JUN 16, 2022

50 Fun Screen-Free Activities to Have a Blast this Summer

Show your kids that screens are small and the world is big

By Joseph Pratt
Gabb Family Resources

The average 8-12 year old spends between 4-6 hours on screens daily. On the upper end, that’s 42 hours a week—equivalent to a full-time workweek! 

The platforms kids visit are designed to suck them in.

Although the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) has no specific recommendations on how much time children (6+) should spend with screens, they urge parents to “encourage healthy habits” and limit screen-related activities. 1

It may be difficult for parents to help their children find screen-free activities, especially during the summer when kids aren’t in school and the days are longer.

Single or working parents face unique challenges in encouraging their children to develop healthy tech habits.

To this end, Gabb has put together a list of 50 fun screen-free activities for children, tweens, and teens.

Any effort we make to connect, no matter our situation, creates a connection that will stand the test of time.

little girl watching ipad

Excessive Screen Time Risks and Help for Families

Parents deserve to know that too much screen time for children can lead to:

  • Fear of missing out
  • Inadequate amount of outdoor and physical activity
  • Increased stress
  • Less time spent with family and friends
  • Lower grades in school
  • Poor self-image
  • Reading fewer books
  • Sleep problems
  • Trouble regulating emotions
  • Weight problems 1

Additionally, the more time children spend consuming media, the greater likelihood they will be exposed to:

  • Advertising that targets children
  • Cyberbullies and predators
  • Misleading or inaccurate information
  • Negative stereotypes
  • Sexual content
  • Use of illegal substances
  • Violence and risk-taking behaviors
  • Videos of stunts or challenges that may inspire unsafe behavior 1 

To minimize these risks, experts recommend that infants under 18 months of age only use screens to video chat with an adult, babies between 18 and 24 months limit screen time to educational media with a caregiver, and children 2-5 limit screen time to 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours on weekends. 1

Professionals also advise that children over six limit screen time, develop habits and hobbies beyond screens, and learn to use technology responsibly. 1

group of smiling kids

Balance is Key

Screen time isn’t always a bad thing. There are many useful ways kids can use their online time.

Activities that promote connection, healthy self-image, competence, and purpose will benefit the lives of young people.  

Overall, a balance of positive online and offline experiences is best for kids.

Our list of 50 screen-free activities can help parents strike that balance. While not every item will work for everyone, there are plenty of adaptable activities to fit any family.

50 Fun Screen-Free Activities

Here are some ideas to encourage kids to look up and see the family and friends who love them.

Use these lists as a starting point and make them work for your situation. Be sure to add some blank lines for your family to add to it!

Screen-free skills for a fun summer

Screen-free activities that teach new skills
  • Become an entrepreneur: Learn to run your own business by setting up a lemonade or watermelon stand (or lawn mowing or babysitting business for teens).
  • Put on your chef hat: Try your hand at baking cookies from scratch (or, for teens, learn to bake your own bread).
  • Become your family’s official photographer: Grab a camera and document your family’s summer with a series of pictures.
  • Gaming master: Learn how to play a game like chess, backgammon, or checkers. Hold a neighborhood tournament.
  • Crack your family up: Learn some jokes and perform a comedy show for your family (or consider learning some sleight of hand techniques and putting on a magic show).
  • Study survival skills: Read a book about emergency preparedness, make a list of what goes in a 72-hour kit, gather your family and put them together.
  • Practice yo-yo tricks: A great way to impress at any party is to learn a unique trick.
  • Try your hand at knitting or crocheting: Prep for sledding this winter by making a scarf.

Screen-free fun in the great outdoors

Screen-free things to do in the yard
  • Read the stars: Check out a book about astronomy from your local library. Pick a clear night to go stargazing and tell your family about everything you learned.
  • Camp in your own backyard: If weather or space makes this activity difficult, consider setting up a tent in your living room.
  • Learn a lawn game: There are so many fun lawn games to learn: bocce ball, ladder golf, croquet, or horseshoes. Try a few out, see what you’re good at, and then challenge your friends to a match.
  • Fork- and Plate-free Spaghetti Dinner: Wear clothes you don’t care about underneath a garbage bag because this activity is gonna get messy. Put a pile of spaghetti in front of everyone and a non-fork utensil (mixing spoon, spatula, and salad tongs are some of our favorites) and have a messy, memorable dinner.
  • Have a tea party in a tree: Invite your friends to read a book you love and invite them for tea. Spend time thinking about the most important part—the snacks! 
  • Hold the First Annual Family Olympics: Include events like watermelon seed spitting, cereal speed eating, egg race relays, and more. Don’t forget the opening and closing ceremonies.
  • Make s’mores: Assemble the goodness on a paper plate and pop one in the microwave for about 10 seconds. You’ll know it’s ready when the marshmallow puffs up. Don’t just stick with plain chocolate—try baking chips and different candy bars. 

