25 Screen-Free Activities for Young Kids So You Can Cook Dinner
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Cooking with young kids in the house can be a challenge. I’ve spent many hours holding a baby or toddler in one arm and cooking with the other. These screen-free activities will help your kids play independently so you can get food on the table.
Turning on a TV show or movie is an easy way to entertain your kids, but with these simple and fun ideas, we can let our kids use their imaginations and keep them occupied without using a screen.
Here’s a tip: If you box up some activities and only let your kids get them out when it’s “cooking time”, your kids will start to LOVE getting some independent play time with their “new” toys. Even if the toys aren’t new, they haven’t seen them in a while and it can be very exciting!
Screen-Free Activities for Young Kids
1. Bring Them in the Kitchen
Of course, one way to keep your kids occupied while you’re cooking dinner is to bring them in the kitchen with you. Here’s a super helpful list of tools to make this easier and more fun.
There’s also an awesome program called Kidstir, that I’m really excited about. It’s a subscription service that provides monthly kits with tools and resources for your kids to get experience cooking.
I have some sweet memories of my kids helping in the kitchen. And when my kids have seen how something is chopped and cooked, they’re more likely to try it when it’s on their plate.
2. Build a Fort
Forts are awesome and can keep kids occupied for quite a while. You’ll probably need to help them get it set up. Then let their imaginations go! Grab some blankets, chairs, couches and start building!
Or you can get one of these air forts if you want a pre-made fort that inflates in 30 seconds!
My kids love playing with these wooden train tracks. Sometimes my husband or I will help them build it, but most of the time they make their own.
We also have this Melissa and Doug town set that they like to use with their trains. They get to plan out their city and decide where the grocery store should go and where to put the stop signs.
4. Sticker Time
My kids love stickers. All I have to do is give them a couple sheets of stickers and there they go. The other day my two year old had stickers on her face because big sister played doctor and used them as band-aids.
I’d recommend giving them some paper or a sticker book like this one or you might find stickers all over the floor and furniture.
Playmobil has been around for a long time. I don’t think I played with Playmobil toys when I was a kid, but my husband certainly did. My mother-in-law still has a lot of the Playmobil people and accessories a from when he was a kid, and has graciously let our kids play with them.
They really love the little Playmobil people, and seem to come up with endless ways to play with them. I looked on Amazon and I had no idea how many different Playmobil sets are out there. Anything your kids are into, there’s probably a Playmobil with it in mind.
6. Give them your basket of cookie cutters
Let them play with your cookie cutters, or give them free access to any kid-safe kitchen cupboard/drawer. Remember, the goal is to get dinner on the table, not to keep your kitchen clean.
My kids enjoy dumping all the towels out of the drawers, and then “folding” them and putting them back in. Over and over again. Making a mess is always fun with kids.
My kids are drawn to the cupboard with the birthday hats, paper plates, and cookie cutters. It’s like party city in there!
We haven’t done this yet, but it’s certainly next on my list. The idea is you (or your kids) make a maze with things you already have lying around that you can walk through. Find pictures and more ideas in this article on Preschool Powol Packets.
8. Song & Dance Party
Put some music on and let them sing and dance around. You can even join in from the kitchen. Is anybody else a Raffi fan?
9. Paper Cup Party Popper
You can make one of these party cup poppers in 5 minutes with this tutorial from RED TED Art. I can hear your kids giggling already.
10. Pretend Cooking Station
Maybe your kids are wannabe chefs, but you don’t always have time to let them help. Set up a pretend cooking station with a pot and some wooden spoons.
You can give them some rice or flour and water for them to “cook”. They will have fun “cooking” food of their own.
11. Dress Up Time
Who doesn’t love dress up time? For kids, it can be Halloween year round. Hopefully with less candy though. I love anything that gets my kids’ imaginations going.
If your dress up box is getting a little full, you can get a little wardrobe for it like this one and keep everything more organized.
For really young kids, you can just give them a hat to play with. And a purse or bag to wear, too. My kids always love putting my grown up shoes on and walking around. Photo op!
12. Outside Play Time in the Dirt
One thing kids know how to do is get dirty. If you have an outdoor space where you can watch them while you cook, perfect.
If not, you can always bring some dirt inside. Set a big tarp down and let them play.
Here’s a book with hands on science and art activities to reconnect kids with nature.
13. Scissors and Tape Craft Time
If your kids are a little older (3+ years), give them some kid scissors, scotch tape, and paper for some messy paper cutting time. They will love learning how to cut paper and use tape. It’s great for their fine motor skills, too!
14. Use an Activity Book
We found this book of 150 Screen Free Activities at our local library a little over a year ago. This book is great because it clearly labels the ages each activity is appropriate for.
15. Sensory Bin
You can make a sensory bin out of any container you have lying around. Bigger is better if you have several kids playing in it at once.
Once you have a container, choose a filler. Rice, beans, shredded paper, or sand all work great. Then let your kids explore! This book on Sensory Play has some awesome ideas.
16. Sensory Bottles
Don’t want to do a big sensory tub? Teaching Mama has twelve ideas for sensory bottles. These look like a great activity to make for babies.
17. Sew Animals
These sew animals are great for kids, ages 2+. Your kids will get to work on their fine motor skills and weave the string through the holes. This activity can certainly give you some time for dinner prep.
18. Go Fishing Game
Bust out some games! When we bring this game out, our 2 and 4 year old can spend quite a while watching the fish go around in circles with lots of giggles.
19. Musical Instrument Time
Are your kids into making music? Be prepared for some noise and get the instruments out! Maybe they’ll put on a whole parade that you watch from behind the stove!
Bubble time is a happy time with young kids. If you’re looking for a few uninterrupted minutes to get a meal on the table, use this bubble blower that your kids can use to make bubbles on their own.
21. Indoor Obstacle Course
Make your own obstacle course, and let the kids play while you cook! The sky is the limit here. Get creative, let your kids help make it and have fun!
22. Balloon Time
We were at a birthday party a few weeks ago and we were able to bring two helium filled balloons home with us. My kids carried them around with them for days, and they floated for almost a whole week.
Kids are easily entertained by the simplest things! You can tie the string of the balloon onto a piece of furniture near them, or to their wrist. Let the fun begin (and the cooking!).
If you have babies, watch them close to make sure they don’t put use the balloon as a teething toy.
23. Cleaning Time
If you’re anything like me, your floor probably has smashed raisins on it and your windows are probably streaked with fingerprints. If your kids need an activity to do, put them to work!
Give them a spray bottle and a rag and let them have fun cleaning the floors, windows, and furniture.
This Melissa and Doug cleaning set gives them kid-sized cleaning equipment to use. Win for everybody! They have fun while you finish up dinner.
24. Animal Sets
25. Play Doh
Play-Doh is an awesome activity for kids to do on their own. You can buy some pre-made in almost any store (or order on Amazon here). You can even make your own! This article tells you how to make your own edible play-doh.
Play-Doh lets kids use their imagination and be creative. There’s so many play-doh accessories too.
What Do You Think?
Give these activities a try and let me know how it goes. Do you have any other activities that keep your kids entertained while you are cooking? Please share in the comments below! Cooking with young kids in your house just got easier!