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Boredom Busters: Screen-Free Activities

Show your kids that screens are small and the world is big

Words by
Jake Cutler

MAY 23, 2023

Boredom Busters: Screen-Free Activities

Show your kids that screens are small and the world is big

Summer brings so many great things for families. Sunshine, warm weather, and free time are just a few items on a long list. But summer days also bring unique parenting challenges. Kids no longer have large chunks of their day taken up by school and it can be a struggle to figure out how to fill that time.

It’s important to remember that it’s not your job as a parent to make sure your kids are constantly entertained. In fact, there are big developmental benefits to unstructured time. Boredom itself is even beneficial—research shows the following benefits to experiencing boredom:

  • Improved mental health
  • Increased creativity
  • Motivation to search for new things
  • Desire to pursue new goals
  • Better self-control skills

When kids bring their boredom to you—because we all know they will—it’s best to acknowledge their feelings then ask them to come up with a solution. If they struggle, resist the temptation to immediately turn to screen time. 

While technology may feel like the only solution in certain situations, it actually makes the boredom problem worse over time. Sandi Mann, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire and author of The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good, summarizes it nicely:

“We’re trying to swipe and scroll the boredom away, but in doing that, we’re actually making ourselves more prone to boredom.” Mann continues, “Our tolerance for boredom just changes completely, and we need more and more to stop being bored.”

Not all screen time is created equal, of course. Technology can be a great educational tool, for example, and it can also provide kids with connection to family and friends who live far away. But quickly turning to screens to entertain kids who are bored only buys relief in the short term, and at the cost of a growing boredom problem as summer wears on.

If your kids are struggling to come up with their own screen-free ideas, check out the following list of 50 screen-free activities kids will enjoy.

little girl watching ipad

Balance is Key

Screen time isn’t always a bad thing. There are many useful ways kids can use their online time.

Activities that promote connection, healthy self-image, competence, and purpose will benefit the lives of young people.  

Overall, a balance of positive online and offline experiences is best for kids.

Our list of 50 screen-free activities can help parents strike that balance. While not every item will work for everyone, there are plenty of adaptable activities to fit any family.

group of smiling kids

50 Fun Screen-Free Activities

Here are some ideas to encourage kids to look up and see the family and friends who love them.

Use these lists as a starting point and make them work for your situation. Be sure to add some blank lines for your family to add to it!

Screen-free skills for a fun summer

Screen-free activities that teach new skills
  • Become an entrepreneur: Learn to run your own business by setting up a lemonade or watermelon stand (or lawn mowing or babysitting business for teens).
  • Put on your chef hat: Try your hand at baking cookies from scratch (or, for teens, learn to bake your own bread).
  • Become your family’s official photographer: Grab a camera and document your family’s summer with a series of pictures.
  • Gaming master: Learn how to play a game like chess, backgammon, or checkers. Hold a neighborhood tournament.
  • Crack your family up: Learn some jokes and perform a comedy show for your family (or consider learning some sleight of hand techniques and putting on a magic show).
  • Study survival skills: Read a book about emergency preparedness, make a list of what goes in a 72-hour kit, gather your family and put them together.
  • Practice yo-yo tricks: A great way to impress at any party is to learn a unique trick.
  • Try your hand at knitting or crocheting: Prep for sledding this winter by making a scarf.

Screen-free fun in the great outdoors

Screen-free things to do in the yard
  • Read the stars: Check out a book about astronomy from your local library. Pick a clear night to go stargazing and tell your family about everything you learned.
  • Camp in your own backyard: If weather or space makes this activity difficult, consider setting up a tent in your living room.
  • Learn a lawn game: There are so many fun lawn games to learn: bocce ball, ladder golf, croquet, or horseshoes. Try a few out, see what you’re good at, and then challenge your friends to a match.
  • Fork- and Plate-free Spaghetti Dinner: Wear clothes you don’t care about underneath a garbage bag because this activity is gonna get messy. Put a pile of spaghetti in front of everyone and a non-fork utensil (mixing spoon, spatula, and salad tongs are some of our favorites) and have a messy, memorable dinner.
  • Have a tea party in a tree: Invite your friends to read a book you love and invite them for tea. Spend time thinking about the most important part—the snacks! 
  • Hold the First Annual Family Olympics: Include events like watermelon seed spitting, cereal speed eating, egg race relays, and more. Don’t forget the opening and closing ceremonies.
  • Make s’mores: Assemble the goodness on a paper plate and pop one in the microwave for about 10 seconds. You’ll know it’s ready when the marshmallow puffs up. Don’t just stick with plain chocolate—try baking chips and different candy bars. 