Screen-free ideas when you’re stuck inside

Screen-free ideas for when you’re stuck inside
  • Build a cardboard box fort: If you don’t have enough cardboard boxes, you can also use couch cushions, sheets, blankets, and anything else you can think of.
  • Make paper airplanes: Have a contest for who can fold the coolest looking plane and the plane that flies the farthest.
  • Glow stick dance party: Visit a dollar store and grab the biggest pack of glowsticks you can find. Make a playlist of great dance songs with your family and bust a move.
  • We all scream for ice cream: Give your family a delicious treat by making your very own homemade ice cream. Feeling adventurous? Try blending frozen bananas.
  • Put on a family talent show: Make sure someone is videotaping so you can look back on the memory in a few years.
  • Tease your mind: Stay sharp while you’re not in school by doing crosswords, Sudoku, or other brain teasers.
  • Etiquette dinner: Read a book about proper etiquette while eating. Teach your family what you learned by putting together a formal dinner.
  • Create a spa day: Fill up the tub with bubble bath and glow sticks. Turn off the lights and relax in the soft light. Better yet, put together a spa day for someone else, like Mom.

Screen-free projects to unleash your creative genius

Screen-free projects that encourage creativity
  • Be an author for the day: Read a few of your favorite children’s books. Write and illustrate your own tale. Invite the neighborhood kids for your debut.
  • Make your own Monopoly: Design your own board with your town’s streets and try it out during a family game night.
  • Fire away: Fill up a few squirt guns with different colors of liquid watercolor paint, set up some watercolor paper on an easel or tree, and have at it. Wear clothes Dad says are OK!
  • See how high you can go: Draft a few plans for how to build the world’s tallest toothpick and marshmallow tower. Put them into action and see how tall you can get yours.
  • DIY Play-Doh: Look up a recipe for do-it-yourself Play-Doh and channel your inner Michelangelo.
  • Chalk the block: Have a neighborhood chalk art contest.
  • Make your own marble roller coaster: Use tissue paper rolls, pipe cleaners, tape, paper plates, markers, and whatever else you need to make the world’s coolest marble roller coaster.
  • Create a home theater: Write your own play and put it on for your family and neighbors. Be sure to give your pet a starring role.

Screen-free projects that show how responsible you are

Screen-free projects that teach responsibility
  • Master the toughest laundry skill: Ask your parent to demonstrate how to fold a fitted sheet. Afterward, give everyone a sheet and time to practice, and then have a folding contest. Give out awards for the fastest and neatest folders, and even one for the hopeless folder.
  • Wash the car: Create a playlist of summer jams with your parents. Make sure you include some oldies that they listened to as kids. Pump up the tunes while your family washes the car. Surprise everyone with a water balloon fight when you’re done.
  • Plant a pizza garden: Plant a few peppers, tomatoes, oregano, basil, and anything else you’d like on a pizza. Tend it throughout the summer. Once it’s time to harvest, enjoy your hard work by making homemade pizzas.
  • Make dinner: Look through a cookbook and find something delicious. Plan what ingredients you need, go shopping, and cook dinner for your family.

Screen-free family field trips to try this summer

Screen-free family field trips to try this summer
  • Hit the links: Go to a driving range or make your own putting green, then swing through a bucket of golf balls.
  • Job shadow: Explore potential careers and bond with family members by job shadowing a relative for part of a day.
  • Local flora and fauna scavenger hunt: Check out a book highlighting some plants and animals commonly found in your area. Plan a trek and see how many you can find. Pack water, snacks, a flashlight, and wear layers. You can do this in the city, the suburbs, and the country, as long your family follows your leadership.
  • Be a bookworm: Make a list of books you want to read this summer. Visit your local library each month and burn through your list.
  • Swing around like a monkey: Check out all the parks near you. Once you’ve visited them all, decide on your favorite. It’s fun to use the equipment to make an obstacle course and race each other.
  • Take me out to the ball game: Support your local minor league baseball team or the city softball league. Bonus points if you buy some peanuts or Cracker Jacks.
  • Go bowling: Whether or not you need to use the gutter guards, this activity is sure to be a hit.
  • Get out: Visit an escape room. Or even better, design your own.
  • Go fruit or berry picking: Nothing tastes sweeter than what you pick yourself. Try baking a pie from the fruits of your labors.

Screen-free ways to brighten someone’s day

Screen-free ways to brighten someone’s day
  • Snail mail: There’s nothing like getting a letter in the mail. Find a pen pal and tell them about all the screen-free plans you have for the summer. Ask questions about what they are up to and make plans for a reunion.
  • Write thank-you notes: Few gestures feel as thoughtful as a thank-you note. Add an extra personal touch by making your own cards and sending them to people who’ve made a difference in your life.
  • Give back: Who needs their lawn mowed, their flower bed weeded, or their car washed? Look for ways you can help someone else in your community and you will feel happy.
  • Gratitude scavenger hunt: Get to know what makes your family happy. Create a list with items like what is beautiful to you, what reminds you of a challenge you’ve overcome, or what would make someone else smile. Share the treasures you’ve found with each other.
  • Build a birdhouse: Read all you can about birds. Build a bird feeder or bird house and see if you can identify your new guests.

Print out this list and pop it on the fridge.

You can decide as a family what adventures you want to explore!

Conclusion

Safe tech—devices without games, internet access, or social media—can help parents who want to encourage their children to live life beyond the screen. 

We can positively influence our children’s lives, regardless of their use of technology, by encouraging them to make personal connections, learn from new experiences, and focus on others.

Don’t get discouraged if it seems like your children would rather scroll through TikTok than engage in some of these activities.

Social media is designed to keep us on their sites as long as possible.

Whether or not they admit it, our kids want to connect with us. When we talk with them, listen, and look for ways to spend time together, it really matters.

Remember, you already are the parent your children need. 

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