Ten ways to keep restless children busy without screens
Here are some of the favourites "brain games" for children from The Squirrel's Tail author, Julian Reisz and his family:
"Having a restless child injured or immobile in a cast can be very challenging emotionally, but keeping your child busy and stimulated doesn't have to be difficult. Car journeys and sitting at dinner also need to be filled with games in some families."
- We play ”I’m thinking of an animal” where the others have to ask less than 20 questions you can only answer yes or no to, before guessing. This works well for all ages, our middle son had the legendary answer "I'm thinking of a black and white tomato fish" when he was small, which was impossible to guess. So judge for yourselves!
- Characters game – one person says a character in a film, cartoon or book we all know and the others have to in turn say other characters from the same story until none are left.
- Make me a story - each child chooses a random thing, place or person with up to a total of ten random words. Then one of you has to invent a story using those words in the narrative. It's very difficult and younger children simply smash all the words together into a very short non-sensical narrative but it's a great way to teach children the importance of flow and drama in story-telling. Perhaps practising this skill was the inspiration Julian needed for The Squirrel's Tail...
- "I'm thinking of someone" - this is a variant of the animal game, but can be easy with family and friends or very difficult with characters in a film or book.
- Quizzes – constant questions and guessing games, about animals we’ve seen, Spanish words they’ve learnt and stories we know. Now that our older children are in primary school learning about The Middle Ages, the human body, space and Vikings, they have equally challenging questions for us. This can be done orally, or we have taken it in turns to put post-its around the house for the rest of the family to walk around the house answering quiz questions up on the wall.
- Super heroes – Edward’s favourite game, either guess the superhero or invent super heroes with strange superpowers based on people we know. So for example, Alexander as a baby was called Dribble Man, he dribbles everywhere so thieves slip up and then he crawls on top of them to stop them.
- The alphabet game - think of a theme such as countries or animals an either take it in turns, each choosing a letter or everyone has to find an example from the theme for each letter of the alphabet.
- "I'm going on a picnic" - this is a favourite for car journeys. One person chooses a rule for their picnic and announces what they can take (3 examples) and 1 thing they can't take. Then everyone takes it in turns to guess things they might be able to bring on the picnic until you work out what the rule is. It could be easy rules, such as only yellow things, or harder rule such as only things beginning with S or much harder such as words containing the letter O, or only things derived from animals.
- Dilemmas - Invent different scenarios with moral dilemmas for children to discuss and choose their best option. For example, "your best friend steals sweets and asks you to take some of them without telling your parents. Do you A. enjoy the sweets? B. say no and cut ties with your friend? C. call the police?" And then discuss around it "What if it was something bigger than sweets? What if you had stolen something? What would your parents say?". It sounds like a very moral discussion but surprisingly engaging with children.
- Sleeping hedgehogs - this was a game I invented as a toddler to keep busy when visiting my sleepy parent's bed in the morning. It's ideally played in a bed in the morning. You all pretend to be a family of hedgehogs, about to get ready for winter hibernation. You choose your roles as parents and children in the hedgehog family and start by imagining what would be needed to prepare the nest, such as leaves, twigs, maybe sheep's wool. Then you discuss and agree on what food the hedgehogs need to fill their bellies ahead of the long sleep. Then you pretend to have a hedgehog feast before all sleeping under the duvet in your nest. The mummy hedgehog then decides when it's spring again, and you peak out of the duvet to see if the snow has melted and if you can hear birds singing. We've tried variants with bears in caves and squirrels but hedgehogs are definitely the favourite!
Colouring books and jigsaw puzzles are always useful to keep a child busy. And of course, bedtime reading is an important way to calm down restless children before they go to sleep. You can find The Squirrel's Tail colouring book, jigsaw puzzle and book here.