Two young children are staring at a computer. Too much screen time? Try these 5 play ideas instead. Alternative to screen time article with a read more button.
Looking for an alternative to screens? Promote literacy with these 5 play ideas!

Are you tired of fighting with your kids to shut off the screens? Whether it’s arguing for computer time, wanting to watch a TV show or movie, or wanting to play on the Switch, my little interns are always asking for screen time! There is an alternative to screens.

We have come up with a pretty good system of balancing our non-screen time activities and promoting literacy as well. Today, I’d love for you to take away at least one alternative to screens that works for your family. Of course, my play ideas will be literacy focused 😉

Looking for book ideas specific to your child? Take this 2-minute quiz and those book suggestions will be in your inbox soon!

Estimated reading time for this blog is 6 minutes, or just watch this YouTube video:

Kids Screen Time

There are many amazing learning apps and other ways to incorporate screens throughout the day. Technology can help us do amazing things, but it needs to be balanced with other non-screen activities throughout the day.

I also think it’s hard because we, as adults, are addicted to screens! I personally have been making a conscious effort not to mindlessly scroll on Instagram or Facebook throughout the day.

There are definitely some negatives to screen time. While we are still studying the effects of screens in kids, we do know some things and they aren’t very positive. Too much screen time can cause behavior and sleep problems. 

Most kids ages 8 to 18 average 7 1/2 hours of screen time per day according to this article. That’s A LOT of screen time. Let’s think about other fun ways to spend our time, and maybe throw in a reading focus (wink!).

Instead of kids screen time… Build a fort

One alternative to screen time is to build a fort. This fort is made from Nugget cushions and has a blanket covering the kids reading inside.

Did you build forts when you were a kid? I remember building forts and how fun it was to camp out inside for the day! This is a great activity since it takes a bit of time to build the fort. (My little interns always ask for some assistance to make the “best fort ever” from me, and I’m happy to help since I know it will keep them busy for a bit). 

We have Nuggets that we like to use to make our forts next to couches, but any pillows and blankets will work! After we build a fort, they like to keep it assembled for a bit. I usually encourage fort building in the basement for this reason.

Once the fort is built, you can do so many other things:

  • They can play board games, or, of course, READ!
  • Grab a flashlight for some fort flashlight reading! This is a fun and different way to encourage reading, and is even more fun in the fort.
  • You can do a family read aloud inside the fort if it is big enough.
  • Set a timer and read for 20 minutes before they move onto their next activity.

Each time my little interns build a fort, it’s the “most epic ever!” so this is a great screen-free activity!

Legos, a great alternative to screens

Who doesn’t love a good Lego building session? While I despise finding Legos all over my house (more on my new organization system later!), it is an activity they truly love. We have SO many legos. Sometimes, they like to rebuild and follow a set and the instructions. However, a lot of times they just like to free-build with Legos.

Legos with a child's name written on them are a great alternative to screen time for kids.

Of course, I’m going to suggest a reading focus for Legos! You can use Dry-Erase markers to write letters on the larger Legos. You can use this to practice recognizing letters in your child’s name and then building them. Or, use this with sight words or even practice spelling words with Legos.

My kids can play with Legos for hours! You can give your child a challenge if they need a little guidance with their free Lego play. “Build an epic fairytale scene” or “Make something using only blue Legos” are some examples you could try.

Read with your eyes or ears instead of using a screen

Would I even BE a reading consultant if I wasn’t encouraging reading? No matter the season, I am always going to recommend fitting in 20-30 minutes of reading per day. I understand we are all very busy, but what if we did turn off the screens for extra reading time? Or, what if they could earn more screen time if they did extra reading?

Of course, reading is a great alternative to screen time. Two young boys are reading chapter books on a couch.

Whenever I speak to a group of moms, they ask if watching a YouTube read aloud is the same as reading. Since we are trying to turn off the screens, I would say no! However, reading on an app or having YouTube read aloud is better than not reading at all. 

The next question I’m always asked is: Is listening to an audiobook the same as reading an actual book? 

Well, no, but it is still a good activity! Reading with your ears is something we all can do and is a good skill to practice. I really encourage family read alouds and that can definitely be part of your reading time. 

Is it practicing decoding skills? No. But, it is working on listening comprehension and it’s always great to hear fluent reading, whether it’s from a parent or an audiobook!

To summarize, any time spent reading an actual book or listening to books is time well spent.

Read to a stuffed animal or pet as an alternative to screen time

If your child loves listening to you read and you just want a few minutes to yourself, let them read aloud to a stuffed animal. Whenever I see stuffies that coincide with books my kids love, I pick them up! 

However, that is totally not necessary. Your child can read to any stuffed animal or even a pet! Or, put those older kids to work to read to those younger siblings. It’s a win-win for everyone!

A sibling is reading aloud a book to a younger sibling holding a mouse stuffed animal. Reading to a sibling or a stuffed animal is a great alternative to screens for kids.

I used to have my first graders read aloud to stuffed animals in one of the centers in my room. They LOVED it! Anything that gets our kids engaged in reading is a win!

If you don’t have a pet (or maybe have an uncooperative one!), I have friends that go to animal shelters and read aloud to dogs and cats. It’s worth a shot if your child loves animals and needs to practice those decoding and fluency skills!

Not sure what your child needs to practice? Take this quiz and you’ll get different strategies and book suggestions to work on with your kids at home!

Act it out instead of turning on a screen

This was again something we did in my first grade classroom, but can work for all ages. You can also ask your child to act something out from their own independent reading, or you can act it out together after your family read aloud. 

A child is taking a nap holding Elephant and Piggie after she read I will Take a Nap by Mo Willems. Acting it out is a great comprehension skill to practice after reading.

This is a great way to “test” those comprehension skills! You can let them reread a certain part or use the book to help them act out a favorite part.

Keep this simple and fun. Stuffed animals and props not required! If your child does not enjoy this activity, skip it!

Benefits to play over screens

We definitely watch a good Disney movie and I’m always down for some family Mario Kart! I think the key with screen time for kids is balance. And, of course, we want to sneak in that reading time whenever possible 😉

Hopefully, you found some fun alternatives to screens.

If you want even more FUN reading ideas, you’ll love my Learn to Love to Read Activity Book. Each reader type has 5 different activities to try at home!

This mock up of a Learn to Love to Read Activity book shows another example of an alternative to screen time.

Let me know in the comments… what is YOUR favorite alternative to screen time?

Kim Creigh, M.Ed