How to Entertain Your Kids During Holidays Without Using Screen Time

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Americans have many varied and interesting holidays that we can celebrate together as a family, but sometimes it is hard to keep kids off screens during all the festivities. Even when we want to dig deeper into the significance of a certain day, it is tempting to lean on screens to capture their attention.

Limiting screen time, however, gives kids a chance to stay engaged with others while helping them use their creativity and social skills. Simple hands-on activities and games also encourage kids to sharpen their communication and fine motor skills.

Here are some holidays you can observe at home without relying on more screen time. Refer to this comprehensive list of simple activities for each major holiday in the year.

New Year's Eve and New Year's Day

New Year's Eve celebrations take place all over the world on December 31. Though traditional celebrations include fireworks, parties, or late nights, there are plenty of ways to celebrate with kids in an age-appropriate way.

Non-Screen Activities

As you prepare for the big ball drop, make your own confetti to toss at midnight by letting your kids cut up any spare paper you have around. Get creative with the shapes and sizes to make the celebration even more exciting.

Then, give everyone a chance to say goodbye to the old year in their own way. Ask your kids to gather items that represent or symbolize something meaningful from the past year, like a favorite toy or treasured possession. Have them share why they picked these items, then commemorate it with a photo.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated on January 17 to honor the achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. who led the civil rights movement in the United States. He is remembered for his role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed various types of discrimination.

Non-Screen Activities

To celebrate this holiday with kids, start with learning about the man and the legacy he left by reading some books together that will help shed light on his role in fighting for equality in America. You also can read parts of the “I Have a Dream” speech.

Ask kids what kinds of things they dream of for the future and how they can honor Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy. Afterward, kids can write positive and encouraging words on slips of colorful paper and make a paper daisy chain out of them to symbolize how Martin Luther King Jr. tried to unify different kinds of people.

Valentine's Day

This romantic holiday that takes place on February 14 is popular with couples who want to demonstrate their love and affection for each other, often with flowers, chocolate, and gifts. Kids typically get in on the fun, too, by sharing love-themed cards and treats with their friends. 

Non-Screen Activities

Encourage expressions of love and appreciation by letting kids cut out paper hearts and write something they love about another family member on it. Then have them hide the notes somewhere for the recipient to find later.

Christine Yeh

I write notes on paper hearts that we cut out for each of the kids and stick them on their door while they were sleeping.

— Christine Yeh

Afterward, shift gears and play a simple game with a regular deck of cards. Deal several cards per person and whoever has the most hearts in their hand wins all the cards. Play until all the cards in the deck have been used. The winner with the most cards at the end gets crowned the King or Queen of Hearts.

"We read this book every year called 'The Story of Valentine’s Day' that explains the origin of the holiday and why we give cards and candy to people we like," says Christine Yeh, mom of three. "I also make playdough kits for my kids for all the major holidays. Each kit features two to three colors of scented homemade playdough and all the themed manipulatives to go with it."

Lunar New Year and Spring Festival

Lunar New Year is a 15-day celebration that takes place in late January or February, depending on the lunar calendar. There are versions of Lunar New Year celebrated by Chinese people, Vietnamese people, Korean people, and Tibetan people.

Observers of the holiday often clean out the house to get rid of the old and usher in the new, put up red paper decorations and lanterns, watch lion and dragon dances, set off firecrackers, browse night markets, visit relatives, give children money in special red envelopes, make dumplings, and feast with family.

Non-Screen Activities

Start by reading the book "Bringing in the New Year" by Grace Lin. This colorful and vibrantly illustrated book is a great introduction to many of the Lunar New Year traditions from a child's point of view.

Then prepare your own home properly for the festivities. Make simple paper cuttings by folding a square piece of red paper or tissue paper in half twice, cut shapes and designs out of it. Unfold to see your handiwork and put it up on a window.

Mimic the lanterns of the Lantern Festival held on the last day of celebrations by pasting cut-up pieces of red tissue paper all over a glass jar, collage-style. Cover with a layer of clear glue and let it dry. Insert a battery-operated tea light and enjoy your lantern.

St. Patrick's Day

Although people may not know much about St. Patrick’s Day celebrated on March 17, they do know that you are supposed to wear green.

This is because, according to Irish folklore, wearing green makes you invisible to leprechauns. People often dress in green on St. Patrick’s Day or risk getting pinched!  The holiday was originally observed to mark the death of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. It has since morphed into a celebration of Irish culture featuring parades, food, music, and dancing.

