Even Behind Closed Doors

This page has been looking at alternative things that children can do rather than stare at screens. Of course, not all kids are alike, but it has been shown that activity is energizing, and can make the idea of additional exercise seem appealing. There is evidence that even a small amount of motion is more beneficial than an inert state. And a silly game that a parent initiates as a time-filler might strike a spark of curiosity that leads somewhere amazing. With any luck, an older child will learn time-consuming tricks and enjoy playing the wise elder by passing along the art of filling time by actually doing something.

How many steps does it take to get from place to place? From the front door to the bathroom basin? Compose a list of starting points and destinations, and ask for a report. Or request an inventory of things in the home that are round, and a complementary list of things that are not round. It doesn’t need to make sense, as long as the child is moving, and out of your hair for a few minutes. Give up notions of utility, and cultivate a philosophy of discovering what might seize a child’s imagination or promote a sense of mission in wanting to master an obscure skill. you never know what odd abilities might come in handy, later in life.

The world’s smallest planetarium

Turn a paper cup upside down and poke holes with a pushpin, in the shape of a constellation. Turn off the lights and shine a flashlight up through the cup. If you are lucky enough to have a bathtub, you can plant a child in there with a set of finger paints and let them go crazy making art on the sides of the tub, or themselves, with easy cleanup. Inside an apartment, a parent can use string or masking tape on the floor to make an imaginary tightrope, or a maze.

Use an old lipstick or something else removable, to draw a puppet face on a hand. Figure out how to make monsters with hand shadows.

Save that paper

Paper can serve many purposes, and recycling different kinds of it can be rewarding. Maybe you can get hold of a roll of newsprint, or flatten out sheets of the paper that shippers crumple up to protect things in boxes. Stand the child up and draw around their feet, and ask them to use the outlines to design shoes. A big enough sheet can be laid on the floor, and a grownup can trace the outline of a child to make a lifesize paper doll, which the child can color in.

Show the child how to draw a circle by tying a string around a pencil. With sturdy paper and tape, you can make glove puppets (see the illustration) and color them in and put on a show. Fold paper a few times and cut out bits with scissors, to make snowflakes and other lacy designs.

Save up magazines to cut out pictures of animals, then mix and match the parts to create new animals. Make cards with collage pictures, scramble the cards facedown and pick one to make up a story about. From near-lifesize photos of faces, cut out parts to reassemble in a new way, and make a mask. Cut out mouths, and paste them onto popsicle sticks, to create a bouquet of smile flowers.

Learn how to do origami (see picture above). Of course, you can buy special multi-colored thin paper, but many kinds will work fine. After a holiday, sections of gift-wrap paper can be salvaged and cut into workable squares to make little sculptures of folded art. With string and a place to hang it from, origami shapes can make an attractive mobile.

Yes, it is still possible for a child to survive for an entire day without an electronic screen.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Images by Lorenzo Tlacaelel, vmiramontes, sheldonschwartz, GlueGunGlory/CC BY-SA 2.0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources