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30 Fun Ideas for a Screen-Free Summer
Stephanie Bahus, 4th Grade Teacher

Summer is here! Days filled with splashing in the pool, running through the sprinklers, extra trips to the library to check out books, family vacations, staying up late, and sleeping in … extra time with your kids!

With so much fun to be had in the summer, perhaps you’ve even toyed with the idea of limiting screen time and technology during these warm months. While technology has its benefits, you also want to ensure your child balances screen time with all the other ways to learn and explore this summer.

We’ve all heard the research. When used in excess, technology can have negative effects on our children. Increased screen time alters children’s brains, is linked to poor sleep, limits the development of interpersonal communication skills, and children are becoming more sedentary as screens and technology fill their worlds. I am certainly not here to argue about the pros and cons of using technology, as it is unrealistic to think you won’t have devices in your house, at school, in your office, and in your pocket. But the idea of a technology-free or screen-limited summer does sound appealing. It sounds quaint, old-fashioned, familiar … it makes me think of lemonade stands and fishing with my dad; making mud pies and biking around my neighborhood; road tripping and camping with my family.

While you’re creating images of a perfect summer right now, I know going screen-free (or even limiting screen time) presents real challenges. So, here are a few screen-free substitutes that may help!

Screen-Free: Outside Fun

  1. Play in the water! Rally your children to help water the plants. Set up a sprinkler they can run through. Plan a water balloon fight. Bring out a kiddie pool, water table, or slip and slide. All of these provide endless fun on a hot, steamy day!
  2. Roast smores or have a picnic. Kids can help plan the menu or gather the items needed from around the kitchen. This gives them a leadership role in the activity.
  3. Set out birdfeeders, fill them with birdseed, and keep a bird diary of birds you see throughout the summer.
  4. Go to a local park or splash pad. We have plenty just in the South Bend area!
  5. Go for a family bike ride around the neighborhood or visit a local park with a trail, such as Potato Creek.
  6. Teach your child to garden or mow the law. Stanley Clark students each had a turn planting in our garden this spring, so they might have an interest in exploring this further!
  7. Play hide and seek. If your children are older, consider playing in the evening with flashlights! Just be sure to set up “out-of-bounds” so everyone stays in a safe zone. There are other fun activities that can be played with flashlights too, like tag!
  8. Bubbles! Enough said.
  9. Grab a big bucket of sidewalk chalk and let your kids get creative. Teach them how to draw hopscotch and then take turns playing!
  10. Collect nature items and make nature rubbings or art out of what is collected.

Screen-Free: Indoor Fun (rainy day activities)

  1. Create sensory activities! Fill a plastic tub with rice, beans, water, or sand. Then throw in some old spoons, cups, bowls, and trucks. Head to Walmart or the Dollar Tree for inexpensive kitchen tools, such as measuring cups, funnels, and sifters if you want more tools. (Hint: If you use this inside, throw a blanket under the buckets to easily contain any crumbs that fall out.)
  2. Make moon sand to put in a sensory bucket. You can google recipes, or stick to this ratio, 8 cups flour : 1 cup oil. I prefer vegetable oil but baby oil works too. Mix well with your fingers! Or create your own playdoh!
  3. Cook a meal together. Teach your child how to make lunch, dinner, or their favorite snack and then have an indoor picnic! It will come in handy when learning to pack their own lunches for school. Or, make homemade popsicles for when you play outside.
  4. Discover the wonder of a cardboard box. Did Amazon make a big delivery? Let your kids play with the box! It could become a house, spaceship, airplane, fort, or racecar. Give kids some crayons and markers, and have them sit inside the box and decorate it. The best part? Recycle the box at the end of the day and there is no mess left!
  5. Have a craft party. Gather craft supplies, markers, crayons, glue, and paper and let kids create! You can even make holiday gifts ahead of time.
  6. Make a tent or fort and camp out in your living room! Kids can read books to their stuffed animals in their tent.
  7. Go to the Farmer’s Market. (Hint: They have Scavenger Hunts already made at the help desk.) Try a new vegetable. Buy cookies. Or, just walk around!
  8. Go to your favorite bookstore (like The Brain Lair Bookstore) or your local library. Check out lots of books and read every day! Need recommendations? Check out Mrs. Squadroni’s summer recommendations for all age groups! Have younger children? Check out story time at the library too.
  9. Have fun with shaving cream. Squirt shaving cream on the table and let kids draw, write, and play in it. It cleans up easily! You can also squirt it on the bathtub wall when kids are taking a bath – they can doodle on the bath walls, too.
  10. Head to a local museum to explore: The History Museum, the Studebaker National Museum, St. Joseph, Michigan's Curious Kids' Museum, and Kalamazoo's Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Experience, just to name a few.

Screen-Free: Car Rides

Staying “screen-free” in the car may be the most daunting task of all. When you’re on vacation, keep the same screen rules as you have at home. A little time on a device won’t hurt, but don’t let your children waste the whole trip looking down instead of around them. What better time to make conversation with your family than when you’re trapped in a car together!

  1. Get a simple travel tray for kids to do activities on. A Dollar Tree cookie sheet works great! It has a lip around the edge to contain rolling or sliding toys and it’s magnetic, so fun alphabet, animal, or word magnets stick to it! Dry erase markers can also be used on metal trays and you can wipe it off with a napkin or wet wipe.
  2. We love Tegu blocks or Magna-Tiles – both are magnetic blocks that are fun to build with and “stick” to the travel tray, so creations don’t tumble on bumpy roads.
  3. Make travel activity boxes. Pick up small plastic boxes from the Dollar Tree. Fill them with Legos, trains, hot wheels, matchbox cars or little animal figures. You can even use dry erase markers to draw train tracks or roads on your travel tray. For an educational alternative, fill one with age-appropriate flashcards (sight words, math facts, Spanish vocabulary). If your children are older, they may appreciate more “advanced” activity boxes. 
  4. Stock up on colored pencils or pens and new coloring books or activity books (mazes, crosswords, Mad Libs, etc). Dollar Tree has a variety of activity books, coloring books, and colored pencils/special pens. (Note: crayons will melt in a hot car, so we avoid crayons on road trips).
  5. Stickers and a notepad. Again, Dollar Tree has tons. Stickers seem to entertain for hours. We have one rule: no stickers on car windows or doors (they are hard to remove!).
  6. Fill your car with lots of books. New ones are best. Fun music and audio books help pass time too! Don't forget to pack lots of fun, special snacks!
  7. Play road trip bingo. You can buy bingo boards or print these out.
  8. Tangrams. You can buy or make a set. 
  9. Travel board games and card games.
  10. Silly putty, playdoh and thinking putty. These are all easier if you have a travel tray for kids to put on their laps. With or without a travel tray, you'll love them because they provide hours of fun.

Make a Plan and Set a Goal

I get it – you need a break sometimes! You need to make your morning coffee, throw in laundry, answer an email, or have 2 minutes of peace and quiet. That’s not unreasonable to ask and is sometimes easiest to acquire when your kids are mesmerized by a screen. So, be realistic and set a goal.

  • How much screen time each day is appropriate for your child? When will this happen?
  • On what devices will they be allowed?
  • Do you limit apps, video games, or TV shows?
  • Do you know who they are talking to while playing video games, in group texts, and other platforms?
  • Do you check their social media accounts?

Be involved!  

And don’t be afraid of the dreaded words …“I’m bored!”

You’re doing it right! We don’t give our children the gift of boredom often enough. A bored child is a creative child! I assure you, give them time and they will find something engaging to do.

About the Author

Stephanie Bahus 

4th Grade Teacher

  • parenting
  • summer

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