Non-Screen Activities

To get in on the green theme of St. Patrick's day, set a timer for 1 minute and have the kids gather as many green objects from around the house as they can. Whoever comes up with the largest number of green items wins!

You also can build a leprechaun trap with the kids. Gather boxes, paper cups, plastic utensils, ribbons, string, rubber bands, sticks, and other scrap material. Let the kids come up with how they want to trap a sneaky leprechaun. To wind it down, have kids trace shamrocks and write lucky things on them that they hope will happen to them or their friends.

Passover

Passover, which takes place in the spring, commemorates the story of how God liberated Jewish people from slavery in ancient Egypt. The Passover Seder, a feast that typically takes place the first two nights of the 7-day celebration, marks themes like freedom, remembrance of Jewish history, new life, hope, and redemption.

Non-Screen Activities

Learn about Passover with the introductory children's book "The Story of Passover" by David A. Adler. This vibrant picture book tells the essence of the Passover story with the aid of colorful illustrations.

Emily Feinstein

My children have each attended a Jewish Montessori preschool, and each Passover, they prepared for a mock Seder with their class to help them understand the story of Passover.

— Emily Feinstein

Part of the festivities of both the first Seder and second Seder is the hiding of the Afikomen (matzah). Hide Afikomen and challenge the kids to go search for it. The person who finds it typically wins a small prize or money!

Holi

This “festival of colors," which takes place at the end of February or in March, celebrates the beginning of spring with all the vibrancy, fertility, and hope the new season brings. It is typically celebrated by Indian people.

On the eve of Holi, a bonfire called Holika Dahan is traditionally lit to signify burning all negativity. The celebrants throw brightly colored powder and scented water at each other to rejoice at the triumph of good over evil.

Non-Screen Activities

To simulate the celebration of throwing colored powder on clothing in a less messy fashion, cut out white paper into the shape of a T-shirt and let kids splatter washable paint all over the paper shirt. For outdoor play, fill water guns with scented water by adding drops of perfume, essential oil, or fragrance mist into the water and let the kids celebrate in the backyard.

Another backyard idea is to re-enact Holika Dahan by building your own bonfire or using a portable fire pit. Kids can write down some negative things on colorful scraps of paper and then toss them in to signify getting rid of negative thoughts.

Easter

Easter, also known as Resurrection Sunday, is traditionally a Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the hope and everlasting life it brings to all people. The holiday has been adopted by popular culture and now Easter is also celebrated to mark the beginning of spring when the Easter Bunny brings baskets filled with treats for kids. Families also dye eggs.

Non-Screen Activities

Kids love a good Easter egg hunt with those colorful plastic eggs and special prizes inside. When they outgrow it, try creating a scavenger hunt for kids by writing clues on pieces of paper and hiding them around the house and yard.

Have the first clue lead to the next and so on until they find their special prize or treat at the very end. You also can set up an egg and spoon racecourse all over the house. Let kids compete together if there’s enough room or do individual timed runs.

Lacey Madeley

Every Easter we help them fill their baskets with dirt and heavy rocks on Good Friday. Then we cover the basket with a red blanket. On Easter Sunday the kids pull the red blanket away and find that the dirt and rocks have been replaced with sweet treats and treasures.

— Lacey Madeley

Ramadan

Adherents of Ramadan spend the month-long Muslim holiday fasting during the day to remind them of the poor around the world. Muslims who observe Ramadan spend time extra time focusing on spiritual activities and acts of charity. Ramadan starts at different times each year depending on the lunar-based Islamic calendar.

After the last day of Ramadan, families hold a celebration called Eid al-Fitr to break their month-long fast. This three-day celebration includes prayers, gift-giving, wearing new clothes, eating treats, and feasting with friends and family.

Non-Screen Activities

Ramadan involves charity and doing good deeds, so encourage children to practice generosity by saving money for the needy. Set out an empty jar that they can fill throughout the month with change or allowance money. 

Inspire good deeds by leaving out strips of paper next to a stapler. Every time someone in the family does a good deed, write it down and attach each new strip to a paper daisy chain. See how long it can get by the end of the month! As part of the gift-giving tradition, encourage kids to give the gift of encouragement by writing and decorating happy notes to send to a local nursing home.

Cinco De Mayo

People often mistake Cinco De Mayo for Mexican Independence Day. May 5 is not the celebration of independence but is actually the anniversary of the Mexican army’s victory over France during the Franco-Mexican War in 1862.

Once a day of remembrance, it has since expanded to include a celebration of Mexican-American culture. Colorful decorations and symbols of Mexican heritage usually fill spaces hosting Cinco De Mayo parties.

