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Screen time: tech based activities that parents & kids love

screen time toddler on tablet
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Screen time: tech based activities that parents & kids love

screen time toddler on tablet
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Screen time: devices are a divisive issue

It’s been the subject of many a conversation over the last week or so; tech, screen time, devices… To impose limits or not to impose limits? To allow more freedom and flexibility or not? Now, I’m not actually here to tell you the answer to that, I’m afraid. Striking a balance and finding what works for you and your family is the key here. Only you can consider the individual needs of your family.

What I can offer you, however, is some ideas for using tech in ways that you might not have considered. When thinking of devices and screen time parents often default to a judgment that they are somehow doing something wrong. The activities we tend to associate with kids using technological devices is watching cartoons and playing games. That’s certainly a part of how they can be used, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. It’s so much more than that though. My small folk love tech and so do I. There’s a whole world of things out there for you to learn, do and discover!

Getting creative with screen time for kids

​Stop frame animation

This is one of our favourite things to do with tech. We use Stop Motion Studio which is a free download and really user friendly, it works across all the platforms so you can download it on iOS, android and amazon. There are lots of other options available and I’ve not thoroughly investigated them. This one works for us; it’s easy enough for my 3 and 4 year olds to grasp without being too basic for my 9 year old.

What you’ll need:
A device- a phone or tablet work best as they are portable
A stop frame animation app
Things to create animation with; we’ve used everything from lego figures to tiny stuffed toys, plastic dinosaurs to finger puppets… use whatever you have to hand. If it’s small, you can move it around easily and can create a story, give it a go. Magnetic letters or a pen and paper for creating notes or messages work really nicely too. These can be a really creative way to communicate with family.

stop motion Lego stormtrooper figure

What you do: ​Come up with a plan, collect your material, then photograph, move, photograph, move and repeat. Play back and watch your creation. We’ve made short messages for friends and family by adding one letter at a time. We have had Lego figures exploring our house, abseiling down bookshelves and getting lost in the long grass! For parents concerned about screen time being just staring at a screen, this can be a great activity. It is focussed on ‘real world’ objects, and much of the time is spent in set up. This certainly isn’t a passive staring activity; it really makes great use of technological devices as tools.

Photo editing 

This is another great way to use tech to get creative. My 9 year old loves taking photos and this helps her to take it one step further. I like ArtFlow, it’s a cross platform app that works on Android and Amazon and is a free download. It’s not the simplest app, but my 4 year old can use the basics. My 9 year old can really play around with the different features. It also has the option of digital drawing without a base photo for those who want to start from scratch.

What you’ll need:

A device – a camera and touch screen are the key features with this one
A photo editing app

What to do:

Take some photos and play around with the app to edit the photos. You can combine photos, add text and drawing, use filters, add colour, colour and get really creative. We’ve recently done graffiti, taken pictures of of people and then added glasses, moustaches, spiky hair etc. And cartoonised ourselves by using the drawing tools to distort and exaggerate our features, but the possibilities are endless!

Audio books

​This can be a lovely way to use a screen without staring at a screen. My small people like to listen to audio books when they’re having some quiet time and just chilling out. It’s a nice way to relax and sometimes we sit and listen to something all together and sometimes it’s a solo activity, particularly when one of them is really needing some time away from the others.

Whilst Audible’s free children’s audio books has come to an end you can enjoy many classic kids books at Kidsread2kids and they even provide questions to discuss at the end of chapters if you want to start conversations. David Walliams offer free audio stories on his website too. Epic has a free option, as well as their subscription based option, so you can enjoy limited titles for free without giving any payment details. Many libraries have audiobooks available to borrow for free online. These are like paper books in that you check them out on your ticket, and they are not available to others in that time, so do remember to check them in when you finish. So, you could give it a go and see if it’s something you and your family enjoy.

Learning apps and online courses

screen time teenager

Ok, so some of this is playing games, particularly when its aimed at younger children, but you can console yourself with the fact that they are learning at the same time! If you’re finding yourself suddenly taking on the role of your child’s teacher and struggling to get them to put pen to paper apps can be a good alternative way to get some learning activities in if that’s something you want to do.

I really like the Doodle series of apps for very quick Maths and English tasks, it takes us around 5-10 mins a day for each one. The features are limited in the free version, but enough for us and these work well for my 3, 4 and 9 year olds. I would also look up Teach your Monster to Read, which is sometimes available for free, or costs £4.99, and Prodigy Maths which has a free version. These are all both fun and interactive learning activities. There are many, many more educational apps, and you are likely to be able to find apps to support your child’s current interest or learning need.

If you have older children who want to extend their learning or you want to expand your own knowledge then I would highly recommend Future Learn. They have a wide range of free online courses, ranging from a couple of weeks to a couple of months and are generally 3-4 hours a week so they’re relatively low commitment. My 16 year old has done several of these now, and I’d say many are suitable from 13-14 depending on their ability and interest.

Virtual museum tours and theatre shows

​There are so many opportunities available at the moment to access some awesome arts and culture activities. Many museums and art galleries are offering free online tours, and theatres are offering free to view performances whilst Covid continues to prevent access to many venues for many people. There’s a wide range of options here, from the Natural History Museum to NASA and the Louvre and we enjoy sitting down together for a look at exhibitions when we’re wanting a quiet and calm activity. The exhibitions on offer change all the time, but googling will often help you find exciting ones to view.

Screen time: not just a guilty pleasure

I hope that gives you some inspiration for activities you can do to help alleviate some of that tech guilt. I’d love to hear your ideas and recommendations for apps and activities so please feel free to share your creations or accounts of activities you’ve tried.

We also have several other blogs in our series of low cost simple activities to entertain you at home such as Things to do with wooden blocks, games to play with lego bricks, activities with a pen and paper, and store cupboard playdough.

By Jeni Atkinson – CalmFamily Director and owner of Little Possums preloved


Jeni Atkinson

Jeni is a wonderful, compassionate and inspiring woman. She says “Just because our parenting is gentle doesn’t mean it doesn’t make a difference. The way we raise our children will impact how they feel about themselves & the choices they make as they grow up. I want to see things change in their lifetime, I want to fight back against the childist views of our patriarchal society.

I want to see a world where children are allowed their own autonomy; a world that lets them learn for themselves & make their own mistakes. I want a society where diversity in all its forms is celebrated; where neurodiversity, mental health, sex & sexuality, gender, politics & all these subjects that are shied away from, are talked about openly. I want a society where parents are inspired & supported to make the choices that work for them & their families. Oh, & to save the planet at the same time!”  

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Childhood play & learning, Family activities, Parents & families, Teen education, Teen hobbies & leisure, Toddler play
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