5 Easy Screen-Free Hands-On Activities to Keep Your Toddler Busy


Like lots of teachers around the state, I am currently teaching from home while watching my 3-year-old every day. My husband, who is a postal worker, is still working outside of the home and while we are fortunate to continue having a steady income, we are finding it challenging to be simultaneously working and providing 100% of our son’s childcare.  Typically, we rely on my parents to provide childcare two days a week and we send him to preschool at a local childcare center for the other three. It has taken me a few weeks to get into my new work-from-home routine, and I can honestly say that there has been way more screen time than usual in our house. I have made a commitment to myself to do as many screen-free hands-on activities as I can, but the caveat is- they must be things my son can do on his own, with minimal set-up or clean-up. 

My goal, however, is to plan five screen-free hands-on activities for our son to do each day of the week. 

Here are some of our favorite screen-free hands-on activities:

#1: Frozen Dino Rescue

child plays with frozen dinosThis activity is easily our son’s favorite, and it’s super easy to put together. All you need are a handful of dinosaur figurines, small plastic containers, water, and a freezer. Simply put one dinosaur in each container, cover with water, and freeze until solid. Then, we let him break the ice to free the dinos. He does have a toy hammer, but we’ve found that our meat tenderizer is actually the perfect tool for the job. 

This activity is great for indoor fun (on a towel) or outdoors since there’s little cleanup required. We sometimes mix it up by putting animal figurines in the ice instead of dinos, too. 

#2: Fizzy Dino Eggs

child drops vinegar onto baking soda ballsThis activity takes a little more prep and a few more ingredients than the last activity. To start, you’ll need baking soda, water, dinosaur figurines, and plastic wrap. Empty a box of baking soda into a bowl, and add water until it’s the consistency of wet, packable sand. Place a large spoonful of the mixture on a sheet of plastic wrap, place a dino on top, then cover with another large spoonful of the mixture. Pull the edges of the plastic wrap to the middle and shape into a ball or egg shape. Freeze until solid. 

When you’re ready to create the fizzy part of the activity, you’ll need about a half cup of white vinegar. Remove one frozen dino egg from the plastic wrap, and place in a large tray or sheet pan. Use a spoon or a syringe (we found that a bulb syringe works great for this) to spray the egg with the vinegar. The reaction between the baking soda and the vinegar will create lots of fizz; repeat until the dino is free! This activity can be adapted into many different fun screen-free hands-on activities if you change the frozen surprise!

#3: Grow Beans in a Jar

growing beanThis activity requires only four ingredients: a few dried beans, a paper towel, a large jar, and some water. First, put the beans in the bottom of the jar, wet the paper towel, and place the paper towel on top of the beans. Place on a windowsill and let the sun shine on it. 

Our son loves checking on the beans every day to see how much they’ve grown. After two weeks, all three of our beans had sprouted, and one had lots of roots. 

After four weeks, one of our bean plants was just about to the top of the jar. We have some hooks at the top of our window frame, so we’re planning on adding a string trellis for the beans to climb, so we can keep watching their progress! Once all of the sprouts are off the bottom of the jar, we’ll also be adding some soil

#4: Watercolor Hidden Messages

watercolor painting is a great hands-on activityThis activity takes almost no prep, and our son absolutely loves it. Before he starts painting, I write a message or draw a picture on a plain white sheet of paper with a white crayon. As he paints over it with watercolors, the crayon resists the paint color, and the hidden message is revealed. 

#5: Nature Scavenger Hunt

child hold page of scavenger hunt- this is one of five screen-free hands-on toddler activitiesNow that the weather here in northern Vermont is getting warmer, we can spend more time doing outside activities. Our son loves going for bike rides in our neighborhood, but sometimes, it’s good to mix up the plan a little bit by doing a scavenger hunt. I laminated our scavenger hunt page, and we bring a dry erase marker outside with us. He loves checking off the boxes and looking at things up close, especially bugs. 

These are a few of our favorite screen-free hands-on activities – what are some of yours?

5 Screen-Free Hands-On Activities to Do with your Toddler


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