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Screen time is one of those long-debated hot topics in parenting circles, but no matter what your stance is, it’s hard not resorting to turning on a show or two (or five…) during the colder months. Gross rainy and slushy days are aplenty, and seemingly never-ending illnesses throw off typical routines. How to keep everyone occupied in these last throes of winter before spring truly arrives? I tapped eight moms to share their tips and tricks on minimizing screen time, from colorful looms to creative play ideas to take on your next park trip.
Build a Fort—And a Bunch of Other Things
Graphic designer and author Amanda Jane Jones recommends a modern Nugget cushion set (originally designed for college dorm rooms to replace bulky futons), which can be turned into a fort for endless imaginative play. The four pieces can be configured into a tent-shaped structure, a slide, an obstacle course, and even a teeth-baring monster.
Take Advantage of Nature’s Toys
If you don’t have the space for a Nugget (the pieces are admittedly large), Jones reminds us that less is more—and free: “I can just drive up the hill and park by the mountain rocks, and the kids will play and pretend for hours. I forget sometimes that they don’t need fancy toys. Give them some rocks, sticks, and fresh air, and you can sit and read a book!”
Look at Everything as a Blank Canvas
Echoing Jones, Alicia of @alandalicia is also a big proponent of outdoor play. “My kids could spend hours at the riverside gathering twigs and rocks and ‘building’ random things with them,” she says. To really make the most of the trip, she also suggests arming yourself with simple craft supplies, like markers and thread, so that the kids are free to explore and get creative with what they discover. Fallen leaves are the perfect vehicle for tracing, painting, and even sewing patterns (Alicia prepokes holes as a guide), while pressed wildflowers make for magical laminated butterfly wings.
Make Your Mark
Sometimes it can help to have a goal. For textile designer Molly Fitzpatrick of Dittohouse and her two kids, this means leaving the forest a little more exciting than how they found it. “On snowy hikes, we make surprises for other hikers to find. We try to make superstrange footprints, like imaginary animal tracks, by dragging sticks in the snow, hopping and plopping down to leave a big impression or walking on all fours. We love to imagine what others might wonder when they come across our tracks,” she divulges. If the snow is a bit wet, the Fitzpatrick gang packs it onto trees to make faces or mysterious symbols.
Lean Into What They Like
Designer Erin Jang of creative studio Indigo Bunting recommends taking advantage of your kids’ interests and buying a basic and inexpensive $20 light box that they can use to trace and draw things they’re currently into, whether it be cars, Pokemon, or a favorite animal.
For kids ages 6 and up or particularly nimble little ones, Jang loves this potholder loom kit, which her boys will work on while they listen to a book (she recommends Libbyapp.com, her favorite resource for free library audiobooks you can borrow).
Pin It to Win It
For Molly Madfis, founder of the blog Almost Makes Perfect, scrolling Pinterest was her go-to bedtime activity during the pandemic, when her 2.5-year-old was at a prime age to dive into hands-on activities. “To get my son inspired, I would scour Pinterest at night for crafting and baking ideas that related to his interests—skeletons, crabs, etc.—and would also appeal to me,” she shares. The next day, she’d ask her son to pick a project. “Making the choice on his own made him feel like he had agency, and he was always more excited and inspired to make those things together.”
Fight Boredom With Board Games
A collection of classic board games illustrated by an artist is a favorite in Amanda Stewart’s household. The owner of Mochi Kids specifically likes this one because it contains four kid-friendly games (like checkers and backgammon) and a deck of cards. Not to mention, none of them will be an eyesore on your coffee table. If you’re looking to build your board game arsenal even further, Stewart shares that her kids are currently into Sushi Go, Settlers of Catan, Machi Koro, and Ticket to Ride.
Look to the Greats
If you’re already delving into arts and crafts, take a page from Brittany Jepsen’s playbook and expose your kids to the greats, like Monet and Michelangelo. The designer and founder of The House Lars Built turned a mailing box into a mini theater inspired by Rembrandt’s famous painting Night Watch to introduce her 5-year-old to the enchanting world of puppeteering. Even easier: Follow Jepsen’s Great Artists! courses, where she supplies you and your kids with everything you need—printables, videos, worksheets, exercises—to learn about iconic artists of the past. “My son is finally old enough to try it out, and my crafter heart nearly exploded! I applaud any parent going through this—it can be a lot of work to avoid screen time, but the results speak for themselves!”
As for this writer, I’ve got a trick for tiding over antsy toddlers at restaurants: I pull out this jumbo book of hidden pictures. I introduced it to my 4-year-old when she was 3.5 and was blown away by how quickly she would make her way through each page, finding each set of objects with little to no help. It was yet another reminder of how capable toddlers are if we equip them with the right tools. I now stock a few of these in the car to have on hand (we specifically love the Highlights brand).
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