Playtime, Not Screen Time

Don’t worry, I’m not here to give you a lecture on kids’ screen time or how much is reasonable vs. unreasonable and I appreciate as much as any mom the times in which that 4-sided box can be a sanity-saver (hello 5am Saturday wake-up).  We’ve all read the warnings.  But, what I started to notice towards the end of last year, as we stumbled our way through the holiday insanity, is that turning to the TV became a little *too* easy.  So, one of my resolutions for the New Year was to cut back on that screen time in favor of more playtime.  Perhaps that was on your list as well?

The time of day that I targeted was the after school and work, pre-dinner witching hour.  It’s a tough time of day as the kids are restless and I want nothing more than a moment of peace to change my clothes and start dinner.  So, it was critical that the activities I introduced would involve quick set-up and minimal supervision.  The good news is, I found a bunch of great options:

1. Stikits

Colorful little cornstarch “noodles” that easily stick together once moistened.  Super quick set up as all I had to do was dump half a box of Stikits in a bowl, then put out a couple bowls with damp sponges.  2 minutes tops and the kids were excited to dive in.  Non-toxic so I didn’t have to hover over my 2-year-old, and all 3 kids (ages 6, 3, and 2) played beautifully for the 30 minutes it took me to put dinner together.

This one gets an A.

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2. Fizzy Drops

Baking soda + vinegar = fizzy fun!!  I set out a few trays heavily sprinkled with baking soda then let the kids go to town with a cup of vinegar and some droppers.  They thought they were scientists watching the reaction of the two materials mixing and I was able to throw some chicken into the oven.  With little ones, this activity requires some supervision but was generally mess-free and very easy set up.


3.  Gumdrop Architecture

Gum drops and toothpicks join to create towers, trains, bridges, necklaces, and anything else the children can think up!  This was one of the big hitters in my house.  The kids loved it and have asked for it time and time again.  (and no, not because they sneak the gum drops – I convinced them they were “spicy”! ha!)  Accessible for my range of ages, very easy set-up, and held their attention beautifully.  This is another that wins points for re-usability.  Just soak the toothpicks to rid the stickiness and, once dry, they are good to go for another playtime.

A+ (the parents even like to get in on this one!)

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4.  Collages

So many ways you can do this, but the basics involve paper, glue sticks, and some material to be cut up and pasted together (we use magazines).  I usually give the kids a theme such as, favorite color, what you want for Christmas, or outdoor activities.  This particular night I used paper plates as the base for the collage and asked the kids to cut out favorite foods or what they want to eat for dinner.  Easy set-up and minimal supervision required, but sadly it did not hold attention for long.  I think this one was a little too much like a school project for their liking.


5. Homemade Gak

Squishy, gooey, oozy – all the things a child’s dreams are made of!  The set-up here was slightly more involved, but really only by a bit as it all came together in less than 5 minutes and the kids enjoyed the process of making the gak.  Huge hit with the kiddos! I offered them plastic knives to use in play and they went to town for a solid 45 minutes squishing, cutting, and stretching.  Great sensory play! However, if you’ve got toddlers, this is by no means an activity that can be left unsupervised and it can get messy (watch the clothing!).  This one is not for the weak of heart.



6. Bendaroos (also known as Wikki Stix)

Bendable and moldable wax-covered yarn sticks that stick together to build, well, pretty much anything! Guitars and suns are popular in my house and the set I bought came with templates to help spur ideas.  This project is completely mess-free and the set-up requires nothing more than pulling the sticks apart as they come stuck together in sheets.  Also, it wins big points for being reusable and you can easily take apart the creations and use them again another day.  It didn’t quite hold the children’s attention as long as some of the other activities, but I’ll take a peaceful 15 minutes any day.

A –

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Overall our quest to substitute the screen time for playtime has been a huge success.  The kids don’t even know an attack on the tube has been implemented and we’ve gotten to experiment with a bunch of new activities! I think I can officially go ahead and check this one off of my resolution list…now onto those 20lbs…

Do you have any great activities to share? What tricks do you have up your sleeve for when the kids get restless?


13 thoughts on “Playtime, Not Screen Time

    1. Michelle,
      My daughter just turned 2, and loves the simple things like a coloring book (or piece of paper) and crayons or markers, dark colored construction paper and sidewalk chalk, a roll of stickers is a favorite with a piece of paper, and with supervision she loves play-doh with cookie cutters :). A messy, but fun one (need a good bib or oversized t-shirt for a smock) is to put a couple dabs of non-toxic, washable paint (like crayola) onto a plate (or directly on high chair tray) and give him/her 1 or 2 ice cubes. Show them how you swirl the ice cube around through the paint dots and let them go at it 🙂


      1. Love those ideas Rachael!! Another one my toddlers have always loved is bingo dabbers – I spread out some newspaper, give them a dabber or two, and let them go to town!


    2. We made an indoor sandbox with a big under-the-bed box, baby oil and wheat flour. Very soft and works just like sand! Put it in the middle of your kitchen floor on a plastic tablecloth and it’s easy to clean up, too. My 2yo has loved it for a while now!


  1. Yay!!! LOVE these ideas! And you’re right, I was worried I was getting a lecture when I saw the title, lol! You totally ROCK!

    Okay, here’s an idea ~ fill a plastic zip-lock with whipped cream, put a hole in one of the corners and have them decorate cookie sheets. You can also add food coloring to the whipped cream. Fun for everyone!


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