Menu

If you want to cut down on screen time for your kids, but you also need to get stuff done—or just take a few minutes for yourself—it can be hard to think of fun ways to keep kids engaged and busy. This list of 20 tech-free ways to entertain your preschooler or toddler may take a bit more energy or advance planning than just handing your child your phone (which is totally okay too, mama!), but encouraging your child to do something constructive is worth the extra effort.


Here are 20 old-school and fun activities to keep kids busy:

1. Create a game box.

Fill a box with things your child can play with alone—items like coloring books, playing cards, or easy puzzles. When you need to keep your kids busy, give them the box. While your child might resist a bit at first, but the more you do it, the more they'll accept “game box time" as part of their routine.

FEATURED VIDEO

2. Have them make their own cartoon.

Instead of watching cartoons, have your children make their own. Give them a piece of paper and some crayons, and ask them to draw you a hero and a bad guy. When they're done, let them come back and tell you their hero's story.

3. Let them help you.

If you're cooking or cleaning, let them assist you. Give them a job they can handle. For young kids, that might be stringing beans or setting the table. For older kids, that might be slicing vegetables, sweeping the house or taking out the recycling.

4. Give them an important task.

Give your child a task, and make it a really big deal. Tell them they need to draw a picture for daddy, or that they need to make a block fort for Grandma. If they think it's an important job, they won't complain about working on it independently.

5. Create an idea box.

Brainstorm ideas with your children about what they can do to overcome boredom. Write down their suggestions, and put them in an empty box. Then, the next time they're bored, have them pick out one of their own suggestions. Given that it was their idea, they'll be more willing to actually do it.

6. Offer creative toys.

Any toy that lets a child create is sure to keep them distracted for a long time. Invest in Legos, puzzles, and Play-Dough. Not only will your child be able to play with them for hours, but they'll build up their spatial reasoning, too.

7. Design a treasure hunt.

Hide something like a coin or a sticker somewhere in the house. Give your kids a clue, and let them run wild trying to find it. If you make it a bit tricky to find, you'll build up their resilience—and their ability to find things without begging for your help.

8. Encourage outdoor play.

Don't forget how your parents kept you busy. Just give your child a ball and a stick, and let them run wild. If you're worried about their safety, just keep them in sight. They'll be fine.

9. Host a play date.

Work out a deal with another parent in your neighborhood. When you need some time, send your kid over to play with their kid. To be fair, you'll have to let them send their kid over sometimes, too. When two kids play together, they keep themselves distracted.

10. Build a fort.

Give your child a few pillows and a blanket, and challenge them to turn the couch into a fort. No child will turn down the chance to make a secret base—and they'll be much more likely to play independently once they're inside.

11. Make a sculpture.

Give your child a few pipe cleaners and a piece of Styrofoam—or really any child-friendly item you have on hand—and ask them to make a sculpture. Anything will do, but favorite heroes are a winning suggestion.

12. Listen to an audiobook.

If your child's too young to read independently, pick up audio versions of their favorite books. Let them sit down and turn the pages while listening to a friendly voice read to them. Or, if you can't find a recording, use your phone to make one yourself.

13. Play with locks + bolts.

Hand your child a lock and a key or a nut and bolt and let them play with it. Young kids, especially, will be mesmerized by the act of unlocking something—and they'll develop their motor skills while they're at it. Give them a mixed bag, and see if they can figure out which lock goes with which key.

14. Have messy mixing time.

Set up a big tarp on the floor, and give your child some bowls and things from the kitchen they can mix together. Let them go wild. Your child will be so excited that they get to be messy indoors that they'll be willing to play without your constant attention.

15. Play verbal games.

Take turns naming an animal for each letter of the alphabet, or play 20 Questions. You can cook, clean, and get ready while quizzing your child.

16. Create a scavenger hunt.

You don't need to make a whole list—just say, “Find me something that starts with the letter B," and let them run around the house searching. To keep your kids motivated, you might reward them by letting them choose a dish for dinner once they've found 10 things.

17. Grow a garden.

Give your child a small plant to care for. Maybe they can grow an herb garden or a few flowers on the windowsill. Have them water their plant each day and when you need a few moments, ask them to check on it. They'll be immersed in their work.

18. Suggest a science experiment.

Let your kids discover the world. Teach or show them something about an object or their surroundings and let them explore it. That might mean giving them a magnet and telling them to see what sticks, or giving them a bowl of water and prompting them to see what will float and what will sink.

19. Give new tools to explore.

Handing a child a new tool can keep them occupied for a pretty long time. Give your kids a flashlight, a combination lock or a magnifying glass, and let them figure out how it works for themselves.

Also, try giving your child a digital camera. They'll stay distracted making selfies and videos long enough for you to get something done. Afterward, you'll get to see what the world looks like through your child's eyes.

20. Give them chores.

This isn't a popular option, but can be good for them. If you're going to clean the kitchen, have your children clean their rooms. Not only will you get time to actually do your job, but your kids will learn that they have a role in keeping the house clean, too.

Keeping little ones occupied is tough, but trying new activities for kids will get them used to playing independently.

You might also like:

    Motherhood is a practice in learning, growing and loving more than you ever thought possible. Even as a "veteran" mama of four young sons and one newly adopted teenager, Jalyssa Richardson enthusiastically adapts to whatever any given day has in store—a skill she says she's refined through the years.

    Here's what just one day in her life looks like:


    Jalyssa says she learned to embrace agility throughout her motherhood journey. Here's more from this incredible mama of five boys.

    What is the most challenging part of your day as a mom of five?

    Time management! I want to meet each of the boys' individual needs—plus show up for myself—but I often feel like someone gets overlooked.

    What's the best part of being a mom of five?

    The little moments of love. The hugs, the kisses, the cuddles, the smiles... they all serve as little reminders that I am blessed and I'm doing okay.

    Are there misconceptions about raising boys?

    There are so many misconceptions about raising boys. I think the biggest one is that boys don't have many emotions and they're just so active all the time. My boys display many emotions and they also love to be sweet and cuddly a lot of the time.

    What do you think would surprise people the most about being a mom of five?

    How much I enjoy it. I never knew I wanted to be a mom until I was pregnant with my first. My desire only grew and the numbers did! I am surprised with every single baby as my capacity to love and nurture grows. It's incredible.

    How do you create balance and make time for yourself?

    Balance for me looks like intentional planning and scheduling because I never want my boys to feel like they aren't my first priority, but it is extremely difficult. What I try to do is not fit it all into one day. I have work days because motherhood is my first priority. I fit in segments of self-care after the kids' bedtime so I don't grow weary.

    What's the biggest lesson you have learned from motherhood?

    I have learned that sacrifice is actually beautiful. I was terrified of the selflessness motherhood would require, but I've grown so much through the sacrifice. There is nothing better than living for something bigger than myself.

    When did you first feel like a mom? How has your motherhood evolved?

    I first felt like a mom when I was pregnant with my first son and I intentionally chose to change my eating habits so my body could be strong and healthy for him. I didn't have to think twice—I just did what I thought would be best for him. That decision being so effortless made me realize I was made for motherhood.

    My perspective has changed with each baby as I've realized motherhood doesn't have to be one-size-fits-all. With my first son, I was a by-the-book mama and it was so stressful. With each baby, I have felt more freedom and it has made motherhood so much more beautiful. I have evolved into the mother that they need, I am perfect for these boys.

    This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


    Our Partners