#265 - 5 Alternatives to Screen Time + Routine Ideas for Summer

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC July 19, 2023

#265 - 5 Alternatives to Screen Time + Routine Ideas for Summer

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5 Alternatives to Screen Time + Routine Ideas for Summer

Summer brings a change in routine and often that includes a lack of structure. This can cause anxiety and challenges with emotional regulation.

If this is the challenge you’re facing, this episode is for YOU!

We dive into some strategies for managing routines during summer - including some resources we’ve created for you! - as well as some ideas for managing screen time during the crazy summer months. 

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Episode 261 Sensory Friendly Bedtime Routines

Episode 187 Meet the Sensory Threshold

Episode 237 Sensory Overload

Screen Time Research

Reusable Water Balloons (Amazon)


5 Alternatives to Screen Time + Routine Ideas for Summer

Amidst the more relaxed structure compared to the school year, creating a routine of activities can help keep children and teens engaged and motivated. We will share ideas for creating a well-rounded schedule and explore alternatives to excessive screen time.

Use Visual Schedules And Calendars

Creating a summer routine becomes much easier with visual aids such as calendars, lists, and clocks. These tools provide structure and help children stay on track while transitioning between activities or managing their time effectively.

Calendars can be used to plan the week and establish a routine. By listing activities like going for walks, playing board games, or reading in weekly and daily segments, children know what tasks to complete and when.

Maintain Consistency In Mealtime

Mealtime is one of the most important routines to establish - it gives your child something to look forward to and provides a safe conversation space. In addition, having consistent meal times helps regulate hormones and metabolic processes throughout the day, ensuring that they remain focused on the tasks at hand.

Set a consistent meal day and time each week and encourage your child to help prepare them. This will give them a valuable opportunity to learn how to cook and eventually have the skills to make their meals.

Creating A Regular Bedtime Routine

Longer days in summer can disrupt sleep as our brains struggle to recognize when it's time to sleep due to the extended daylight. However, a consistent bedtime routine for your child can greatly enhance their sleep quality and overall well-being.

Enhancing your sleep quality may require creativity during summer, but the rewards are worthwhile. You may want to consider:

  • Blackout curtains to help your brain transition to bedtime mode.
  • Keeping your windows or shades open during the night and replacing bright lights with a gentle red glow for a soothing ambiance.
  • Relaxing music, comforting white noise, or the gentle aroma of essential oils diffusing.
  • Establishing an after-dinner wind-down routine that includes stretching, light reading, and journaling.

Manage Your Own Sensory Needs

By regulating and being mindful of your sensory experiences, you provide optimal support for your child's sensory needs. Just as you would prioritize putting on an oxygen mask before assisting your child, it is vital to prioritize your well-being before attending to others.

Experience a moment of tranquility by putting on a pair of noise-canceling headphones and immersing yourself in a captivating podcast. In addition, taking a break to exercise outdoors or going for a leisurely walk can help relax your nervous system.

Incorporate Sensory Activities Throughout The Day

Addressing your child's sensory needs when managing routine changes is vital. During the summer season, try to provide them ample chances for outdoor play at various intervals throughout the day.

Let them experience the sensation of walking barefoot on the morning grass, tree climbing, hiking, and exploring splash pads. Encourage them to remove their sunglasses and immerse themselves in the fresh air, embracing nature's pure and simple beauty.

Limiting Screen Time in Summer

Extensive research has consistently demonstrated a strong association between excessive screen time and detrimental effects. These include impaired attention, diminished behavioral control, delayed language development, and compromised executive functioning.

Although we recognize that this may differ for children with sensory processing disorder or other disabilities, it is still vital to establish a consistent screen time routine. Every child has unique needs, and here are a few straightforward strategies to create a lasting routine.

Set Limits

Instead of demonizing screens, it is more productive to establish limits and ensure that your child's screen time is beneficial rather than harmful. Collaborating with your child to develop a fixed daily duration can be helpful.

To illustrate, you can consistently set aside 30-60 minutes of screen time each day based on your child's age. It's not intended as a form of punishment or reward but rather as a daily allowance that can be used as desired.

You can monitor the time using a watch with a built-in timer or by recording the start and end times on paper. If you utilize visual schedules with your children, you can incorporate screen time into the plan.

Join Your Child During Screentime

If your child is engrossed in a cartoon while you're preparing dinner, engage in conversation about the cartoon, share laughter, and show genuine interest in their thoughts and impressions of what they're watching. Doing so will strengthen your bond while creating cherished memories together.

Sitting together and enjoying a cartoon can create a valuable bond during screen time. By doing this, you not only nurture your relationship with your child but also respect their routine and allow them to fully appreciate their allocated screen time.

No Screens Before Bedtime

While it may be challenging, especially if your routine involves letting them watch cartoons while you cook dinner, it's essential to approach this issue with purpose. You can replace these activities with calming alternatives like reading books or drawing to help your child relax and get ready for sleep.

Be Consistent With Screentime Rules And Expectations

It can be quite challenging to reduce screen time for a child who is accustomed to it; however, giving in to tantrums may inadvertently reinforce future outbursts. Therefore, it is crucial to prioritize nurturing kindness, maintaining composure, and being consistent in your approach.

Five Alternative Activities To Screen Time

Rather than relying on ad hoc screen time, which often happens when your child is bored or when you need time to prepare dinner, we have developed a versatile list of activities that integrates into different situations. By planning and having these activities readily available, you will always have a reliable fallback option.

Activity #1: Water Play Outside

Encouraging outdoor play with water and mud is a fantastic alternative to screen time. Allow your child to take the lead and explore their creativity while participating in squirt guns, reusable water balloons, a water table, a kiddie pool, or a water-filled tub.

Activity #2: Arts And Crafts

Unleash your creativity by drawing pictures, painting, or decorating rocks, and explore the natural world by making leaf rubbings with paper and crayons. For added fun, craft fortune tellers, also known as cootie catchers, by gluing pieces of paper together.

Activity #3: Have A Scavenger Hunt

Prepare a scavenger hunt for your child, providing them with a list of items to find around the house or backyard. The possibilities for the hunt are endless - they could search for various household items, items of different colors, or items of different shapes.

Activity #4: Cook Together

Rather than having your child watch cartoons while you cook, involve them in the meal preparation process by stirring, mixing, kneading, and planning. If they are old enough, encourage them to write down the recipe and the required ingredients.

Activity #5: Listen To Music Instead Of Watching TV

Consider playing music on Spotify or even watching appropriate music videos on YouTube. Immerse the room in music and indulge in a spur-of-the-moment dance party while captivating your child with an entertaining game or their beloved toys for a brief moment of joyous connection.

In summary, ensuring children's physical, mental, and social-emotional health requires setting limits on screen time. By introducing alternative activities, you can create a summer filled with joy, learning, and a stronger bond between you and your child.





While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.

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