kids

Just 5 skill-building activities for your kids (that don’t include arts and crafts).

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Look, I will never pretend that screens don’t make parenting easier.

I honestly don’t know if I could’ve been a parent 15 years ago when there wasn’t a device that I could just switch on to an episode of Bluey so that I can have the luxury of doing a wee without someone either sitting on my lap or banging on the door demanding to be let in. 

But even though I have a deep gratitude for screens, like everything, balance is key. When things get a little, well... imbalanced, my kids' behaviour is impacted. 

There is honestly nothing worse than the cry of a 7-year-old whose once-a-week video game session time is up, or the whimper of a 2-year-old who has watched his episode of Playschool and is now being told to turn off the TV. 

It’s also pretty hard for them to take their parents' stern cries of "that’s enough screen time" seriously when we are constantly eyes-down flicking our way through Instagram or devouring the latest controversy on Twitter.

With this in mind, my husband and I have been instigating some new screen-free activities in our household and the response from all of us has actually been really positive.

It seems that we love taking the time to switch off to connect and engage with each other, expand our brains and learn some new skills.

So here is my list of 8 skill-building screen-free family activities that will have the whole family happily forgetting screens… for a while at least.

Image: Supplied. 

1. Get the board games out! 

There are so many cool new board games with really interesting premises to them and are a great way to encourage learning. We have three on rotation at the moment. 

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The first is Story Time Chess, which is a great game that our whole family can play. 

It’s for kids aged three years and up, but my youngest is almost three and he gets the basics of it and joins in. 

Basically, it’s a simplified version of chess using stories to make the rules understandable for children.  

Each of the chess pieces has a fun story that explains how that piece likes to move across the board – some pieces shake their way around the board, others chomp their way (my personal fave). 

It makes chess easier to understand (even for me) and I can see my children’s brains working and expanding as they develop chess strategies without even knowing they’re doing it.

Catan is a game we play when we have our extended family over. Our older nephews and nieces love it, and we all get quite competitive now. 

In Catan, players go on a quest to settle the island of Catan by trading, building roads, creating cities and blocking others from doing the same. 

It’s a game of strategy and a really interesting way to teach young people the ways of the world. 

And my favourite? Azul

I am no artist, but this game allows me to pretend for just a little while that I could be. It’s a unique game in which the players become tile laying artists at the Royal Palace of Evora and score points based on tile layout and design. 

The game itself is just beautiful with these gorgeously decorative tiles and it’s a really creative game to play. 

My eldest also played Ticket To Ride: Europe recently at a friend's house, so we might be extending our board games rotation by one soon.

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2. Charades and Celebrity Heads

I have to admit the almost 3-year-old isn’t the best at this, but has fun if my husband or I help him. Regardless, they're good to play with our 7-year-old when our youngest is in bed. 

It’s even better when my dad comes over and has no idea who half the celebrities are anymore and doesn’t know the children’s movies that my son acts out in charades — there have been a number of accusations that we are making things up from our resident 70+ grandparent.

3. Puzzles

I love doing puzzles with the kids after dinner.  

We’ve been getting lots of the Disney-themed puzzles which my almost 3-year-old gets insanely excited about (but the screaming of "Mickey, Mickey" does get rather tiresome after the first 10 times, I must say). 

We find the 250 piece size is great for all of us as it’s tricky enough to keep our 7-year-old’s brain ticking over, and easy enough that our youngest doesn’t chuck a tantrum in frustration. 

Plus, even at 40, I still get a lot of satisfaction from finishing a puzzle.

Image: Supplied. 

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4. Blocks

This is another great after-dinner activity. 

We pull the blocks out and build towers. Sometimes the aim of the game is to build it as high as possible before it topples and sometimes we use the wide blocks and build roads and ramps and then get the toy cars out and do races against each other.

Image: Supplied. 

Blocks are another great age-leveller — despite almost five years between my boys, they both stay totally engaged and whine when it’s time to pack up. 

5. Memory Cards and Snap

These are two games that the whole family loves playing with me, because I am terrible at both. 

It’s somewhat mortifying when my 7-year-old gets 16 sets of memory cards and I get four in a game (and I’m really trying!). Simultaneously, I am always delighted to watch him use his brain in this way, and it’s probably doing me some good to stretch mine a little in the memory department too. 

Snap I’m actually not that terrible at but it’s one game that my almost 3-year-old loves and I let him win most of the time which sets him off giggling hysterically and I can park my ego in order to ignite that joy in him.  

You can grab Story Time ChessCatan, Ticket To Ride: Europe and Azul at Kmart and your local games retailer.

Feature Image: Supplied/Mamamia.

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Check out a range of board games suitable for the family here.