30 great ideas to give your kids non-tech toys
When kids are getting too much tech time
“Kids……… Kids……. Kids….. KIDS… KIDS.. KIDS!!!!!” I was standing 3 feet away from them, and they couldn’t hear me. It was like I was in another dimension and trying to claw a hole in the ether and make my way back to them (ok, I’ve been watching too much Stranger Things). But I wasn’t in another dimension. They were…watching TV. “This is ridiculous,” I muttered, and I unplugged it, bringing them crashing back to our world in a chorus of complaints. Remember when a channel that didn’t have any late-night or early-morning programming had static? I’ve caught my kids staring at static on the TV. Mesmerized. They become non-responsive zombies when a screen flickers before their eyes.
Since they are so wild about TV, we’ve tried using screen time as a reward. Finish your chores by X time and you get 30 minutes to watch a show or play a game. They were ON. IT. On it!! They flew through their chores, but that didn’t work for us. Their behavior changed dramatically. Whiney, fighting, crying, meltdown-ing, tantrum-ing, aggressive, body-snatched children. I didn’t even recognize them. They weren’t watching violent shows, but something about screen time changes them.
So…we don’t let our kids have much screen time. It’s not worth it when it makes them act that way. There is no TV during the week, which is fine because we are busy with sports. We have family movie night on Fridays, and they can watch on Saturday morning until we get up. It’s our effort to try to sleep in. Even in the summer, no TV during the week, no matter how bored they are. It’s possible to live without TV, even with six kids. There are times I have used the electronic babysitter, but it is the rare exception, not the rule. We have 1 tablet per kid, but they only get to watch that if we go on a road trip that is three hours or longer, on flights, and if I have to take all 6 kids to my annual lady parts exam and I want them to quietly face the wall and not look or ask questions.
The do not have free access to the TV, tablets, computers, or our phones, but I’m human. I’ve had my own moments when I need 30 minutes in my room alone without an interruption or we are all going to be crying. Or when they are so sick and it helps take their minds off the constant coughing or vomiting. But this is not the normal at our house. We avoid tech toys for kids.
Our oldest are 11 now, and they actually asked for iPads, phones, and laptops for Christmas. You GUYS. I don’t even have an iPad. I have a Kindle to read on. I can’t even fathom giving them one. I assume it’s the age and some of what they see among friends. Apparently they are the only 5th and 4th graders on the planet (or at their school) without a smart watch or phone. I’m ok with that. They will learn to be as well. I handed back their Christmas lists and told them that there was no possible way they were getting any of those things in the foreseeable future.
This episode of The Simpsons came out years ago, but this one scene made a huge impact on me. I’ve never forgotten it. This is what happened when the Itchy and Scratchy show got boring:
This is the childhood my kids are having, the playing outside childhood, the imaginative childhood, and that’s what I want.
When it comes to gift-giving, it’s become standard to wrap up an iPad for a 2-year-old. I’ve stopped short as an iPad came skidding across my path at the store, and I returned it to its owner…in the stroller. iPads are expensive, and they are basically hand-held TVs. I can’t fathom giving one to my kids. It works for some people. I get it. We all do the best we can and fight the battles we choose. This is one of my battles. Minimal electronics for my kids for as long as possible. You get to choose your battles.
Am I worried my kids will be behind in this technological age? No. TV watching is not a required skill. Neither is Minecraft. They use the computer at home and school for assignments. If my hands are busy I have them type texts for me. They occasionally email their friends. And I am 100% certain that when the time comes for them to get a phone, they will figure it out fast.
I recently shared our gift-giving strategies in this post about the want, need, wear, read categories, and our main gift which is giving experiences instead of things. Both of those posts have free downloads FULL of gift ideas. Today, I’m sharing another list of the best non-screen gifts your kids will actually play with. We’re going old-school. Like, 10 years ago old-school. You know, WAY back. We’re talking toys that don’t plug in. These are all perfect for the Want category in this post. Most of them don’t even take batteries. Non-battery toys are my favorite.
The 30 Best Non Tech Toys for kids
Legos – My kids will play for HOURS with Legos. And they continue to ask for more sets, and continue to come up with new creations. My girls love the Lego Friends sets, and my boys are really into the Ninjago and Minecraft sets. All 3 boys are asking for this set, but it’s way more than we spend on the Want gift, so when they get their grandparent money, we will encourage them to pool their money and buy it together.
Remote control cars – Ok, this does have a rechargeable battery, but they are so much fun! The price range on RC cars is huge. You can spend into the thousands on these, but we are talking $50 or less here. For the price, the best ones we’ve found are these, these, and this. A word of caution. The remotes only have 2 frequencies, so you can’t have more than 2 going in the same area. Even if you get different brands, this can be a problem, so before you wrap them up, make a huge sacrifice and get them out and test them (you know I mean play with them). Also, we charge them on Christmas Eve so they can play with them immediately on Christmas morning.
Bikes – This is hands-down one of their favorite toys. Several years ago when I was nursing my youngest, the boys came bursting into my bedroom (they were 6, 6 and 5). “MOM!!! Guess what! We just rode our bikes all the way around the block. And WE DIDN’T EVEN DIE!!” That’s great! Although I’m concerned that you did it thinking death was a possibility. Anyway, bikes are a classic. It’s transportation, it’s exercise, it’s fun, and they love when we go on family bike rides. Our younger ones have had this kind of bike to learn to ride on, or you can also take the pedals off a regular bike and get the same effect.