Screen-free ideas when you’re stuck inside

Screen-free ideas for when you’re stuck inside
  • Build a cardboard box fort: If you don’t have enough cardboard boxes, you can also use couch cushions, sheets, blankets, and anything else you can think of.
  • Make paper airplanes: Have a contest for who can fold the coolest looking plane and the plane that flies the farthest.
  • Glow stick dance party: Visit a dollar store and grab the biggest pack of glowsticks you can find. Make a playlist of great dance songs with your family and bust a move.
  • We all scream for ice cream: Give your family a delicious treat by making your very own homemade ice cream. Feeling adventurous? Try blending frozen bananas.
  • Put on a family talent show: Make sure someone is videotaping so you can look back on the memory in a few years.
  • Tease your mind: Stay sharp while you’re not in school by doing crosswords, Sudoku, or other brain teasers.
  • Etiquette dinner: Read a book about proper etiquette while eating. Teach your family what you learned by putting together a formal dinner.
  • Create a spa day: Fill up the tub with bubble bath and glow sticks. Turn off the lights and relax in the soft light. Better yet, put together a spa day for someone else, like Mom.

Screen-free projects to unleash your creative genius

Screen-free projects that encourage creativity
  • Be an author for the day: Read a few of your favorite children’s books. Write and illustrate your own tale. Invite the neighborhood kids for your debut.
  • Make your own Monopoly: Design your own board with your town’s streets and try it out during a family game night.
  • Fire away: Fill up a few squirt guns with different colors of liquid watercolor paint, set up some watercolor paper on an easel or tree, and have at it. Wear clothes Dad says are OK!
  • See how high you can go: Draft a few plans for how to build the world’s tallest toothpick and marshmallow tower. Put them into action and see how tall you can get yours.
  • DIY Play-Doh: Look up a recipe for do-it-yourself Play-Doh and channel your inner Michelangelo.
  • Chalk the block: Have a neighborhood chalk art contest.
  • Make your own marble roller coaster: Use tissue paper rolls, pipe cleaners, tape, paper plates, markers, and whatever else you need to make the world’s coolest marble roller coaster.
  • Create a home theater: Write your own play and put it on for your family and neighbors. Be sure to give your pet a starring role.

Screen-free projects that show how responsible you are

Screen-free projects that teach responsibility
  • Master the toughest laundry skill: Ask your parent to demonstrate how to fold a fitted sheet. Afterward, give everyone a sheet and time to practice, and then have a folding contest. Give out awards for the fastest and neatest folders, and even one for the hopeless folder.
  • Wash the car: Create a playlist of summer jams with your parents. Make sure you include some oldies that they listened to as kids. Pump up the tunes while your family washes the car. Surprise everyone with a water balloon fight when you’re done.
  • Plant a pizza garden: Plant a few peppers, tomatoes, oregano, basil, and anything else you’d like on a pizza. Tend it throughout the summer. Once it’s time to harvest, enjoy your hard work by making homemade pizzas.
  • Make dinner: Look through a cookbook and find something delicious. Plan what ingredients you need, go shopping, and cook dinner for your family.

Screen-free family field trips to try this summer

Screen-free family field trips to try this summer
  • Hit the links: Go to a driving range or make your own putting green, then swing through a bucket of golf balls.
  • Job shadow: Explore potential careers and bond with family members by job shadowing a relative for part of a day.
  • Local flora and fauna scavenger hunt: Check out a book highlighting some plants and animals commonly found in your area. Plan a trek and see how many you can find. Pack water, snacks, a flashlight, and wear layers. You can do this in the city, the suburbs, and the country, as long your family follows your leadership.
  • Be a bookworm: Make a list of books you want to read this summer. Visit your local library each month and burn through your list.
  • Swing around like a monkey: Check out all the parks near you. Once you’ve visited them all, decide on your favorite. It’s fun to use the equipment to make an obstacle course and race each other.
  • Take me out to the ball game: Support your local minor league baseball team or the city softball league. Bonus points if you buy some peanuts or Cracker Jacks.
  • Go bowling: Whether or not you need to use the gutter guards, this activity is sure to be a hit.
  • Get out: Visit an escape room. Or even better, design your own.
  • Go fruit or berry picking: Nothing tastes sweeter than what you pick yourself. Try baking a pie from the fruits of your labors.

Screen-free ways to brighten someone’s day

Screen-free ways to brighten someone’s day
  • Snail mail: There’s nothing like getting a letter in the mail. Find a pen pal and tell them about all the screen-free plans you have for the summer. Ask questions about what they are up to and make plans for a reunion.
  • Write thank-you notes: Few gestures feel as thoughtful as a thank-you note. Add an extra personal touch by making your own cards and sending them to people who’ve made a difference in your life.
  • Give back: Who needs their lawn mowed, their flower bed weeded, or their car washed? Look for ways you can help someone else in your community and you will feel happy.
  • Gratitude scavenger hunt: Get to know what makes your family happy. Create a list with items like what is beautiful to you, what reminds you of a challenge you’ve overcome, or what would make someone else smile. Share the treasures you’ve found with each other.
  • Build a birdhouse: Read all you can about birds. Build a bird feeder or bird house and see if you can identify your new guests.

Print out this list and pop it on the fridge.

You can decide as a family what adventures you want to explore!

Shoot some Hoops

What better way to enjoy some friendly competition than a game of basketball? Even if you don’t have your own basketball hoop it’s easy to find a court at a local park.

