Activities to Reduce Screen Time for Children

Though technology can be an enabler when used appropriately and in moderation, parents need to be mindful that excessive screen time can adversely affect a child’s sleep, behaviour and even [...]

In today’s world, technology and media have become part and parcel of our life. Even young children are often exposed to them daily.  Though technology can be an enabler when used appropriately and in moderation, parents need to be mindful that excessive screen time can adversely affect the child’s sleep, behaviour and even parent-child interactions and relationship. SPD’s senior occupational therapist Pow Wei Ting shares some alternative activities that you can do with your child to reduce his/her screen time.


For babies:

  • Introduce touchy-feely, cloth or sound-making books.
  • Try out tummy time.
  • Engage in interactive play like peek-a-boo, gentle bouncing and rocking to nursery rhymes.
  • Initiate clapping and dancing games, and play with sound-making toys.
  • Have babies take out toys from different containers, and then put them back again.
  • Place clean items such as face towels, soft toys, empty bottles into a larger cardboard box for baby to explore.
  • Let babies play with mouthing toys or teethers to keep their hands and mouth busy.
  • Loosely wrap small toys with paper towel, facial tissue or coloured wrapping paper and encourage babies to unwrap them.
  • Get babies to crawl through tunnels or foldable mattress.


For toddlers:

  • Open up large cardboard boxes or lay out unwanted newspapers on the floor for doodling, scribbling or painting. Explore different writing tools such as large crayons, large felt-tipped colour changing markers, paint brushes, etc. Emptied toilet rolls, bottle caps, plastic spoons, can also be used as stamping tools. Plastic animals and cars can also be used as painting tools.
  • Make a personalised photo album that includes the toddler’s favourite people, place, etc. Look at the photos and talk about the events to them.
  • Engage in pretend play with toddlers. Some themes to explore include cooking, bedtime, visiting the doctor or familiar stories such as Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
  • Explore construction play with emptied cardboard boxes, emptied toilet rolls, shoe or tissue boxes. Stack them up and get the toddler to knock them down with a ball. Large cardboard boxes are good substitution for toy vehicles during play too.
  • Gather a few non-slip mats, tunnel, step stool and create a simple obstacle course. Ensure that the area is safe and provide standby supervision.
Examples of obstacle course
Examples of obstacle course
  • Messy play can be very engaging for toddlers as it provides an exciting sensory experience. There is no correct way to carry out messy play as it is about getting the children to experiment with different objects and materials freely and creatively. Here are a few ideas for messy play
  1. Making cloud dough – (steps to make cloud dough here)
  2. Making artificial snow – (steps to make artificial snow here). Once the child is done playing, bag and dispose the artificial snow down the rubbish chute instead of washing it down a pipe as it might clog up the vent.
  3. Crunch or mash dry beans / grains / pasta.
  4. Playing with ice cubes during water play.
  5. Drawing or writing with shaving cream.
Examples of messy play
Examples of messy play


For Pre-schoolers and younger school-age children:

  • Indoor camping – Consider the use of bedsheets or cardboard boxes to create a makeshift tent.
  • Tabletop activities to consider:
  1. Collecting stickers in albums.
  2. Drawing or coloring using re-useable paint-with-water books, write-and-wipe
  3. Activity books or sheets like mazes, photo / letter hunt, I-Spy.
  4. Colouring of child’s favourite cartoon characters.
  5. Writing cards and letters to others.
  6. Folding simple origami.
  7. Creating and playing different variation of Bingos (e.g. numbers, words, shapes, colours).
  8. Simple journaling – get the child to draw a picture of what they did today and write about it. Adults can write a simple sentence for their child to copy or assist with spelling of words if needed.
  • Rule-bound tabletop games can help to reinforce concepts of waiting, turn taking and coping with winning-losing
  1. Card games like Snap, Happy Family, Spot it, Uno.
  2. Board games like Monopoly, Snakes and Ladder.
  • Movement / hands-on activities:
  1. Simple household chores – Sorting or folding laundry, simple meal preparation such as plucking leafy vegetables, spreading jam or butter on bread, mopping the floor, wiping table, watering the plants with a spray bottle and packing up toys.
  2. Treasure Hunt. Tape their favourite toys (e.g. Superheroes, Ponies) around the room. Tell them exactly how many toys they need to find. Other variations of treasure hunt to consider includes searching for blocks of various colours, shapes, letters, numbers or sight word cards.
  3. Games like hopscotch and What’s the time Mr Wolf.
  4. Child-friendly yoga poses or cardio exercises (the emphasis is on safety and enjoyment, not quality of movement). Allow rest breaks whenever needed.
  5. Indoor bowling with empty toilet rolls, cardboard boxes, bottles and a ball.
  6. Flying paper planes. Fold paper planes using recycled paper or unwanted flyers. Have a competition with your child to see which plane flies the furthest.
Examples of simple household chores
Examples of simple household chores


For Older School-age Children & Adolescents:

  • Encourage them to be active around the house by helping out with simple chores such as vacuuming, mopping, meal preparation, packing own room or making their own bed, laundry, clearing out the rubbish, gardening etc.
  • Keeping fit:
  1. Yoga to promote mindfulness and body awareness.
  2. Simple cardio workouts (e.g. star jumps, planking, sits up, jump rope) to promote coordination and cardio-respiratory endurance.
  3. Select fitness sessions that are suitable for your child’s level.
  • Plan and set up a DIY Escape Room for the family to participate in.
  • Plan and organise a movie night. Have them decide what movie they would like to watch, and prepare snacks together.
  • Re-organise existing furniture around their bedroom. Declutter and put aside items to donate.
  • Using technology in other meaningful ways such as learning a new skill (e.g. musical instrument, drawing, craft, photography)
  • Quiet activities such as:
  1. Construction activities of appropriate difficulty (e.g. lego, miniature DIY kits)
  2. Jig-saw puzzles (2D, 3D puzzles)
  3. Scrapbooking
  4. Drawing, colouring, painting
  5. Journaling
  6. Board or card games such as Uno, Monopoly, Taboo, Scrabble, etc
  7. Brain-teaser worksheets like Spot the Difference, I-Spy, Mazes, cross-word puzzles, Sudoku, etc

Adapted from Alternatives to Screen Time, published in 2017.



American Academy of Pediatrics (2016). Media and Young Minds. Council on Communication and Media. Pediatrics, 138(5), 1–6. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2591

American Academcy of Pediatrics. (2016, October 21). American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendation for Children’s Media Use. Retrieved December 22, 2016, from The Amercian Academy of Pediatrics,

Christakis, D. A., Garrison, M. M., Herrenkohl, T., Haggerty, K., Rivara, F. P., Zhou, C., & Liekweg, K. (2013). Modifying Media Content for Preschool Children: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Pediatrics, 131(3), 431–438. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-1493

Xu, H., Wen, L. M., Hardy, L. L., & Rissel, C. (2016). Associations of outdoor play and screen time with nocturnal sleep duration and pattern among young children. Acta Paediatrica, 105(3), 297–303. doi:10.1111/apa.13285