Adventures in Avoiding Screen Time: 20 Screen Free Activities for a Toddler

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, screen-time should be very limited for all children. They believe that children under 2 years of age shouldn’t have ANY screen time unless it’s videochatting. From ages 2 to 5, they say to limit it to one hour of “educational” television per day. Though the rules and regulations have been addressed, I personally find this to be an unrealistic expectation in today’s society.

Studies have shown that children who are exposed to screens too early have later issues related to language development, reading development, short term memory, sleep, and attention span. I’ve also read studies that state that excess screen time can negatively affect a toddler’s natural way of processing every day tasks (ie: temper tantrums). Well, Baby E has been watching television for longer than I’d like to admit. The duration of time has definitely been longer than an hour. I mean, the first night of her life, I watched Bachelor in Paradise while nursing her. I never really thought about screen time until I started to notice her change in behavior. For a while, I tried to rationalize different things for her change in behavior (teething, close to naptime, etc.). I really didn’t want to believe the studies because well, my child is perfect obviously. She was thriving appropriately as a toddler and had an exceptional vocabulary. She has also learned so many words and phrases from Sesame Street alone. I felt like screen time was a positive thing for her (and me). As time went on, the tantrums and whining kept increasing. This is when I also noticed her extremely short attention span.

Now, whenever I talked to some people, they’d just say that it’s because she’s a toddler. I totally understand that tantrums are an expected part of a toddler’s development. They’d also make up excuses (teething, close to naptime, etc) for her behavior. As her mother, I just knew that something was a little off. So, I decided to heavily decrease the amount of screen time and see if that made in change in her behavior. I posted on various Facebook groups to see what in the world most stay-at-home-moms did with their children all day. A lot of women responded with great suggestions and encouragement. They were providing help for her and support for me to give myself grace during these trying times. It was really cool. Then, I went to Pinterest to figure out age appropriate activities for Baby E. After several days of research, I’ve finally come up with some sort of routine for this wild child!

Listed below are the activities that have worked for Baby E. In parentheses next to the activity, I’ve put the amount of time that it lasted. Though, every child is different. I’ve also provided affiliate links that will send you straight to Amazon where I purchased certain items.

Indoor Activities

Great for a rainy day, if it’s too hot outside, or if you’re like me and you’re in your 3rd trimester and can’t possibly do anything else.
  1. Painting/Fingerpainting (30-45 minutes)

    Messy but worth it. She paints in her high chair or outside (which is a much better alternative for cleaning purposes)

    Aiming for August Screen Free Activities
    Aiming for August Screen Free Activities

  2. Coloring (20 minutes)

    Occasionally, she will put the crayons in her mouth but fortunately they’re all non-toxic. She’s slowly but surely learning to NOT do that! Haha. I highly recommend the Color Wonder markers because they only show up on paper and not your walls or carpet!

  3. Drawing on the DoodlePro (30 minutes)

    So fun to “draw on” and she uses the “pen” to act like she’s drawing on everything in the house.

  4. Building with Legos (30 minutes)

  5. Dancing to Pandora music (10 minutes)

    We keep the Raffi Pandora station on in the background throughout the day.

  6. “Helping” with chores and household duties (unlimited)

    Y’all already know that they aren’t actually helping, haha but it keeps them occupied and you can still get some of your household chores and/or cooking done.

    Aiming for August Screen Free Activities

    Cheesing while she “helps” mama with the dishes

  7. Puzzles (15 minutes)

    I highly recommend Melissa and Doug puzzles.

  8. Make noise (15 minutes)

    Instruments and noise toys for the win! We have this xylophone and a drum set which is similar to this one.

  9. Ruin the Living Room (30 minutes +)

    We still have an entertainment center full of DVDs (I cannot wait to get rid of them…). She loves to take the DVDs out and try to open the cases (most have been emptied).

  10. Board Games (20 minutes)

    At this age, she’s not really playing a game… Mostly just exploring it. Our favorite so far has been Connect 4. She loves to put the little checker pieces in game set. It’s great for hand-eye coordination and it keeps her busy for quite a while.

    Aiming for August Screen Free Activities

  11. Ball pit (15 minutes)

    Aiming for August Screen Free Activities

    This is the miniature version

    Aiming for August Screen Free Activities

    This is the big version… we do a lot of online shopping so we definitely utilize the cardboard boxes!

  12. Reading books (20 minutes)

  13. Playing ball (15 minutes)

    My husband bought her a toddler basketball goal when she was 6 months old. I didn’t understand it at the time but now she is finally old enough to use it. Occasionally, she’ll just have fun throwing the ball AT, not in, the goal.

  14. Bubbles (10 minutes)

    So this is also an outdoor activity but we’ve recently started using the bubble gun inside quite often. This bubble gun is awesome and shoots out an incredible amount of bubbles at one time! We all love it.

Outdoor Activities

  1. Outdoor Pool (20 minutes)

  2. Water Table (30-45 minutes)

    If you haven’t bought a water table (especially if you live in the Southern U.S.), stop what you’re doing and buy one now! There are several different types and it’s an endless amount of fun for the little ones!

  3. Drawing with chalk (30-45 minutes)

    Aiming for August Screen Free Activities

    Look at her pants… it’s super messy so wear your “play” clothes!

  4. Go for a walk (30 minutes +) or tricycle/bicycle ride

    Walking around a neighborhood with a little one takes way longer than it would solo. Just remind yourself that the goal is to wear them out and it’s all worth it! Haha. If you’re not feeling like hand-holding for an entire walk, you can take the stroller. We also take her out on a bike ride (which is very similar to the stroller but she thinks that she’s actually steering, haha).

  5. Playing in the sprinkler (30-45 minutes)

    Aiming for August Screen Free Activities

  6. Visiting the park or local splash pad

    We’re very fortunate to have a park in a 1 mile radius of our house, so we walk there daily. There is also a park and splash pad that is only a 5 minutes drive from our house. We still travel to explore different parks and splash pads.

    Screen Free Toddler Activities

All in all, these activities have been really great for our family as a whole. Yes, she still watches TV, haha. She is a child of millennials after all. We just don’t watch nearly as much as we used to. The tantrums are still present occasionally. She’s a toddler so it is to be expected but the tantrums are way more mild and less frequent than before! She also has shown more interest in reading, pretend play, and overall exploration. This means her attention span has gotten a little bit better as well! Overall, I would obviously recommend anyone to try to eliminate TV a little bit to see if there are any changes in their kid but every family is different!

  • The DoodlePro is such a great idea for going out to eat. My son gets very limited screen time when we are home, but I always give in so that I can enjoy my food when we go out to eat. This might just be the thing I’ve been looking for! Thanks!

    • Yes! It’s so perfect. Yesterday we actually took it to a restaurant for the first time and it worked out pretty well to keep her entertained until her food came! I hope your son likes it!

      Thanks for reading! 🙂

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