Tiffany, mom of 2


Make plans for the future

“I’m a perpetual planner, and I enjoy thinking about the things that we can do in the future. Each week, over dinner, we sit down together and talk about what we’d like to do and where we’d like to go. Some are super simple goals, but others are bigger. Making plans for the future has had a somewhat calming and inspirational effect on us.”

— Marissa, mom of 3


Play kid-friendly games

"It might seem silly, but we play games around the house. The most popular one by far is Hide and Seek. It's a game that all my kids get into, and it becomes very, um, creative in terms of hiding places. I've had to warn my kids on more than one occasion that the inside of the washing machine is NOT a good (or safe) spot."

— Stacy, mom of 4


Unplug everything — even the lights

"It's hard to find an activity that all five kids will like. But when I see that the kids are stressed and we all need to unplug, what I do is turn off everything. We light candles, we sit together and eat, and talk. With zero distractions, I've found that it's just the right thing to help everyone reset. Frayed nerves are calmed, we connect, and it seems like we center ourselves again as a family. I can't lie, though; when the lights go back on, everyone is very happy!"

— Lucy, mom of 5

It's hard for children — and even adults — to take a break from devices once in a while. But once you get past the tantrums and the 'tude, they'll find ways to occupy their time, either with the toys and supplies available to them, or even by spending quality time with you.