20 Screen Free Play Ideas for School Holidays (+ FREE Printable)

“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity!”, Kay Redfield Jamison.

With the excitement of Easter behind us, we’re now in the thick of school holidays! To avoid the siren song of glowing screens, we’re going ‘old school’ with our play ideas.

You can get back to basics and encourage your kids to enjoy some fun, budget friendly and ‘screen free’ play ideas too! Why not challenge your kids, and yourself, to try at least one of the below ideas each and every day of the school holidays? Or try just a few! Whatever works for your family.

Use our 20 Screen Free Play Ideas FREE printable for inspiration and as a checklist to mark off as you try each idea.

If possible, set aside some time each day to ‘play’ with your kids. Even 10 or 20 minutes is time well spent. Many of these ideas can also keep your kids merrily occupied while you cook dinner or get some other essential tasks done. The ages, interests and abilities of your children might determine how involved you want (or need) to be.

Try the ideas in order, or print a second copy, cut out each idea, fold, and place in a jar. Give the jar a shake, then let your kids pull out an idea at random each day.

Happy playing!

20 Screen Free Play Ideas for School Holidays

1. Build a blanket cubby

Grab a blanket (or bed sheet), a couple of chairs and voila! You’ve got the makings of a cubby, fort or secret cave. If you’ve got more room, add more chairs and more blankets held together with pegs for a larger cubby. Pop in a couple of cushions, some books and a favourite soft toy and you’ve created a cozy reading nook!

2. Cook

Spend some time in the kitchen together. Make a batch of freezable goodies. Make some for now and some to freeze for back to school lunch boxes.

Check out our post for 5 tips for cooking with kids. We’ll be making a mini cupcake version of our easy chocolate cake recipe as a special lunchbox treat.

3. Get outside

Go on a family walk, create a nature scavenger hunt, or plant some veges in the garden. 

4. Send a letter or artwork

I still love to receive letters and packages in the mail and kids seem to love it even more so. Encourage your kids to write a letter, draw a picture or create an artwork for someone special and post it to them.

5. Play cards

Depending on your child’s age and abilities, pull out a deck of cards and teach them a card game. Littlies can try matching patterns (hearts, diamonds etc.) or putting numbers in order. ‘Uno’ is a great card game for kids, involving matching colours and numbers.

6. Make your own play recipe

Use our play recipes for goop, play dough or puffy paint. Make, then play!

7. Build with junk

Set up a ‘junk’ art station for your kids to get creative. Items that would usually go in the recycling bin are perfect. Clean, dry recyclables such as tissue boxes, milk bottle lids (that have been washed and dried), cardboard paper towel tubes, plastic containers, egg cartons, any sized cardboard box, and paper are all great. Add some sticky tape, scissors, stickers, pencils or crayons and see what the kids can create. Dinosaur feet made from tissue boxes? A rocket ship from a cardboard box? The possibilities are endless!

8. Dress up

Costumes, sunglasses, hats, whatever you have on hand. Miss 5 loves anything to do with detectives and crooks at the moment. She often ‘interviews’ unsuspecting visitors regarding the whereabouts of missing toys. You could set up some books to create a library, or line up some items from your pantry (e.g. tinned food and packets of pasta) to set up a shop. Let the kids come up with the ideas.

9. Tinker

Head to the ‘tip shop’ at your local rubbish tip, op shop or your own garage to find something your kids can take apart. Want to find out what’s inside a computer keyboard? Find a discarded one, take it apart and find out. Depending on your child’s age and abilities will determine how much supervision they’ll need. Keep small parts away from littlies and avoid anything that might have leaking batteries. You’ll need to provide a screwdriver or other tool to take the items apart. Old clocks, toys and items with circuit boards can be interesting. Try to reassemble the parts, or make a piece of art with the pieces.

10. Keep a school holiday journal

When Miss 5 was in Kindergarten, the students kept a journal throughout the year. Each week they’d draw a picture of something they did on the weekend and the teacher would help write a caption to go with the picture. We continued this idea during school holidays and used a blank notebook or stapled some blank pages together to create a ‘School Holiday Journal’. Encourage your child to spend a few minutes each day of the holidays writing and/or drawing something they did the previous day. They can decorate the journal however they like. Stickers, pens, crayons or even paint. Don’t feel pressure to do something exciting every day so they have something to write about! ‘Helped Mummy make a cake’, or ‘Played trains with Mr 2’ are perfectly valid.

11. Have a picnic

Set up a blanket and some cushions for a picnic. At a park, in your own backyard or even on the living room floor! Inside or outside, picnics can be a fun way to eat your lunch; or set up the teddy’s for a pretend picnic.

12. Get out and about

There are usually lots of free activities run by various organisations during school holidays. Look up activities in your local community, visit a library or museum in your own town or take a little road trip by bus or car if you want to go further afield.

13. Share a hobby

Whether you like to garden, restore cars, bake, or go fishing, kids enjoy spending time with their grown ups and it’s fun for us grown ups to share a skill with our kids. I recently made Miss 5 a skirt and she wanted to try sewing one for her toy bunny. We set aside some time when Hubby could keep Mr 2 occupied (and away from pins and fabric scissors) and I let her have a try.

We made a very basic skirt (the extent of my sewing skills!), I showed her what to do at each step, she gave it a go and I stepped in to help as needed. Miss 5 was so proud to show everyone the little skirt I’d helped her make. It was amazing to see how much of the process she was able to do on her own, once given the opportunity. Set aside some time to share a hobby or something you enjoy doing, and teach your kids a new skill!

14. Dance party

Crank up the music and dance it off with your kids. Take turns busting a few moves each in a ‘dance off’ competition, or let the kids spend hours choreographing their own dance routine to perform for the rest of the family.

15. Search for nature treasures

Head to the beach, park, forest, or even your own backyard in search of treasure. Shells, sticks, leaves, rocks, or anything that takes your child’s interest. Bring some of the treasures home to put on display, or take a photo if you’d prefer to leave the items where you find them.

16. Try out a new park or playground

Is there a park or playground in your local area that you’ve never been to before? Now’s a great time to check it out.

17. Read

Grab a stack of the kid’s favourite books or head to the library to find something new. Snuggle up and read together or let your kids have some time looking through books on their own. Indoors or outdoors, set up some cushions on a blanket, or make a reading nook by throwing a blanket over a couple of chairs.

18. Set up (or renovate) a fairy garden

Using items you already own, set up a fairy garden to attract fairies to your garden. Shells; rocks; an old pot turned on it’s side to act as a shelter for the fairies; a small container to use as a vase for cut flowers or a small pot plant; plastic dinosaurs (?). Whatever your kids think fairies might like. This is a lovely exercise in creativity for kids and can spark some imaginative story telling fun too. If you already have a fairy garden, now might be a good chance to mix things up and ‘renovate’ your current set up.

19. Invite a friend over

Invite a friend over for a play date at your house, or arrange to meet up in a playground or park. School holidays can be a nice chance to catch up with old friends your kids don’t get a chance to see often during the school term. Or you could invite a new friend from school that your child would like to get to know better.

20. Distraction free family time

Go for a walk, read together, play a board game, stay home, or go somewhere. Where you go and what you do can be the parent’s choice, kid’s choice or put it to a vote! Turn off phones and other devices (don’t worry about taking photos this time), and just enjoy each other’s company.

Creative Challenge: Use our 20 Screen Free Play Ideas FREE printable to encourage your kids to enjoy some ‘old school’, screen free play these school holidays (or any time!).

Question: What’s your family’s favourite screen free activity? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear about it.

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