Helping Babies Entertain Themselves Screen-Free


Sara Adelmann

Fisher-Price’s iPad bouncy seat has spurred another public debate about screen time for babies. Marketers position screen devices as the only option for keeping a baby stimulated while overstressed parents get much needed down-time. Parents, already under pressure to constantly entertain babies, are seeking ways to be good nurturers and still get some time to themselves. The good news is that there is a great alternative that promotes healthy development and gives parents time for a breather— encouraging screen-free independent play. That’s why we are excited to introduce our newest resource: Helping Babies Entertain Themselves Screen-Free.  (For a printable version,  click here.)

Do you ever feel that you have to constantly entertain your baby? That kind of pressure can be exhausting. It may seem that screen time is the only alternative to always “being on” with your baby. But that’s not the case. As long as they are safe, and their needs are met, it’s perfectly fine and important for babies’ development to provide them with opportunities to relax and play independently. It’s how they learn to take an interest in the world, develop imagination, and enjoy their own company. Babies certainly thrive on interaction, but—like you – they also need down time. Here are some screen-free ideas that encourage independent play.

  • Babies are curious from the moment they are born. Infants, especially those too young to hold items, are often content to spend a short time watching you or looking around. If you are comfortable using a bouncy seat or car seat, place it on the floor so your baby can see you as you fold laundry or do other things around the house.
  • Give infants the time and space to explore safe household objects. For babies who are not yet sitting up, you can place one or two objects near them so they can look at, reach, and hold them. Once a baby is able to sit up without support, you can create baskets filled with the objects. It can be fun and relaxing sometimes just to sit back and marvel at how your baby plays. Here are some items that babies tend to enjoy:*

    Safety First!

    Avoid objects that can be swallowed, have sharp edges, or might be harmful if touched or mouthed.

    Even as babies play independently, it’s important to be close by, aware, and available.

  • Small pots and pans (these also work as musical instruments!)
  • Wooden spoons
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Paper towel rolls
  • Measuring spoons or cups
  • Blunt cookie cutters
  • Funnels
  • Coasters
  • Empty ice cube trays
  • Baby-safe mirrors
  • Plastic tubs with lids (clean yogurt or margarine containers)

Truthfully, we waste our energy ‘occupying’ a baby’s time. And keeping a baby busy undermines her natural desire to be an initiator of her own activities and absorb the world on her terms. Babies are self-learners and what they truly need (and pays enormous developmental benefits) is the time, freedom and trust to just “be.” - Janet Lansbury,

Nurturing independent play is important for your baby—and for you. Here are a few resources if you’re interested in learning more:

*All material suggestions adapted from:
Infant – Toddler Play, Toys, and Media ACTION GUIDE, Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment,
101 Items to put in treasure baskets for babies,

Click here for a printable PDF.



Play time

Back to sleep and Tummy to play. Babies need to spend a significant amount of time on their tummies to strengthen muscles,and develop head and torso control. Torticollis where neck muscles develop unevenly can sometimes be prevented. Babies need time to learn to commando crawl, and learn to get to where the object is located. Babies need to be close by so that attachment and trust happens.

Alternatives for Screen Time

Thank you for sharing such great information for confused and tired parents. As a children's technology researcher I agree that there is little evidence (at this point in time) to show that children under two years can learn from screen media. However there are an abundance of baby products that are marketed as 'educational' and parents, with the best of intentions, often feel obliged to buy these gadgets. Parents are often oblivious to the fact that screen time is not necessarily beneficial for young children. In the Parent Seminars I deliver I tell parents "when you know better you do better" as parents feel guilty about enough things a without adding screen time to the mix. Parents often revert to screens as you mentioned to get things done. So when they are told to minimise screen time and given no alternative ideas then this become unrealistic for them. Thanks again for sharing.