Pinterest is filled with ideas for crafts and activities to do with little ones. When I was a pre-school teacher, I was never at a loss when it came to lesson planning. Easy and clever crafts, sensory activities, gross-motor ideas… there were educational and fun activities at my fingertips for any area of development.

But what about activities for older kids? When I switched to running the before- and after-school program, it became much harder to find, and come up with my own, ideas to keep them occupied. Let’s be honest, egg carton daffodils and plastic bottle rice shakers just don’t cut it with the 8+ crowd!

Keeping Older Children Busy

We tend to think of our older kids as being independent and able to amuse themselves (which is true), and it is healthy for them to find their own activities. The problem is, they often gravitate towards screens. I am not against screen time — not by a long shot. I have come to accept that technology is a big part of the daily interactions of the next generation, and have taken an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t engage our kids in interesting screen-free activities from time to time.

So, I’ve gathered some ideas for screen-free activities you can do with your older kids.

Science Experiments

Whether it’s the tried-and-true Mentos in a Coke bottle (do that one outside!) or more elaborate experiments like Elephant’s Toothpaste, science experiments are a staple for older kids.

There are several ways to go about it. Many experiment instructions can be found online, often with minimal preparation needed, and these are best done under the supervision of a parent. Here are a few websites to get you started:

You can buy commercially-produced science kits that come with pre-planned experiments. These might require your help, so be sure to look them over quickly before setting your kids loose with them.

If you’re adventurous and don’t mind the occasional mess, you can provide your child with various materials – baking soda, vinegar, containers, water, plastic tubing, magnets, whatever you can get your hands on that’s safe to experiment with – and let them create their own experiments. (A small reminder that magnets can be very dangerous if swallowed, so watch out for smaller kids if you use them.)

Musical Instruments

A small, cheap keyboard or a second-hand guitar can spark hours of interest for an older child and might turn into a lifelong hobby. They can start by playing around with it by ear, and if they take an interest, look into lessons. (Or break the screen rule and look on YouTube. There are some fabulous instrument tutorials out there.) Musical instruments can get pricey, but they don’t have to be. Keep your eyes open at garage sales, in thrift stores, and online buy and sell groups; there are often basic ones for reasonable prices. If your ears can take it, try a recorder. It might drive you crazy, but it is easy to learn and very inexpensive.

A Binder and Loose Leaf Paper

Yes, I’m serious with this one. Think back – you had a Trapper Keeper, didn’t you? (Or was it a Note Tote?) Why did you love it so much? For me, it was a place that could hold all of my thoughts, drawings, personal writing, notes about crushes I had, letters to celebrities – everything was in that binder. Get your child a binder, fill it with paper, maybe even splurge on an old-fashioned multi-coloured click pen like the good old days (they still exist at the dollar store!) and give it to them with the promise that you won’t look inside it. Let it be their space and only theirs. You might be surprised how creative they get with it.

Make Your Own Animation

Flip books are fun and easy. Buy a stack of sticky notes or small notebooks (available at the dollar store), and let them make their own little animations. It requires little skill and very little cost, but it’s a fun activity and a neat lesson. Here is a great tutorial if you aren’t familiar with the concept.

If you want to be more sophisticated, there is also stop-motion animation. (Okay, this does break the screen rule – but they are making movies, not watching them, so I’m going to allow it on the list!) Tinker Lab outlines the process well here.

Create Functional Crafts

By the time kids are older, they understand how paint, glue and scissors work. They can figure out on their own how to do art that is just art, and if they are interested in more complicated applications of it, they will seek it out.

Simple crafts aren’t nearly as interesting anymore, but ones that serve a purpose are! Water bottle bracelets are fun and functional. So are duct tape wallets. Break out the fabric, needle, and thread and do some basic sewing. Teach them how to crochet.

There are plenty of crafty things older kids can do that aren’t just space-holders on the fridge.

When they need a break from the screen – or you do – encourage them to try some of these fun and creative activities. They were a hit with the older kids in my classroom, and with the older kid in my house!

At the very least, they will learn something while their devices charge. 😉


Heather M. Jones is a writer in Toronto and mom to two young boys. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, or her website.