It is easy when our lives get busy to turn on the TV or hand a tablet to the little ones to keep them entertained, particularly if the tantrums are in double figures by noon.
Although some time in front of screens won’t cause harm and can actually aid their development when introduced to educational apps, it’s best to limit screen exposure in their formative years.
Toddlers can be difficult to please but with these four ideas, they will soon forget about Tinky Winky and Hey Duggee, and will be eager to move onto a screen-free activity.
Walk in the Woods
A trip to the woods can ignite a young child’s imagination. The surroundings of a forest often resemble a scene straight out of a fairy tale, bursting with twisted pathways, altering terrain levels and magical beams of sunlight through trees – a truly magnificent environment for little ones to explore.
Parents or guardians can amp up the levels of fun by creating a treasure hunt, searching for items and creatures you may find in this kind of location with the promise of a prize at the end. For example, how many pine cones can you collect or how many squirrels can you spot?
However, if a treasure hunt can’t keep their attention, it’s also fun to run, skip and jump through the woods. From darting between the trees, hiding behind shrubs to jumping over small obstacles, a forest can quickly become a natural adventure playground for children of all ages. Plus, children will benefit from the fresh air and exercise away from the TV at home.
There are a few kinds of wood in the UK that have features specifically aimed at young children, such as the Gruffalo Trails that can be found in multiple forests and country parks in the UK, such as Thorndon Country Park and Wendover Woods. These include a guided trail through the woods, passing sculptures of characters from the popular Julia Donaldson children’s book. There is also an AR feature that can be experienced through the use of an app, however, if you are cutting screen time, it’s probably best to skip this part of the experience.
Usually discouraged from touching food, utensils or even being in the kitchen, toddlers and young children are very drawn to the idea of helping grown-ups cook. And there is no better way of introducing them to cooking than with baking some sweet treats.
Obviously, the prep work that involves using heat or chopping with have to be done in advance by older ones, but even just stirring and pouring is enough to keep children happy. Plus, if you choose to bake something like shortbread, they are able to get their hands dirty too, which introduces them to new textures and make the process a whole lot more fun.
Recipes favoured by parents and guardians are fairy cakes and simple biscuits.
Fairy cakes involve pouring, stirring and, once cooled, decorating- a favourite step for many as it involves sprinkles, colour and a fair amount of mess.
Similarly, biscuits involve pouring and stirring, also need to be rolled out and cut with cookie cutters into fun shapes, as well as decorated as well.
A simple iced biscuit recipe:
100g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
100g caster sugar
1 medium free-range egg, lightly beaten
275g/10oz plain flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
400g/14oz icing sugar
3-4 tbsp water
2-3 drops food colourings
Preheat the oven to 190C/170C Fan/Gas 5. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until combined and light in colour. Add the vanilla extract to the beaten egg, combine this with the butter and sugar mixture, a little at a time. Beat until fully together without lumps.
Sift in the flour, stirring until it mixes together into a smooth dough. Lightly flour a cool surface and roll out the dough until it is 1cm thick. Get your little ones to pick their cookie cutters and make their shapes. Grown-ups then need to carefully lift the shapes onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper.
Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until pale golden-brown. Set aside to harden for 5 minutes on the tray, then allow to fully cool on a wire rack.
For icing, sift the icing sugar into a large mixing bowl and stir in enough water to create a smooth mixture that isn’t too runny. Ask your little helper to pick a colour and put a few drops of this colouring into the icing mix. Grab a child’s spoon and let them go wild with the decorating. Offer sprinkles, sweets, and other decorative items.
Baking every day would be costly and involve too many trips to the dentist, but this shouldn’t put a stint in your child’s creativity.
Dedicate a day to crafts and clear space in the kitchen or even outside if the weather is nice. These places are easier to clean than risky paint near the living room carpet or glue near the new cotton sofa.
Source some large rolls of paper and set up a range of other materials surrounding it. Some plastic containers of paint, PVA glue and a tub of other items such as pipe cleaners, feathers, googly eyes, and lollypop sticks. Give no instructions and just see what they come up with.
Nurseries, such as Kiddi Caru Day Nurseries and Preschools, encourage children to use different items to paint with, such as pine cones, toy cars, leaves and so on. This allows them to explore textures and see different patterns made by these objects. This activity can be replicated at home – take some everyday objects, a ball of foil, cotton buds to dip and stamp into paint or even straws to blow blobs of paint on paper. Make sure they are observed for this activity to ensure they do not suck up paint through the straw or stick cotton buds in their ears or nose.
Visit an Attraction
If a change of scenery is the only thing that will tear them away from the tablet, visiting one of the many toddler appropriate attractions in the UK may be the way to go.
Although many theme parks are known for their thrill rides, the ones in the UK have toddler-friendly sections as well.
Drayton Manor is home to Thomas Land, an entirely separate section of the park which features rides and decorations in the style of the Island of Sodor. Many of these rides are appropriate for all ages with the supervision of an adult. Drayton Manor also has a zoo, entry to which is included in the park ticket. Once Thomas Land has been exhausted or if you need a break from hearing “they’re two, they’re four, they’re six, they’re eight” a trip to see some red pandas, tigers and monkeys will be a welcome break. The zoo also has a dinosaur statue trail and a farm, inside which is a train station where guests can catch a character from Thomas & His Friends back into Sodor.
Similarly, Alton Towers contains CBeebies Land and hotel. This part of the theme park contains rides, live shows, and attractions based on all your little one’s favourite characters, including Bing, In The Night Garden, Octonauts and Mr Bloom, and once they are tuckered out they can spend the night in a themed hotel room right on site.
Other popular theme parks for little ones include Peppa Pig World, Gulliver’s Kingdom, Legoland, and Twinlakes.
Zoos & Farms
There are many great conservation zoos in England, which means that the money you pay for the tickets goes towards conserving rare wildlife and ensuring that the animals in the zoo are given the best habitats.
Zoos give children the opportunity to learn about different species and their native lands, as well as seeing the different way that certain creatures move, eat and sound. For example, Chester Zoo, one of the UK’s largest, is home to over 21,000 animals and as plenty of activities for children, including face painting, a treetop adventure challenge course, and a Madagascar play space.
If animals and rides aren’t your thing or the total price of tickets is starting to add up research some free locations to visit such as museums or a beach.
There are so many alternatives to screen time to choose from, that will both excite and educate your toddlers.