BestReviews is reader-supported and may earn an affiliate commission. Details
Beyond reviews, our team aims to provide you with useful, compelling, and fun how-to guides, gift ideas, and deep dives into trendy products consumers like you love. Here are our latest articles.
August 30, 2022  |  Baby & Kids

Pediatric occupational therapist explains how to keep your kids entertained without increasing screen time

While technology is a helpful tool that can connect cultures and save lives, sometimes too much of a good thing can become harmful. A great example is screen time in young children. While TV shows can help kids learn colors or give parents a much-needed break, research from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that too much screen time is linked to harmful health and developmental concerns.

To figure out how to keep kids entertained without increasing screen time, we consulted our baby and child expert, Dr. Aimee Ketchum. As a pediatric occupational therapist with 27 years of experience in pediatrics, Ketchum is passionate about early childhood development and giving children the best start possible.

What to know about kids and screen time

While screen time is not inherently bad, too much screen time can be problematic. The AAP recommends that children under 18 months have no screen time, and those from 18 to 24 months have no screen time aside from video chatting with family members. “Children ages 2 through 5 should have one hour or less of screen time per day of high-quality programming and co-viewing with parents,” Ketchum added. “However, all children should be encouraged to avoid screens and participate in interactive activities as much as possible instead.”

How does screen time negatively affect children?

Excessive screen time can lead to many adverse issues, including:

  • Sleep problems.
  • Lower grades in school.
  • Reading fewer books.
  • Not enough physical activity, which can contribute to weight problems.
  • Mood problems.
  • Poor self-image and body issues.
  • Language development: “Children need to hear at least 1,700 to 2,000 words spoken to them per day just to be in the 75th percentile for language acquisition,” Ketchum said. “Due to excessive screen time, some children only hear 300 words spoken to them per day.”

How to entertain kids without screen time

One of the best ways to entertain kids without screen time is to interact with them. Ketchum said interactive activities build social skills, vocabulary, literacy and emotional regulation. 

Screen-free activities to entertain kids

One of Ketchum’s favorite activities for children is arts and crafts because they build fine motor and visual motor skills. Playing outside is another helpful activity that builds gross motor skills, strength, balance, coordination and contributes to overall health and well-being. A few other activities include:


Q. What should I do if my child gets upset when I end screen time?

A. According to Ketchum, “Young children should be told the boundaries in advance. If children are absolutely never permitted screens until right before dinnertime, they will not expect it in the morning. Parents should always prepare children that screen time is for a limited time only. Parents should say, ‘You can watch one show, then we are having dinner,’ or ‘Ten minutes on the iPad, and when the timer goes off, we are playing outside,’ so there is structure and the expectations are clear from the beginning. It also helps to have another activity ready to go when screen time is over.”

Q. How can parents raise a child without minimal to no screens?

A. “Everyone struggles with screen time, but the longer we can delay children from being occupied with our phones, the better. Put the phone away and interact with the child,” Ketchum said. “Set a good example by not being on your phone all the time, and refrain from giving babies phones to look at in grocery stores and restaurants. There is so much opportunity for interactions and new learning in these places. Talk to your children as you shop, point out colors, letters, numbers, textures and even people. Allow babies to feel the texture of an orange and apple. Use words like smooth and bumpy to teach language, likes and differences and social interactions.” 

What you need to buy for screen-free play for kids

Arts-Crafts-Best Kid Made Modern Arts & Crafts Supply Library

Kid Made Modern Arts & Crafts Supply Library

Kids can create their own craft adventure via imaginative play and self-expression using over 1,000 pieces in this option. This pre-prepped craft kit includes fuzzy sticks, felt pieces, wood pieces, googly eyes, plastic beads, scissors and more. Plus, everything fits neatly into the divided carrying case for simple cleanup or transportation.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Arts-Crafts-Best Crayola Sidewalk Chalk

Crayola Sidewalk Chalk

Whether you’re 1 or 100 years old, sidewalk chalk is fun for all ages. Its simplicity gives children the opportunity to use their imagination to create a masterpiece. This set includes 64 pieces of chalk in bright, tie dye, neon and glitter colors. It also washes away when the rain comes or with a garden hose.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Toys-Games-Best Melissa & Doug Wooden Building Blocks Set

Melissa & Doug Wooden Building Blocks Set

This set includes 100 wooden blocks in four colors and nine shapes, which is perfect for creating a castle, a train track or anything else little minds can imagine. The blocks are lightweight, have rounded edges and are painted with a smooth finish that won’t ever splinter.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Toys-Games-Best Little Tikes Sandy Lagoon Sand & Water Table

Little Tikes Sandy Lagoon Sand & Water Table

Outdoor play is vital in developing gross motor skills, balance and overall health, and this sand and water table will make kids want to be outside. One half of the table is for sand and comes with a cover to keep bugs out, while the other half is for water and features twin slides and a built-in plug for quick draining.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Toys-Games-Best Essenson Outdoor Explorer & Bug Catcher Kit

Essenson Outdoor Explorer & Bug Catcher Kit

Kids who enjoy nature and learning about bugs will have hours of fun with this outdoor explorer kit. It includes binoculars with five times power magnification, an insect net, an ecological cage, bug tongs, a flashlight and more. Plus, the compass will teach kids about directions.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Toys-Games-Best Hedbanz Picture Guessing Board Game for Families

Hedbanz Picture Guessing Board Game for Families

Families can play this game together, and it comes with six headbands in various designs, including a cat, pirate, crown, unicorn and more. It also includes 69 picture cards encouraging children to read, problem solve, build their vocabulary and even regulate their emotions when they win or lose.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Toys-Games-Best National Geographic Stunning Science Chemistry Set

National Geographic Stunning Science Chemistry Set

From bubbly reacting to exploding volcanoes, this science kit makes kids feel like real scientists in a lab. Kids can explore a total of 45 experiments with this set, including creating a geyser, launching a rocket and creating chemical reactions. STEM toys are one of the best ways to keep kids away from screens while learning.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Want to shop the best products at the best prices? Check out Daily Deals from BestReviews.

Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals. 

Bre Richey writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.