8 Things to Do Instead of Turning on the TV

This post is by regular contributor Kate Fairlie of Picklebums.

I reach for the TV remote and the pile of DVDs when my resources are low. When I am tired or frustrated, when we are in need of a change of pace, or when I need time and space to re-group and start over.

At these times it is easy to switch on the TV but it isn’t always the best choice. So I’m helping myself make a better choice. I’m filling my bag of tricks with ideas for other activities that can also meet these needs.


Just a pile of paper and a big basket of crayons, drawing doesn’t require much effort to set up and there is little mess to clean up.  It encourages us to sit down and slow down, and can be done together or alone. This is a great alternative when everyone is fighting and can’t share.

Some drawing ideas: Draw Big, Crayola Twistables, Simple Outlines

Turn up the music, lets dance! This always cheers me up and lifts me out of a grumpy mood. I tend to go for daggy 80’s music with a good beat and then I dance around like crazy. If the kids don’t join in, it’s only because they are too busy laughing at me and everyone is suddenly feeling a lot less cranky!

Have a Bath

Water play is always a great way to soothe fractured nerves and ground cranky children and the easiest way to play with water is to fill the bath. Collect up some measuring cups and funnels for pouring and measuring, or how about bringing in your collection of plastic animals, or a doll to wash? You could even try making your own bath crayons for fun in the tub!

Find more water play ideas here and here.

Spoken Stories
Reading a story is a lovely quiet, calming activity, but the times when I want to turn on the TV are not the times I have the time or patience to read a story. So I get someone else to do the reading for me!

You can download spoken stories for free at Storynory and there are many wonderful children’s classics available on CD. Some of our favourites include Imagine – a selection of stories by Alison Lester and a selection of Dr Suess Stories read by Rik Mayal.

Cubby House
Build a cubby house with a big sheet and a couple of chairs.  Or perhaps you own a pop up tent or have made Childhood 101’s awesome teepee which will make this activity even easier 🙂 Throw in some pillows and soft toys or a couple of books. This is a great activity for those times when everyone wants me, but I am all played out.

Draw on my Back
You remember that game don’t you? You draw a picture on someone’s back and they have to guess what it is. We also like to do ‘fairy dancing’ on backs while listening to some music. The tip here is to get the kids to do it on your back, just try not to fall asleep!

Get Outside!

If the weather is good (ie. not too hot or too cold) it is easy to send my kids outside. Simple outdoor activities like water painting, totem tennis, a treasure hunt, chalk drawing on the concrete, or even a good old fashioned run will help blow away the cobwebs and change the tone of the day.

Threading or other activities that require small fine movements such as lego, or peg boards (see more ideas here) can help settle the crazies.  This idea of threading felt shapes onto a ribbon snake is a lovely variation that is quiet and removes the threat of small beads escaping all over the place, which is not what you need when you are tired or frustrated!

What activities would you suggest as an alternative to reaching for the remote?

Get Outdoors
Join us for Get Outdoors month this April! Outdoor play everyday, regardless of the weather!


  1. All of these are great! Drawing and music are great diverters for us too, as is outside play if the weather allows. We have a CD of Mem Fox reading her own stories aloud that is brilliant on the spoken story front too.

    I also use different kinds of water play – kitchen water stations and so on – at these times. Playdoh too, but not if part of the issue is that I’m overwhelmed with mess, because that just adds to my sense of futility 😉 Our basket of plastic animals come into their own here; combined with the block box, they provide long stretches of group play with pack-up that the kids can (and do) accomplish by themselves. Puzzles are also a great choice at these times – 100 or 200-piece for the 7.5 year old and almost 6-year-old, and wooden puzzles for the toddler.

    1. Oh how did I forget puzzles!
      I must check out the op shop for some 100 piece puzzles. Now that my girls are bigger we haven’t got many puzzles that really challenge them.

  2. I’m working very hard to reduce my girls to one hour of TV a day after school.

    My favourite trick to achieve this is to go to the park on the way home from school with an afternoon tea picnic.

    Very grateful for this list of ideas as I was wondering what we would do once the weather turned wet.

    1. I’ve just recently cottoned on to the park idea too… We park the car at the park, have a quick play, walk up to school, walk back to the park, have a play and then drive home…. makes for a fabulous stress-free Friday afternoon!

      1. Francesca says:

        I’ve been doing this too. I cottoned on to the idea early on in term and it’s a winner. They don’t even seem that interested in TV when we get home. I’m getting good at preparing picnics too!

  3. Drawing, outside play, water play and building cubbies are all regular fall back ideas here. We also do a lot of play dough which my 2 year old loves. It is a good way to calm him down when he is getting a bit too out of control! We have a big box with dough, cutters, rollers, toys to stick in the dough etc. on a shelf in the covered area of our patio and he can help himself any time he likes or I will get some out and start playing and he soon joins in.

    1. Oh how I long for a decent outdoor space for our kids…. play dough is so much more manageable when you don’t have to worry about all the little bits getting stuck to the bottom of your shoes!

  4. At night when it’s dark, we like to grab a few flashlights (also have used booklights) and just play around with the lights on the ceiling! Using our hands to make them look big, or just seeing what different effects you can make with shining the light. You can also take stencils and project them onto the ceiling.

    I’ll also just set my daughter up at the table with different crafting supplies- stamps and ink pads, glue and cutouts to make a collage, etc. Crafts and art are our most popular activities!

  5. Now that the weather is a little warmer we are heading outside more. Board Games and puzzles are still a hit (especially if I will join in and play). And of course, markers and art supplies…..

  6. This is so great.

    My daughter Harper and I love to have dance parties. It’s been so great for me. I am normally sort of uptight and I never dance in front of people. With my daughter, it’s different. She is so free and unassuming and I can move without reserve. Our dance parties are my favorite time of the day.

    Another thing that we like to do instead of television is play at the piano together. She is only 18 months and not quite ready for lessons but she sure loves to “sing” and “play” while I sneak in some early ear training solfege. It’s great.

    1. It’s good for us adults to have kids around to help us let go and just enjoy the moment isn’t it!

  7. great ideas! others– reading books, making forts, playing hide & seek, playing flashlight tag.

    🙂 Melissa @imaginationsoup

  8. What a great list Kate!

    We have a couple of felt story boards which get used a lot for quiet play (one per child!). And I also find that rotating the art & craft materials helps – stamps, stencils, stickers, glue, pipe cleaners, etc…

    As mentioned by others, playdough is always a winner, and even just taking favourite toys (dolls house, trainset, etc) to a different location (verandah, lounge room, etc) can renew their appeal!

  9. What wonderful ideas!!! I especially love the recipe for the bath crayons, I was just trying to think what the kids and I could make for a friend’s 4th birthday. Does anyone know if you have to use ‘Ivory’ Soap?

    We like heading outdoors too. Must remember to see how my 4 year old handles other puzzles soon.

  10. Seraphimsp says:

    Bathtimes are magic! When my youngest was ill recently being able to pop him in and let him cool down and have a play at the same time was heavenly for him. I like the idea of the bag of crayons and paper though. Going to sort that one out.

  11. Inside – LEGO, once started my kids will play for ages with it.
    Outside – Potion making and mud pies keeps the outside for long periods of time.

  12. bubble936 says:

    lovely ideas…

  13. Francesca says:

    Great list! My eldest (5) also LOVES card games and will turn off the TV the instant I mention playing with him. We’ve got Uno and Go Fish, but I need more! If anyone has any card game recommendations please let me know!

    And I totally agree with the Lego thing as well.

Comments are closed.