If you have an even number of family members, make it a three-on-three or two-on-two match. If not, bring along some friends or try out variations like H-O-R-S-E or Lightning (also known as Knockout or Flush). In H-O-R-S-E, the first player shoots from wherever on the court they want; if they make a basket, the next person is must take the same shot to avoid getting a letter. Once a player gets all five letters they are out.

Lightning requires two basketballs but is a fun kids activity that gets them moving. To play, everyone lines up at a single spot on the court and the first player shoots from that spot, followed immediately by the second player in a last-person-standing competition. If the player behind you makes the shot before you then you’re out until the next round.

Just remember to bring water. After even a half hour of play on summer days, you’ll need it. 

Volunteer

Summertime is the perfect time to do good for your community. Find a cause your kid cares about, and spend an afternoon giving back.

Litter pickup is an easy, rewarding activity that provides plenty of exercise and family fun. All you need is a trash bag, some gloves, and a can-do attitude. Picking up litter is also a great way to teach kids about selflessness. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t throw out the trash. What matters is that it’s your community and should be disposed of properly.
Another popular volunteer activity with kids is pet care. Contact your local Humane Society: Do they need someone to take the dogs for a walk? Could the kennels use a good scrub? Ask, and you’ll be put to work.

Cool Off with Water Fun

If there’s one place your kid can’t use his or her cell phone, it’s in the pool. Why not spend a hot summer day in the water?

You may be lucky enough to have a swimming spot near you. If you have a backyard pool, take advantage of it. If not, look for a local lake where swimming is allowed.

If you can’t find a good local swimming spot, grab some affordable squirt guns and water balloons and have a water fight in the backyard.

A water park is another great way to enjoy the sunshine together. Water parks can get expensive, especially for big families, so this might be a special event that you can put on the calendar weeks in advance and give your kids daily tasks as a way to earn it.

Just remember to bring sunscreen for these kinds of water activities. In the summer, even 15 minutes in the sun can give a kid a good burn. 

Get Creative Indoors

Not all summer fun has to take place outside. If you need a break from the heat or are looking for ways to pass time on a rainy day, there is plenty kids can do in your own living room.

Creating an obstacle course with couch cushions, blankets, and pillows can help younger kids get their energy out in a safe, fun way. Older kids might enjoy creating an indoor scavenger hunt for their younger siblings.

Another fun summer activity for kids is a family Lego tournament. You can choose to work in teams or solo, under a certain theme, or completely freestyle! The point is to have fun making fantastic creations.

Outside of the new memories for children, and perhaps nostalgia for parents, Legos are secret learning enrichment tools. They’re perfect for helping children build fine motor skills and spatial awareness. Playing with Legos also promotes creativity and emphasizes the importance of teamwork.

Have Fun With Food

Allow your kids to be the chef for a night by letting them design one night’s dinner menu. Depending on what they choose, you can help them locate a recipe in a cookbook or perhaps you have a family recipe that you can teach them yourself.

You can even step up the experience by letting the kids design the dining room like their own personal restaurant. Have them design menus, a sign, and even set the table to match their unique vision. This helps them develop a sense of ownership over the meal and helps exercise their planning skills.

As a special treat, you might all go out for ice cream afterward.

Keep in mind: whether you cook every meal or not, you’re still able to leverage dinner as a period free from wireless phones. After all, you want to establish a screen-balanced life during all times of the year, not just during summertime.

Create an Outdoor Obstacle Course

When the rain stops, let them take their energy outdoors with an outdoor obstacle course using materials you likely already have. For example, you could use ladders laid across the ground or pots and buckets placed in intricate designs for children to run around.

A DIY obstacle course is more than just fun. It can help your children build coordination and gross motor skills. Ask your kids what they’d like to create and then help them with their problem-solving skills by building the course with them. You can even create a map together to visualize how the course will be laid out. 

Chalk it up

Here’s an old-school idea: head outside with some sidewalk chalk. This low-budget activity is a classic for a reason.

For one, being outdoors can provide instant benefit to anyone’s—adult or child’s—mental health. Exposure to the sun can help release endorphins that will help children detox from the screen time they do get. Sunlight also produces Vitamin D, a key nutrient in the body.

Let your kids cover your sidewalks with their art. Give them ideas on what to draw and let their creativity shine. They can also use chalk for some old-fashioned games like hop-scotch or hangman.

Summertime is the right time for a screen detox. Find summer activities for kids that are interesting and fun, and watch your kids forget all about their cell phones.

Conclusion

Safe tech—devices without games, internet access, or social media—can help parents who want to encourage their children to live life beyond the screen. 

We can positively influence our children’s lives, regardless of their use of technology, by encouraging them to make personal connections, learn from new experiences, and focus on others.

Don’t get discouraged if it seems like your children would rather scroll through TikTok than engage in some of these activities.

Social media is designed to keep us on their sites as long as possible.

Whether or not they admit it, our kids want to connect with us. When we talk with them, listen, and look for ways to spend time together, it really matters.

Remember, you already are the parent your children need. 

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