Non-Screen Activities

One way to celebrate the day is to craft a simple piñata using two paper plates, tissue paper, string, a stapler, glue, and candy. Place the paper plates facing each other and staple them together along the edges, halfway around the plates. Then decorate the outside of the plates with cut-up tissue paper or streamers, fill the inside with candy, and staple the opening shut. String it up for homemade piñata fun!

Make your own instrument to shake with a pretend Mariachi band by filling empty plastic eggs with rice or dried beans. Seal it shut with masking tape so it doesn't accidentally open while you are playing with it. If you do not have plastic eggs around, take a plastic cup, fill it with beans, and tape the other on top to close it off. Draw colorful designs on the masking tape with markers.

Juneteenth

Juneteenth is celebrated by the African American community with street fairs, parades, and concerts on or around June 19 to commemorate the ending of slavery in the United States. June 19, or Emancipation Day, was named "Juneteenth" by African Americans in Texas in 1865, marking the day when Union Major-General Gordon Granger read out the order to the people of Galveston, Texas.

The holiday, also known as Freedom Day or Jubilee, emphasizes education, achievement, reflection, and rejoicing. It has been celebrated in the United States by African American people since 1866. On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth an official federal holiday.

Non-Screen Activities

Kids can dig into the history of Juneteenth through free-verse poetry and watercolor illustrations in the picture book "All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom" by Angela Johnson.

After you read the story, take a look together at the Juneteenth flag and talk about the symbolism of the star of Texas bursting into new freedom and the specific colors used to create the flag.

Camora Kuo

For us as a family, it is important to acknowledge the history and the roots [of Juneteenth]. Recognize, realize, and appreciate where we are right now.

— Camora Kuo

Because the day is also about understanding the rich and painful history of African Americans, end your observance by talking about why it is important to honor the emancipation of enslaved people and the struggles Black people still face today. You can speak with kids about Black people's fight to secure rights and justice, as well ways that your family can support equality.

"I also try to make sure we are being of service to someone else," says Camora Kuo, mother of four. "I take the kids to serve at a community center to do something that benefits others."

Fourth of July

Often billed as Independence Day, July 4th marks the anniversary of when the 13 colonies declared their independence from England. The event eventually led to the formation of the United States and is celebrated with fireworks, picnics, barbecues, parades, flag-waving, and lots of red, white, and blue decorations.

Non-Screen Activities

Celebrate the red, white, and blue with a tie-dye activity. This creative project will take some preparation but gather some white t-shirts and a tie-dye kit. Kits usually come with gloves, plastic tablecloths, and rubber bands.

When your project is complete, cured, washed, and dried, wear your creation to a July 4th Parade. If you have missed the parades, march in your own personal parade around the house. End the route at a blanket spread on the floor for a July 4th picnic.

It is also important to spend time on July 4 recognizing how the United States was founded through the colonization and oppression of Indigenous people, enslavement of Black people, and exploitation other people of color. It is a good chance to talk with your kids about the full picture of American history.

Indigenous People's Day

Indigenous People’s Day is celebrated on the second Monday in October. The holiday honors Indigenous peoples and commemorates their histories and cultures, while also acknowledging their resilience in the face of a long history of marginalization.

Non-Screen Activities

Take this opportunity to learn about Indigenous peoples and the contributions they have made to our country today. You should also spend some time talking to kids about the history of oppression Indigenous Americans have faced and continue to face.

Refer to a map that shows where Tribal Nations traditionally lived. Locate your home state and learn about the Indigenous communities who currently live in your state.

Pick up the children's book "Go Show the World" by Wab Kinew to teach kids about historic and modern-day Indigenous heroes, including Tecumseh and Sacagawea.

Or check out "Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina" by Maria Tallchief with Rosemary Wells. Readers will discover how Tallchief grew up on an Osage Indian reservation and went on to become a world-renowned prima ballerina.

Halloween

October 31 is a day to dress up in costumes and trick-or-treat around the neighborhood. People decorate the outside of their homes with jack-o-lanterns, black cats, skeletons, witches, and other spooky symbols. Kids and adults attend Halloween parties in costume, which often serve themed food and lots of candy.

Non-Screen Activities

Play candy Jenga by gathering candy that is relatively flat and having kids take turns stacking them on top of one another. The goal is not to be the one that knocks down the candy tower.

You also can do a Halloween version of Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey. Draw a jack-o-lantern pumpkin on a large piece of paper or poster board. Cut a triangle to use for the nose. Blindfold kids and have them try and pin the nose on the jack-o-lantern.

