7 Screen-Free Games to Keep Kids Busy

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Summer is here, and the cries of “I’m bored” seem to start almost as fast as the last school bus pulls away and the ice pops melt.

Of course, many modern kids will see this endless sea of time as the perfect opportunity to sit down in front of the screen, catch up on shows, and play video games. While these mental breaks can be fine in moderation, there are plenty of screen-free ways to stay entertained and engaged.

If your kids are looking for something to do, suggest some of these classic games instead. Better yet, go outside and start playing yourself and see how fast the kids come along.

They might just end up with a new favorite!

#1: Badminton

Sold in sporting goods aisles everywhere once summer arrives, badminton is easy to set up and requires less practiced skill (and far less of a financial investment) than its cousin tennis.

All you need is a flat piece of lawn and the badminton set, which can be purchased for as little as $25. Swatting the badminton shuttlecock back and forth across the yard is a fun exercise in teamwork, hand-eye coordination, and precision.

It’s easy to learn and difficult to master!

#2: Hide and Seek

Hide and seek is a game that can adapt to meet the needs of a group of any size with various ages. There many iterations of this game, too. Will there be a home base? Is tagging required, or is finding someone enough? Where are the perimeters of the hiding field?

While it can be played inside with very young children or on a rainy day, the best hide and seek games take place outdoors, so map out the perimeters in the backyard or head to the closest park. Adapting the rules to their own over time teaches kids flexibility and complex thinking, as well as communication skills. All that running and outdoor time is a bonus!

#3: Tag

Tag is another classic that is adaptable and constantly changing based on who is playing and what they like to do. Freeze tag (where the tagged are frozen in place unless a teammate tags them back in), cartoon tag (where the tagged can escape capture if they yell out a cartoon character who has not yet been named), and dragon tail tag (where players form a conga line and the “head” must catch the “tail”) are all versions that require different levels of physical ability, quick thinking, and creativity.

As kids move through the different versions, they’ll likely create their own hybrids and land on a favorite “home game” that will become their own.

#4: Ping Pong

Tell your kids they can dig to the roots of video games by playing the game that inspired Pong. Ping pong (or table tennis) is a fast-paced sport that can be played as pairs or teams of two.

Ping pong tables are foldable, so it doesn’t require a lot of long-term space to invest in a game that adults and kids alike can play for many years. Some ping pong tables can even come with other games (like pool) so you can switch it up from time to time. It promotes hand-eye coordination, quick thinking, and precise movements.

#5: Air Hockey

Air hockey has all the fast-paced attention required of a video game without the eye strain. While the arcade tables may be the flashiest and sturdiest, in-home versions of the game are available to make the fun last all summer long.

As the ricocheting puck flies from end to end, your kids will be engaged in friendly competition, on-the-fly problem solving, and excitement!

#6: Hopscotch

Sometimes there isn’t a team around for multiplayer games. Hopscotch is a classic that can be played solo. With just a piece of chalk, some sidewalk, and a stone, there are dozens of versions of the game that can increase in difficulty.

Drawing out the board and then figuring out the different ways to play develops creativity, memory, and gross motor skills, all while getting some physical exercise in, too.

#7: A Deck of Cards

Okay, it’s not a game in and of itself, but the possibilities are endless. If your kids haven’t been introduced to some classic card games, this is a great time to do it! Some great starter games include Solitaire, Spoons, Go Fish!, Rummy, Snap, and War.

You’d be hard pressed to name another purchase that’s so affordable with this much versatility. What makes card games especially great is that they can be made challenging enough for older kids and easy enough for even preschoolers to play. There are even several games that can be played alone. Playing cards promotes teamwork, memory skills, number identification, and healthy competition.

Classics Last Longer than Fads

While it may be tempting to fill summer with complicated store-bought games and the shiniest new contraptions, keep in mind that the classics are classics for a reason. The toy of the season may well end up discarded under the back porch by the end of the week, but learning a classic game or two is going to last a lot longer.

These games get to the core of the social and physical skills that lay a foundation for all kind of positive interactions in the future. Teaching kids how to take turns, create and negotiate their own rules, include teammates of various ages, and think outside of the box is a recipe for long-term success in everything from organized team sports to the classroom to, yes, even video games!

Build Skills that Last a Lifetime

The best thing about these classic options is their adaptability and the ease with which they can be set up. Play them anywhere and adapt them to accommodate changes to the group. It’s the perfect way for kids to make new friends when they head to the park and see people other than their classmates or go to the family reunion and meet up with cousins they haven’t seen in a long time.

Play is a universal language, and providing a simple framework for your kids to communicate with one another does a lot more than get them away from the screens for a few hours — it sets them up for positive interactions for years to come!

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