10 easy and creative screen-free activities to stimulate growing minds

Your kids spend too much time on screens. Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong.

It can be distressing for parents, watching their children spend hours in front of screens mindlessly scrolling content. You know there are better things they can do with their time, but how do we get our kids to do them?

While technology is here to stay, there are still many brain-stimulating things children can enjoy, with a bit of persuasion from you. 

But what, exactly?

Road Trips

Photo by Martin Kallur.

One of the best travel-related brain-stimulating activities is road trips. Sure, planning a road trip can be a lot of work, but heading out on the open road and exploring new sites can be a great way to learn new things and form new memories.

Related: How to survive travelling with kids and tweens

Research shows that travel has profound effects on the developing brain. Children and teenagers who visit more places tend to be more open and better able to learn new things. And, they often remember their travel experiences as youngsters for a lifetime.

Museums And Cultural Sites

My daughters at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, July 2023. Photo by Jessica Foley.

While you’re on the road, or right in your hometown, visit some museums and cultural experiences. Exploring science museums or visiting ancient sites can bring kids’ imaginations to life. Galleries, art exhibits, castles, and famous locations help give them a sense of place and context in the world.

Don’t be afraid to break new ground or take in less popular attractions when searching for places to take your kids. Topical visits might include going to a Cold War nuclear bunker or visiting old places of worship and exploring how they influenced the modern world. It’s this kind of activity that can spark genuine interest in kids and encourage them to explore topics further.

Game Nights

An easy, at-home activity is game nights. These are special nights when you all commit to putting down your phones and playing some brain-stimulating board games. 

For example, you might line everyone up for a game of Boggle where you have to make as many words as possible from a grid of words, or Scrabble, where you need to place new words on top of existing ones from a limited number of letters. 

Card games are also quick and easy, and who doesn’t already own a deck of cards? Many card games have a strong mathematical element, helping children understand concepts like probability.

We try to play board games weekly. Here, Emma and Patrick are playing Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit (in 2019.) Photo by Jessica Foley.

Themed Parties

You could also plan a themed party based on a specific culture or historical event. Encouraging kids to dress up is a great way to learn more about a particular era while having fun at the same time.

Do some research, and include the kids, for games and puzzles related to a particular time or theme. For example, you could arrange orienteering for a pioneer-themed party, or a math Olympiad for a number-based event when kids dress up as some of the greatest mathematicians in history like Euler, Archimedes, and John von Neumann.

Parties don’t get more “themed” then visiting Medieval Times! We went in Orlando in the winter of 2020. Photo by Jessica Foley.

Drone Flying

While this could be considered somewhat of a screen idea, flying drones is a fun, outdoor activity that can inspire kids to learn more about the technology, photography, and even robotics.

A newish “sport”, drone racing, sees competitors put on VR headsets attached to drones and then fly them as fast as possible through a series of hoops.

Click here to learn more about drones currently on the market and some of the technologies they offer. These flying robots can be inspiring for kids, and they are a valuable tool for taking photographs and creating stunning videos.

Cooking Classes

Cooking classes are an excellent after-school activity that yields helpful, tangible (and hopefully tasty) outcomes. Helping kids learn how to cook is an essential life skill and something that will serve them well in the future. 

Meal planning
My daughters helping to make dinner in 2018. Photo by Jessica Foley.

Of course, you’ll want to ensure the cooking classes are age-appropriate. Check local kid-focused organizations for possible youth-friendly classes near you. Kids who have an understanding of cuisine are less likely to reach for fast food when they get older and more likely to prepare meals at home.

If a class doesn’t fit your schedule, some meal-in-a-box kits come with simple-to-follow instructions (with pictures) for even the youngest chefs to practice their skills.

Cooking classes, and meals-in-a-box, have the added benefit of giving you some peace and quiet in the evenings – time you can use for other things.


Robots may feature in your kids’ future, so getting acquainted with them today could be an excellent way to move their lives forward. Fortunately, most major cities now have robotics clubs where kids can learn how to program and prompt these machines. 

While we’re not quite at the Skynet phase, it’ll be the youth of today who will need to deal with more advanced robot systems in the future, so they could benefit from a head start right now. 

Kids can also learn about robots online, but there’s nothing quite like interacting with (and even building) these systems in person. As a bonus, kids who join robotics clubs can get inspiration from people who are passionate about the field.

Individual Sports

You might also want to introduce your kids to individual sports. Things like swimming, tennis, and martial arts can improve confidence and give them the self-discipline required for a successful life. 

Many of the best sports are those played against oneself. In these, the opponent isn’t someone on the other side of the pitch, but the child’s mind. Getting them to explore these sports helps them get outside of themselves and engage in challenges to see what they are capable of doing. Not only does it stimulate their growing brains, it also keeps them active and off screens.

Related: The Importance of Exercising: 5 Way To Motivate Your Child

Dance Classes

My daughter Rose as a “pink ballerina” in 2016. (She’s the one in the middle looking to her right.) Photo by Michael O’Brien.

Dance classes are one of the best ways to teach your kids freedom in the body. Getting them to move and shake is actually quite liberating, especially if they can continue practicing into adulthood.

Related: Why I take adult dance classes

Yoga has many of the same benefits but focuses more on the value of movement and precise positioning. Both activities can be a fun way to stay active and improve flexibility.

Hiking And Camping

One thing you probably won’t find at a campground or hiking trail — wifi! Experiencing hiking and camping is a wonderful experience for the whole family. Getting outdoors is essential for well-being and teaches kids important skills, like self-reliance and how to cook. 

Camping is also an excellent opportunity to connect with nature. Kids can learn survival skills, experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the forests or mountains, and spend nighttime gazing at the stars far above.

Parks Canada oTENTik
My husband and my daughter, Rose. Summer 2018. Photo by Jessica Foley.

Camping is also an opportunity for family and group bonding. It doesn’t have to be tents and sleeping on the ground. There are many options for slightly higher-end camping now than when I was a kid!

Related: What an oTENTik is and why you should visit one

These ten activities will ensure your kids give up some of that all-consuming screen time, while helping them develop new skills and stimulate their minds.

What screen-free activities do you employ in your house? Join the conversation and leave me a comment — I’m always looking for new creative ideas to help my kids break their screen-time habit (and maybe mine too!)

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