Be My Guest: Emma Wilcox

Two young children in beanie hats playing in the garden with spades and toy trucks

Screen Free Activities For Younger Children

This blog has been produced by Emma, who is a self employed mum of a 4 year old spirited daughter, Riley. She co-owns Little Pickle Memories with wife Nat, which aims to fill a gap in the market by providing keepsake memory gifts to alternative families including lesbian moms, gay dads, single parents, and adoptive parents. This blog is mainly for parents with younger children, up to roughly Key Stage One age. There will be a follow up blog later for older children from myself, but some of the suggestions here can also be adapted for your older child. I hope you enjoy Emma’s blog today as much as I did.


In the UK children aged between 5‐16 years spend an average of 2-3 hours per day watching television, 1-3 hours on the internet, 1-2 hour playing video games and over an hour on mobile phones (not talk), a total of 6.3 hours of screen time per day. .We try to limit our daughters screen time to get her in a more active lifestyle. We have not banned screens in our house, as we do see the benefit to screens in a lot of cases- my wife is a gamer and we believe her gaming history has really helped her to think in a ‘different’ way to myself (I’ve always been an academic geek, not really spending much time on games!)- her puzzle-solving abilities and logic is amazing, she can solve any problem!

We have a 4 year old with a very active imagination, so we are often playing made up games of her choosing. We try to limit screen time in our house so she has a variety of experiences to draw upon. It also helps us to learn about her skills and preferences, which has actually ended up being really useful when home schooling- we know she doesn’t like sitting still for long, so we’ve had to adapt the home schooling activities to involve running around! And by knowing she likes messy play, we adapt the activities to incorporate slime where possible too. We have found a few ways to keep her entertained without using screen time:

Treasure Hunts

We LOVE treasure hunts in our house, and we’ve found a few ways to add variety to them:

  • Outdoors vs indoors (or both!). We write a list of things to find then we go on a mission finding them. Our daughter now helps us to write the lists of things. Our favourite treasure hunts are outdoor ones where we have to rummage to find bugs, look up to find squirrels, and listen out for birds. With younger children, it’s a good idea to draw the objects as well as writing the words out.
  • Treasure hunts to get you thinking- we use cryptic clues to send our daughter around the house- each clue leads you to a different location, with a different clue taking you to the next location. We started this at Easter a few years ago, and it has expanded since then:
    • Puzzle pieces that join together to give the next clue
    • Maps of certain rooms with an ‘X marks the spot’
    • Baby sign language- we would sign a word and the next clue was hidden under that object
  • Themed photography hunts – we choose a shape, colour or letter, and send them on a mission to go around the house and take photos of the relevant objects. This can be tailored to the child’s age and the sorts of things they are learning. We have done this at least once a week with our daughters home learning! We also use this to teach our new words- we give her 6 words, she has to read each word, take the adults phone (or camera), and take a photo of the word. We then print out the photos and make a ‘poster’, matching the words to the photos she has taken. She LOVES running around the house finding the objects, or making us pose for photos (I had to pretend to take a nap for her last word hunt).
  • Collect the treasure- this is a great one to teach counting (and then to teach about adding or subtracting)- “how many shiny things can you collect in a minute?”

Outdoor play

We try to get out and about when we can, and our daughter loves exploring the outdoors. We have come up with a few ideas for outdoor activities that keeps our daughter engaged.

  • Time trials- “You have 2 minutes to find the biggest stick you can- GO!“- these sorts of challenges are good because they teach about how to overcome challenges (like how to pull a big stick along the forest floor!).
  • Make a picture out of forest materials
  • Duplication Game- the adult collects some forest items, and then the child has to try and find the same items- if you have more than one child, this could turn into a competition- whoever gets the most similar item gets a point (matching the colours and sizes most accurately)- most points wins!
  • Leaf art- collect some leaves when out and about, when you get home, dunk them in paint and make a painting out of them (this is also a good way to convince the little one to start heading home when it gets too cold!)
  • Rock teepee- Pick out your favourite rock and make a mini teepee for it!
  • Pick a smooth rock and take it home. Paint it with your best artwork, then re-hide it on your next outing! There are facebook groups dedicated to rock painting and hiding, it’s great to find a local one and get involved with finding and re-hiding other rocks.
  • Counting- This is one we have introduced recently for home schooling- we set a timer for 1 minute and give our daughter a bucket. We tell her to collect as many items as she can in that minute- then count how many she has collected. Then the next time we are out, we try and beat it.
  • Litter picking- we ordered a litter picker online and take that out with us for most walks we go on. Our daughter loves using the litter picker to grab the litter, and put it into a bag that we take with us. We talk about the type of animals that could have become injured by the litter and so we feel really good at the end of the walk, knowing we have helped to save some animals!
  • Worm Charming- tip tap on the grass to see if you can get worms to come up and meet you. Count how many worms have popped up to meet you!

Challenges

I was always quite competitive as a child, and I believe that a bit of healthy competitiveness is good, so we try to incorporate this into activities that we play at home. We try to play some games that aren’t all skill based, so we can all try our hardest to win, and so our daughter can experience both winning and losing.

  • Target practice- we ordered a kids dartboard and will play target practice, throwing the magnetic darts at the board. We have also cut out circles in big boxes and rolled balls over the boxes to try and get them in different holes- the furthest ‘goal’ wins! For more active target practice, we used small cones with numbers on them and lay them out in a line on the floor- the cone furthest away wins the most points. We would take the cardboard circles that we had cut out of the cardboard box as hockey pucks to push them along the floor to go past the cones.
  • Puzzles- these ideas came about when we first organised a Halloween party- we set up a range of puzzles as challenges for the children:
    • Blind puzzle- we used a small table and covered it with a cloth, so the floor underneath the table isn’t visible, We would have all of the ‘puzzle pieces’ in view- the children had to take one puzzle piece at a time and place it under the table, trying to assemble the same picture underneath the table. We used a funnybones skeleton ‘puzzle’ (https://www.twinkl.co.uk/resource/t-t-1892-funny-bones-make-a-moving-skeleton-a4) for this, and our 4 year old beat her older cousins by producing a more realistic skeleton!
    • Using the same concept as above, we had a cardboard box standing up, and paper ‘puzzle pieces’ laid out on the table. The children need to assemble the puzzle on the other side of the cardboard- the side they can’t see.
    • Active puzzles- using the funnybones skeleton puzzle, we produced 3 sets of puzzles for each child. We set up ‘puzzle piece stations’ around the house, where one station had all of the head pieces, another station had the leg bones. The children had to run to each station, collect the puzzle piece, and bring it back to the ‘puzzle zone’, where they would assemble it as quickly as they can. Fastest wins!
  • Stepping Stones- we cut out cardboard circles and gave 4 circles to each child. We set up a start point and an end point and tell the children the floor is lava, and they need to get from the start point to the end point without touching the floor.
  • Obstacle courses- we set up obstacle courses around the house, using chairs, pillows, and toys. We also set mini challenges within the obstacle course, so they need to stop to complete the challenge- assemble this puzzle, read this book out loud, count from 1 to 10, build a tower with these bricks.

There you have it! Hopefully these ideas give you something to do with your children during lockdowns, school breaks, or any random Wednesday afternoons!


Emma’s website can be found at Little Pickle Memories thanks for reading, and I hope you have come away with some great ideas.

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