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We speak to psychologists on how to keep children engaged during the holidays. Image Credit: Pexels/Anna Shvets

School's out! Mums and dads staying home this winter have their work cut out for them. The sudden change in routine can be jarring for both parents and kids, as they try to navigate long stretches of leisure time ahead. It's in the unscheduled hours that the iPad, PlayStation or cartoons on the telly become attractive options for resting and keeping boredom at bay.

What are the effects of digital media use on kids?

More screen time could spell sleep problems, lethargy, lack of physical activity, reduced interaction with family and friends, and other less desirable effects on kids. Our experts say that it's not uncommon for screen time to shoot up during school holidays.

"If we counteract ‘boredom’ with screen time, children and young people won’t have the opportunity to learn their own new and creative ways to spend their time," said Dr Elizabeth Aizlewood, a clinical psychologist at the Aspris Wellbeing Centre, Dubai.

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Screen time isn't harmful to kids, as long as it's moderated and distributed among other activities. Image Credit: Unsplash/Bruce Mars

Daily screen time among kids averages around four hours, though current guidelines suggest that the cut-off must be two hours and no more. And, this restriction doesn't apply to children under the age of two, because they shouldn't be allowed any screens, to begin with.

Ozan Akbas, a clinical psychologist with the Aspris Wellbeing Centre, Dubai, details some research-based evidence: "Studies have found a relationship between TV watching and changes in the parts of the brain [that] are linked with intellectual functioning. A negative correlation was also found between IQ (intelligence quotient) and excessive TV viewing.

"[Other] studies suggest that, irrespective of physical activity, children who have more than an hour of screen time have lower levels of physical strength."

How can non-digital ways of entertainment help?

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Try taking part in non-digital methods of entertainment with your child. Image Credit: Unsplash/Josh Applegate

However, mums and dads are aware that digital media use for kids is inevitable, whether in school or at home. Not all screen time is bad. Children may still make use of their school tablets for homework and mobile phones for keeping their guardians informed.

In fact, gadgets and gizmos have been a great source of inspiration, education and connection, notes Dr Aizlewood. "So long as a child is also engaging in a wide range of different activities, including social, physical, educational and relaxation, some screen time in between is unlikely to be harmful," she added.

Now that we've established that moderation is key, let's look at how to go about introducing non-digital methods of play. According to the American Academy of Paediatrics, says Dr Aizlewood, working towards cutting down screen time as a family may be more effective, rather than dictating strict hours. An example would be co-watching their favourite shows with them and discussing values.

Editor's tip
Mums and dads can score up to 50 per cent off on outdoor play equipment and toys as part of Dubai Summer Surprises sale on Amazon. This includes puzzles, card games, outdoor pools and more.

We gathered expert suggestions on non-digital or screen-free entertainment for the holidays, ranging from listening to audiobooks to gardening or baking together. Pick up deals on outdoor play over at Amazon. Sign up for a Prime subscription to get these items quickly with free delivery.

1. Best Creative Activity: The Storymatic Kids

Akbas recommends reading and storytelling as a parent-child activity. Now, while you could pick a book off the shelf and have them read it, there's more engagement in a deck of storytelling cards. The Storymatic Kids is hundreds of stories stitched together with the help of 360 cards. Each contains a wide variety of prompts, characters, scenes and situations for endless fresh tales. A tabletop game designed for children five and up, Storymatic Kids improves public speaking, listening skills, sequential thinking and imagination. It can even kick off some early creative writing. Teachers and parents in the reviews use this tool to encourage family bonding, and say it's always a fun time for everyone involved.

