Beyond The Screen: 8 Activities To Stimulate Young Kids

Ideas To Keep Preschoolers Engaged And In Touch With Their Senses

By Elizabeth Sok
August 13, 2020
#StayAtHome, Families

Make screen zombies a thing of the past with this list of eight ideas to break up with the tablet or phone and get back to the simple joys of being a kid.

We all know that too much screen time isn’t great for our kids. But, this year’s Covid-19, along with the sweltering and rainy summer, has made it more difficult to keep little ones away from all the screens out there. Here are suggestions of activities for your kids, both indoor and outdoor, to redirect them into creative and physical play when you feel you’ve run out of ideas. 

1. Painting

Beyond the Screen 8 Activities To Stimulate Young Kids

Painting is an artistic activity that can keep kids entertained for quite a while without electronics. And, the control of paintbrushes is similar but different to pencils, crayons, and markers, and as such is great for hand-eye coordination development. Try having children choose different shapes to paint to change up the process once in a while—hat shapes and teacups are favorites here. Above all, watercolors, which wash off everything so can easily ensure that it won’t be too much of a mess! 

2. Mushi-Tori/Bug-Catching

With minimal upfront costs since you can buy nets and bug jars at Daiso, this ideal summer and autumn activity for kids has many perks. For our troubled times, the long nets and often solitary nature of the playing help kids respect social distance at the park while also getting up close and personal with nature. It also keeps alive a venerable Japanese tradition; did you know that the creator of the mega-popular Pokemon series, Tajiri Satoshi, was inspired by his bug-catching days as a child?

3. Gardening


Either indoor or outdoor, depending on the space that you have available, gardening is one of the educational activities for kids yet still a hit; young children love to watch things grow. Planting herbs or produce, for example, teaches them where their food comes from, encouraging them to eat vegetables and fruit. Sunflowers grown from seed provide a majestic reward to those who wait. Gardening is also overall a great physical activity for kids, with their hands deep in the soil and learning how to pour just the right amount of water to help the plants grow (and not drown them!).

4. Water-Play

Whether inside or out, young children love playing in the water. If you can’t get to the ocean this summer, why not explore a local water park? My daughter loved playing in the small fountains in front of Tokyo Station last year and the even smaller stream in a park in Arakawa-ku as much as the actual beach here in Fukuoka. Inside, why not let them “help” do the dishes? When you remove all the breakables, bubbles and water mean at least half an hour of fun! 

5. Clay

Beyond the Screen 8 Activities To Stimulate Young Kids

Many preschools and elementary schools have children use clay and for good reason: it is an incredibly tactile material allowing for a wide range of creativity. Colors make it more engaging for a little crowd, but the all-gray clay also encourages imagination in the form of “decorating” the clay with other materials. My daughter is a big fan of elaborate clay houses for her smallest toys. While younger toddlers may have difficulty maneuvering the clay themselves, in my experience, they certainly love telling their parents to make something and then playing with it!

6. Omairi/Shrine and Temple Visits

Bringing young kids to shrines and temples is an outing with multiple purposes. It gives them room to—quietly—stretch their legs among new landscapes, such as scenic bridges and stone lanterns while affording parents a respite from the local park. Kids can also often have a meet and greet with some cats and koi—always a favorite activity in our family, while simultaneously developing knowledge of and respect for Japan’s religious traditions. My daughter now loves getting an omikuji (“fortune slip”) and asks to go to shrines on the weekend as a fun activity! 

7. Rainy Walks

On rainy days (which felt like every day this summer!), try taking the little ones out anyway for a brief stint in the great outdoors. Kids love having “special” gear to wear for the rain, like a poncho, boots, and umbrella. Plus, forgoing an errand and making the walk just about them can reduce the stress of being cooped up surprisingly well. Let them jump in every puddle along the way and stare breathlessly at the ripples of raindrops on the sidewalk. Just make sure to get nice and dry after!

8. Baking

Beyond the Screen 8 Activities To Stimulate Young Kids

In my small apartment, with no oven, baking can sometimes seem like a challenge. But it is always worth it to see the smiles on small faces when the desserts emerge. Having kids add ingredients, measure, mix, and spoon them into appropriate pans is an excellent practice for counting, coordination, and keeping connected to the food they will eat—even if this time it is a sweet treat! If, like us, you don’t have an oven, don’t be afraid to experiment—we now make cookies in our fish grill and brownies in our Bruno hot plate that are far healthier than local conbini goods.  

Comment below if there are activities that are must-do for your kids! My family always needs new things to do too, especially with virus numbers still rising.

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