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Screen Time Breaks

Two young girls holding and using a tablet.
Two young girls holding and using a tablet.

It looks like a cold, windy front is moving in on us just in time for our holiday break! Some lucky folks might be vacationing outside of Montana. Most of us will probably be inside hunkering down for the holidays. I thought this would be a perfect time to share some screen break ideas for children as I know with my own kids we will be doing lots of movies while snuggled up on the couch.

I am in no way dissing screen time here. As a Mom, I fully support some TV time. Actually, I feel that sometimes it’s quite necessary for me to keep my sanity. As an educator, I try hard to take frequent screen breaks or to make sure that sometimes I’m involved in screen time, or at the very least, picking quality things for my kiddos to watch.

Most importantly, I strive for brief yet quality connection and conversation throughout the day that doesn’t involve any screens, which means I put my phone away, too.

I’ll start off with a quick synopsis of how to be involved in screen time so you and your child are sure to have connections and conversations in between screen time.

  1. Be involved in the picking of the TV show or movie. Do some research if you have the time for that. I’ve recently learned that certain shows can be very overstimulating for children and overstimulating shows aren’t good for young, developing brains. I don’t want to go into detail calling out any specific TV shows here, but the research is pretty accessible to everyone. Depending on the age of your child, you can start explaining why you’re choosing not to pick a certain show. Or, if your child is a young 3-year-old like mine, I just tell her, “we don’t have access to that show right now.”

  2. Once you’re involved in the picking of what your child is watching, it’s easier for you to pop in and out and ask questions or talk about the show. Ask your child what the character is doing, do they have a problem to solve, would they ever do something like what they’re doing in the show, etc.

  3. If you're available, sit with them for a quick snuggle. Sometimes just a few minutes of quality time can be just what children need to get their minds off of the show for a hint of time.

  4. Pay attention to the show that way you can set limits for when the TV is going off as well as give your child warnings that it’s coming. I tend to opt for movies because it seems like my daughter will go in and out of playing while the movie is on. With a movie, it feels easier just to turn the TV off for a while when it’s over. Be sure that if your child is watching something on YouTube, or something with episodes, you give them a boundary such as “okay, we’re watching for 30 minutes and then a break.” or “okay, you can watch 2 episodes and then we’re going to do something else.”

  5. Remember that setting boundaries around screen time can feel hard at first. Your children may have some opposition or some breakdowns. But, I hope that if you’re firm in your boundaries you will eventually see success and everyone will look forward to the bonding time that comes during a screen break!

A woman and a girl toddler using a tablet together, sitting on the floor.
A woman and a girl toddler using a tablet together, sitting on the floor.

Now, some new ideas for your family or the children you care for to do during a screen break:

  • Obviously, go outside! If you can! That has been hard the last few days with the below-zero weather, I know. However, even a quick 15-minute walk is so good for everyone!

  • Add fun, new elements to your regular outside time. Sometimes after dinner, we go for a “nighttime” walk. This feels extra special because it’s dark and cold out, not like a normal walk.

  • Make snow paint. I add food coloring or a little paint to old ketchup and ranch bottles then water it down.

  • See what nature you can find that isn’t buried in the snow.

  • Look for animal tracks.

  • Bring a bowl of snow inside then add paint, spices, or cooking utensils.

  • Build a snowman.

  • Sensory play in the kitchen: see my blog post from last winter about “sensory play for the holidays”.

  • Baking projects- find a new recipe and make it together.

  • Have your child help with cooking, even so far as letting them help wash dishes.

  • Write letters or make cards for family and friends. Take a trip to the post office or the mailbox together to send them.

  • Do a kind deed for a neighbor like shoveling their sidewalk.

  • Write notes or make a gift for delivery drivers or postal workers.

  • Have a dance party.

  • Do some stretching or yoga. This is something productive you can do with the TV, too! We like to do kids' Zumba.

  • Do a puzzle or play a board game.

  • Play “I Spy” around the house. This is a good chance to snuggle up on the couch and have a quality conversation along with some learning standards (colors, patterns, how many, etc.).

  • Play salon: brush and style each other’s hair or do some manicures and pedicures.

  • Go through old toys or clothes together and find a local place to donate them.

  • Take a cozy bath or shower for some self-care time. Yes, it’s good to teach children about self-care!

  • Go through your closets together and pick out fun outfits for the week- or do a fashion show with silly outfits!

  • Bird and animal watching out the window. You can keep a journal or a checklist of your observations.

  • Build a fort and read books or have a snack party inside.

  • Cuddle up and tell each other stories or look at old pictures together to reminisce on memories of when your kids were younger.

  • Finally, ask your kids for their ideas and do your best to say YES!


Meghan is a born and raised Montanan, a mama to a rambunctious toddler, and a bonus mom to two amazing preteens. She recently earned a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education. In addition to her position as an Early Childhood Specialist at the University of Montana, Meghan enjoys a variety of odd mix of jobs; nannying, creating and selling travel play dough kits, making essential oil blends for kids, providing families with child guidance on Facebook and Instagram, and now providing ideas and tips to child care providers in partnership with Raise Montana! Meghan is also a content contributor for 406 Families, a site dedicated to connecting families to local events and resources.

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