Occupying kids of different ages, no screens involved

Screen time rules: How to occupy kids of different ages, no screens involved

Screen time:  It’s like profanity in some houses, blasphemy in others.  Here, it’s a way of life.  It’s part of making it work as a working mom of three boys, trying to get through each day with some semblance of sanity.

I remember the days when “let’s make a Hot Wheels car parade!” or “let’s jump in a pile of stuffed animals!” was the perfect suggestion to keep a young boy, a toddler and an infant occupied.  Little D would watch, laughing in his bouncy seat, as big brothers R and E happily did whatever I suggested.

Fast forward 4 years or so, and I’m juggling a 9yo, 7yo and 4yo . . . each with a very different personality, each with different interests, each with differing levels of “addiction” to electronics and screen time, and each with a bit of a “no-I-won’t-do-it, Mommy” attitude.  I admit there are days when I give them what I consider to be way too much screen-time, simply because it’s the easiest way to occupy all three of them at once.  We’ve created screen-time rules, then accidentally overridden them … we rewrote them, accidentally forgot them . . . bottom line, my kids get more screen-time than I’d like, but not a detrimental, worrisome level.  What I can’t stand, though, is that when they don’t like any suggestions I give for what they can do when they’re “so bored,” iPad or Kindle or TV is the first thing they go for and they get upset if I say NO.

Occupying kids of different ages, no screens involved
Play time, no screens

That, coupled with the fact that I LOVE family time with my three boys, means I have to work hard to find ways to keep them busy, happy and NOT BORED, all at once.  Here’s what I’ve found that works.  PLEASE tell me what works for you when you have a bunch of mixed-age kids!  I’d love to have a longer list to pull from!


  • CHARADES: This one works well for us, because the older boys like to choose what Little D acts out, knowing full well that he’ll just say “I’m being a dog!” or announce whatever it is he’s portraying.  It gets competitive, it triggers laughter.  Unfortunately, it only lasts a few minutes!
  • SAY SOMETHING NICE ABOUT EACH OTHER:  This one is key for me when everyone is clobbering each other, when a typical boys’ fun wrestling match turns real and someone gets hurt, or when siblings are just being siblings and being nasty to each other.  I ask them to sit on the couch and think of something nice to say about each other.  It’s hilarious.  At first, they look at me like I’m crazy, then a very pained expression appears on their face, and then a little smile as they’ve landed on what they’re going to say.  Whether it’s “you take good care of me” or “you’re fun to play with” or “I like the wax in your ears,” everyone ends up entertained and nobody is clobbering anyone.
  • BUILDING:  This is another favorite of mine.  Give each child a pile of blocks (Duplo or Lego of Mega Bloks or wooden blocks — whatever you have), and set them off building!  You can make it a building contest — everyone build a castle! — or a work-together project (such as everyone build a part of a playground!) or just let them come up with ideas on their own.  Each child builds at his own pace, to his own skill level, and this activity usually actually spans at least 20 minutes in my house.  That’s a long time for us.  We also do this with toy train tracks or car tracks.

    Building with blocks can be fun for all ages
    Building fun for all ages
  • DANCE PARTY: When in doubt, bust out the tunes.  Someone can be the D.J., others can dance, or it can turn into a lip sync party or freeze dance.  In our house, it helps if the lights are off and some sort of spotlight or disco light is on . . . it helps keep the party going.
  • TALENT SHOW or MAGIC SHOW: Everyone can make up a fake stage name and an act of some sort.  This is another activity that takes a few minutes for the kids to plan, and can be as elaborate or as simple as they’d like (dress up with costumes, make a pretend stage . . . or just sit on the couch and get up when it’s your turn for your act to go on).
  • GET OUTSIDE!  The great outdoors is perfect for play that keeps all ages engaged.  I love to make scavenger hunts targeted to the kids’ ages — picture clues for kids who can’t read yet, riddles for those who are older.  We also love to draw chalk towns on the driveway — again, with older kids racing around and getting stopped by pretend police, and younger kids figuring out how to stay within the chalk lines.  Water fun is always a winner here, as well — whether it’s squirters to spray each other, or a creative way to water flowers, or making rivers on the driveway, or good old-fashioned kiddie pool fun.
  • SPORTS class:  Another outside activity!  Sometimes, the older boys put on a class or training camp for sports.  It has been great for me to learn football skills!  And street hockey clinics have become a staple at our house with all of us participating . . . from age 4 to age 40-something.
  • BALL PIT If you have one, USE IT!  Even R and E can have fun with it — shooting hoops, sorting colored balls into patterns and making up a game with them, juggling, or, inevitably, pegging each other with them.

    Fun in the ball pit, or outside of it
    Sometimes the balls end up out of the pit . . .
  • MATCH GAME:  We recently rediscovered our Memory cards here and have been playing across all our ages here.  Fact:  exhausted mommy is officially worse at the game than 4yo-fresh-brained-preschooler.
  • OBSTACLE COURSE:  We do this indoors or outdoors, and it makes good use of the clutter and mountains of toys in our house.  Move stuff around into a course of some sort — jump over a puzzle, climb on a pillow mountain, hop around a jump rope, etc.  You can turn it into a silly Olympics game, even!

Let me be clear — there are days that every single one of these ideas/activities will fail.  But usually, at least one gets me out of the cacophony of “I’M BORED, MOM” or “there’s NOTHING TO DO.” And then, when I’m super-wiped-out at the end of the day, maybe the kids will be, too, and I can get some screen time of my own to catch up on the shows I’ve missed in the last decade.  No spoilers, please.  How did How I Met Your Mother end, anyway?  Off to binge-watch the final two seasons . . .





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  1. Erica Clough says:

    Your a great writer my friend! Very helpful post!!

    1. admin says:

      Awwww, thanks, E! Glad it was helpful. 🙂

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