Dolls – When I gave my oldest daughter her first doll at 14 months, she punched it and threw it across the room. She loved trucks and trains, apparently. Now that she is older, she has hit a super girly phase, and she is all about dolls. Some of our favorites include this one, which is on the most expensive end, but worth it if she’s really into it. This is a great dupe for a fraction of the cost for your child who is harder on things and not likely to take good care of it. This one was the favorite for years and years and is the perfect first doll. And this one is so soft and sweet, no hard parts, and our youngest loved her.
Doll stroller – Little mommies and daddies love pushing their babies in a stroller. Or sitting in them and having their siblings push. Whichever.
Dress ups – Our kids love to dress up. We have some of the actual Disney princess dresses, but these and these are less expensive, and just as nice, if not nicer. My daughter has 2, and she wears them every single day. And sleeps in them. We’ve had several of these. My boys love these. Still. This is our most recent addition. At 11 years old, they are still playing dress up.
Rollerskates/rollerblades – In my younger years (I mean grade school), I went rollerskating and loved it. My kids had these until they outgrew them. I suggest some protection like this to make falls less painful.
Hobby kits – One of my boys has loved rocks since he was a preschooler. He has begged to buy the $30,000 amethyst geode in the store window on multiple occasions. We bought him this kit, which he loved, and this book to go with it. Another of my boys loves to build, design and create. He does so much with his Legos and has tried to make them functional. He would love something like this.
Arts and crafts – My daughter loves crafts and art and wants this and this. She has had this for 2 years, and still loves to watch Youtube videos to learn how to do more designs. She has made everyone she knows at least one bracelet. She has asked for this as well.
Megablocks – Little ones who are too small for Legos love these. We had years of fun with them. Even now when we visit my parents they pull them out and build.
Play kitchen – My older kids still play with this, but it’s mostly as they play with my youngest, who is 4. She loves to make us food and feed it to us. She’ll grab paper and a pencil and take our orders (she just scribbles or makes a few letters), and then bring us something delicious to eat.
Shopping cart – My kids loved to play with these. They treated them more like race cars sometimes, but they filled them with all kinds of things and walked around delivering items. They are super sturdy, practically indestructible.
Trike – Before they can ride a bike, this is a classic, and we love this one because it is really high quality, has a seatbelt and an optional handle attachment, just in case you are out on a walk and someone quits on you.
Scooter – This is another favorite mode of transportation, and we’ve loved this version for the older kids, and this one for my youngest, who has zero interest in a trike or a bike, but is a daredevil on her scooter.
Train set – This has probably been the most favorite, loved, played with set in our home over the years. It was everything to them for years. When I finally sold our set this summer because they had outgrown it, we were all sad. It was the end of an era in our family. I got really teary about it, but they told me it was time. My kids always preferred the wooden tracks and trains over the plastic and metal versions.
Dollhouse and doll family – I bought this one for my oldest when she was in preschool, and she only ever used it as a ladder. When she was younger, she loved trains and trucks, and while I got her those as well, I bought her stuff like this too, and that was my bad. She wasn’t into girly toys. No princesses, dolls, dresses. That changed when she was 8, and she has increasingly moved toward really girly things. My youngest girl loves the dollhouse at my friend’s house. The key for her is to get one that is small. The large ones are overwhelming to her. As adults we tend to think bigger is better, but it’s too big when she could fit in it. This one is very similar to the one she likes to play with.
Doctor kit – I still get my blood pressure and heart checked daily by at least one of my kids. They love to give me shots, especially when I say, “Ouch!”. This is the one we’ve had for years and years.
Nerf guns – Kids need to blow off energy, especially in the winter, and it can be fun to have a game of chase with these soft pellet guns. This is a full tactical gear set that makes it dress up as well.
Pirate ship – We’ve had a few different pirate ships over the years, and this one is absolutely our favorite. The others that are wooden and seem more high quality constantly fall apart. This one hasn’t had any of those problems, and it also has wheels so it can move across the floor without scratching or dragging. It has stood up to lots of abuse from 6 kids. We found the best price for it here.
Tonka trucks – We got these for their third Christmas, and they only make 3 of them, so we got them for our 3 boys. Well, their sister was not happy. She got a princess costume set, and every day she asked why I got the boys trucks but not her. Finally that summer a neighbor gave her a truck of her own, and that’s when she let it go. I’ve always been more into girly stuff myself, so it took me a long time to wrap my brain around the fact that she didn’t want that stuff. I also thought maybe having 3 brothers she needed a turn having girl toys, but no. She didn’t like them.
Play makeup – My 2 younger daughters are all about the girly stuff, and this play makeup set gets used all the time. Sometimes I’m the makeover model, but they usually put it on each other. It doesn’t come off on the brushes, but it looks very realistic in the cases.
School set – I remember playing school. I loved being the teacher. My youngest loves it too, and this set came highly recommended by a few of my sisters-in-law.
Rollercoaster – We played with this for years. It was such a fun way to let them get active in the house.
Playmobil – I never introduced my kids to this, but my nieces and nephews have played with and loved these for years!
If you are ready to be in the same dimension as your children, toy with the idea of choosing non tech toys for your kids. Their imaginations will thank you.
Check out my post about having a magical Christmas when your kids have too many toys here, including a free download of gift ideas. And my post about experience gifts, which also has a free download full of ideas.
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