Diwali

If you see colorful lights adorning homes sometime in October and November depending on the Hindi lunar calendar, you might have just sighted a family celebrating Diwali, a holiday of Indian origin.

Spanning five days, it is called the Festival of Lights because traditionally, small oil lamps called diyas are lit in homes, shops, and public places to mark new beginnings and the victory of light over evil. People also set off fireworks and serve sweets during celebrations.

Non-Screen Activities

To create on your own, make your own version of diyas out of playdough and decorate the sides with beads, plastic jewels, and other craft bits. You can also have the kids gather all the tea lights and twinkle lights you can find and arrange them on a table.

Roshni Arora

We light up our home to let the 'good' inside our house.

— Roshni Arora

Try making a simple traditional Diwali treat like Chawal Ki Kheer, a sweet rice pudding made with rice, milk, condensed milk, sugar, cardamom powder, and almonds.

"First, we clean our homes to bring good fortune," says Roshni Arora, mom of two, who celebrates Diwali with her kids to teach them about their heritage and to have fun together. "Last year, we put up our holiday lights to show off our culture. We also decorate our house with Rangoli, which are creative colorful floor designs, to bring us good luck in the new year!."

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, usually over a large meal. The traditional meal typically includes turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. As families gather together, they give thanks for all they have and are reminded to share their blessings with others.

Non-Screen Activities

Decorate for Thanksgiving using children's crafts. Trace children’s hands-on cardstock, or let them use washable paint to make a handprint. Once dry, they can write something they are thankful for on each “finger” of the handprint. Then set these out around the dining area.

For a kids' table centerpiece, have kids paint a paper lunch bag orange. Then stuff it with shredded paper and twist the top closed to make a paper pumpkin. Color the tip of the “stem” green. Make a few in different sizes to create a cute centerpiece arrangement.

Thanksgiving is also a time to recognize the colonial history of the United States and learn about and honor Indigenous communities. Try looking for a local Indigenous charity you can volunteer with.

Christmas

Christmas is a Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Celebrants attend church, sing Christmas carols, exchange gifts, and share the day with their family. Christmas is observed in a non-religious away as well with Santa Claus, a Christmas tree, stockings, red and green decorations, special songs, gift-giving, and gatherings with loved ones. 

Non-Screen Activities

Part of the fun of Christmas is decorating for the holiday. Help kids to construct a handprint paper wreath by tracing everyone’s hands onto green sheets of cardstock or construction paper. Cut out the handprints, arrange them into a circle with fingers pointing outward, and glue them into place. Add red pom-poms and red ribbon and hang the completed wreath on an interior door somewhere.

Make an advent calendar together to help them count down the days until Christmas. Decorate and number 25 small envelopes. Then clip them onto a string. Insert a piece of candy or another small surprise in each envelope. Let kids count down the days until Christmas by removing an envelope every morning to enjoy the surprise inside. 

Hanukkah

For 8 days from late November to December, Jewish families celebrate Hanukkah by lighting a candle on a menorah each night. Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the ancient miracle in which one day’s worth of oil ending up lasting for 8 entire days. This wintertime “festival of lights” includes activities like spinning a dreidel, saying special prayers, singing traditional songs, gift-giving, and eating special foods.

Non-Screen Activities

If you can plan ahead, find a dreidel at a toy store or order one online. Learn how to play this four-sided spinning top, traditionally played during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, with the kids.

When discussing the story of Hanukkah, remind children about the significance of the candle's role in the miracle. Then hide a small candle under overturned plastic cups and shuffle them around. Have children guess which cup the candle is hidden under. When they find the candle, an adult can help them light it to re-enact a part of the story.

Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a Swahili word that means "first," signifying the first fruits of the harvest. The seven-day holiday is celebrated by Black Americans, and starts on December 26. It affirms African family, community, and social values by honoring seven principles—unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

Black American families light a candle in the kinara each night and address the principle of the day in different ways through discussion, story-telling, dancing, crafts, and family time. The celebration ends with a community feast on December 31. 

Non-Screen Activities

Learn about Kwanzaa by delving into children's books together. "The Story of Kwanzaa" by Donna L. Washington gives an introduction to the holiday by providing a very general history of Africa, then delving into the customs and traditions of Kwanzaa.

After learning about Zawadi, lead kids to make a hand-made gift for someone. Kids can make up their own crafts, like stringing together a necklace or bracelet, sewing or knitting a simple project, writing a story and binding it into a book, or designing a set of bookmarks.

Families can also talk about their own heritage by creating a family tree. Draw a tree on a large piece of paper and have kids write the names of their immediate family and as many generations back as they can. If you have photos of family, add them to the tree.

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