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Seven children’s play ideas using your smartphone

You can’t escape from it, even if you want to; technology is a part of our everyday lives, a part that we now find it hard to live without. 


But children and tech can be a controversial issue – parents try to control the amount of time children spend on screens while feeling guilty about the time they do spend using them.

Too much screen time and an addiction to games can mean less time outdoors, reduced creativity and an inactive lifestyle. But a little screen time improves children’s digital literacy skills, so they are able to use technology to its full potential.

If we think outside the box (or rectangle…), technology can be a great tool for games and other play ideas. With a little encouragement, phones and tablets can spark children’s imaginations and get them playing and giggling together for hours. Here are a few ideas to get you started!

Record a Video

  1. Music video. Get your child/children to choose their favourite song and challenge them to create and record their own music video for it.  Let their imaginations run wild as they create costumes and props to enhance their carefully choreographed routines. As well as being a creative task, this also gets children active!
  2. News report. If your child is more of a writer than a dancer, get them to set up a news desk and record their own report. This could be something that’s really happened that they care about (like a local playground being pulled down), or something extremely silly (all the toilets in the world have suddenly filled up with jelly). This is also an excellent activity to get children thinking about school subjects, as they can report on any topic – for instance, they could pretend they are reporting a historical event in the past.
  3. Cooking show. Get your child to choose a recipe, then let them make it in the kitchen while recording and talking the recipe through as if they were a TV chef. This could also be a way of getting them to try some new flavours. Remember to assist with sharp knives, hot ovens, and so on.

Shape Hunt

This is a great activity to reinforce shape names and their associated features.  Give children a list of shapes to find (make this easier or harder, depending on the child’s ability) and then go out for a walk.  

Each time the child spots a shape get them to photograph it.

What is the most common shape they find?  

Which is the least common?  

You could adapt this activity to fit in with other school topics such as letters, numbers, animal groups (e.g. mammals), or the food chain (producer, consumer, etc.).

Photo Scavenger Hunt

 This is a good way of getting children to really observe their surroundings and will make going out for a walk a lot more appealing (whether you’re near to a park, or exploring the city).  It can be tailored to any area. For example, a woodland hunt could challenge children to find and photograph rabbit hole, a feather, a fallen tree, some moss, etc.. A city hunt could ask children to find a red car, a bus stop, etc. It can be played alone, or with (or against!) friends or siblings.

Building Challenge

 Build some towers out of coloured building blocks and take photos of them on your phone or tablet, making each level trickier than the last.  Then challenge your child to recreate the towers. If you don’t have building blocks to hand, get creative – for example, grapes and cocktail sticks work exceptionally well (plus you can eat the towers afterwards!). This is a great way to develop colour and pattern recognition, dexterity, attention to detail, and logic. 

How Many?

Use the timer on your phone to challenge your child to see how many times they can complete a given activity in 30 seconds.

There are lots of different tasks you can set, for example, to encourage physical activity (How many jumps? How many press-ups? How many throws and catches?) or to practise writing skills (How many times can you write your name? How many words beginning with A can you write?).

Pit them against friends, siblings or even yourself for some fun competition. You could also get your child to predict how many times they will be able to do the task, to increase their understanding of time.

What can you hear?

Record a range of sounds around a theme (nature, in the kitchen, town) and get your child to listen to them – how many can they correctly identify?  Show your child how to record sounds for themselves and let them record their own set to challenge someone else with.

The Camera Game

Set the camera timer function on your phone. Pass the camera around between the players, with each player posing for a selfie before passing the device on. Whoever it lands on when the timer is up has to pose for a selfie!  This leads to a hilarious collection of selfies to scroll through afterwards.