2. Best Outdoor Activity: Play22 Kids Gardening Tool Set

Invest in child-friendly gardening tools to get your pre-teen outdoors. Weeding out the lawn, sowing seeds and watering the plants is easy and engaging labour for kids, says Akbas. Gardening with the parent is also another way for the family to bond while breaking a sweat. This gardening set made for children's small hands can be an excellent introductory kit to yard work. Unlike gardening toys, the Play22 tool set is a scaled-down version of adult tools, say reviewers. The wooden handles, and metal heads with no sharp edges, are markers of sturdy quality. There are 12 tools in this kit, including a watering can, gardening gloves, shovel, fork and rake. Children aged three and above, as well as adults, have put it to use.

3. Best Kitchen Activity: Chef'n Sweet Spot Ice Cream Maker

Encourage them to whip up their own dessert from scratch. Dr Aizlewood suggests cooking or baking as an activity to break up screen use. What better way to lure the kids from their tablets than with the promise of ice cream? This Sweet Spot ice cream maker by Chef'n prepares homemade frozen desserts in an instant, and all without electricity. Pour your ingredients onto the frozen pan and roll the mixture with the included spades till it solidifies. Kids can pick their own choice of fruit, chocolate and nut toppings, too. You can also use the recipe book to make frozen yoghurt, sorbets, gelato and other refreshing desserts. Reviewers confirm it's simple to use for little ones on their own and cleans up well.

4. Best Indoor Activity: Everest Toys Crazy Forts

Let them build their own cosy nook to read, share make-believe tales and journal. Upon Dr Aizlewood's advice, we've picked a fort-building kit that can easily take a friend group to put together. In this 69-piece set, there are 25 geometrically precise balls and 44 sticks to connect them. Kids can create a fort in any shape and size, so they'll never get bored of their hideout. This kit comes with glow-in-the-dark balls for some extra fun. They can even unlock more play structures with an additional set of Crazy Forts. It has a creative element that mums and dads in the reviews are ecstatic about. The fort is sturdy enough to support sheets and fairy lights.

5. Best Family Activity: The Game of Life

Take a break from video game consoles and challenge the kids to a round of old-school board games. Akbas says multiplayer board games are a great alternative to screen time. We crowned The Game of Life as our best family-friendly pick, per our board game expert. Kids aged eight and up can take part and grasp the rules as well as adult players. A cross between Sims and Monopoly, the game takes four players through all the stages of life. The one with the most cash, in the end, takes home the crown. You can stock up on more trending titles to keep children interested throughout the winter.

6. Best Listening Activity: Yoto Mini Kids Portable Screen-Free Audio Player


  • Screen-free children's content
  • Plays podcasts, story books, rhymes and activities
  • Hands-on analogue dials
  • Can be used as a speaker or an audio player with headphones


  • Needs Wi-Fi to load new cards

Still digital but in the most analogue way, the Yoto Mini audio player for children streams stories, rhymes, activities and podcasts, without a screen. Approved by Dr Aizlewood, listening to audiobooks is a great way to switch up your child's winter reading list. It still helps in enriching vocabulary and improving pronunciation of more difficult words. The Yoto Mini player works like a cassette player, loading stories from inserted audio cards at the family picnic, road trip or play dates. A tiny pixel display on the body animates whatever's playing, and it can even be used as a bedtime storyteller and a portable Bluetooth speaker to set some background tunes for gardening or cooking. Each charge powers the player for 20 hours. The only qualm with this is that the player needs Wi-Fi to load cards, which are sold separately. However, this starter pack does include a few to start your child off on their journey to reading.

7. Best Writing Activity: Me: A Compendium: A Fill-in Journal for Kids

Let your kid go to bed with a creative journal entry. This fill-in journal helps kids capture their unique attributes and imagination. Pages are covered in blanks and illustrations, prompting the child to draw or write about interesting facts about themselves. Expect fun questions about travelling to outer space and their thoughts on pickles and lightning. Over the years, parents will end up with a memory log that they can revisit at a later date with their little ones. Mums and dads in the reviews say it lets children truly express themselves and build their self-esteem. Others buy two for a side-by-side activity that they then use to compare and contrast answers as a way of bonding.

Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.