The battle between screen time and outdoor time has been ongoing since Steve Jobs marketed the first Apple products to be used at home. With technological advances, we can carry computers around with us in our pockets. Smartphones and tablets are now essentially part of the family.
You’d think that it would make it easier to balance screen and outdoor time then, right? But that’s not always the case.
In fact, due to the lockdowns and various other restrictions over the past 18 months, kids were forced inside. Playgrounds were taped off, extra-curricular activities were canceled, parks were closed…it was nearly impossible to find things to do outside.
Even if you were able to institute family game nights and do other things together, there was still a lot of time that could be spent staring at a screen. Add in an online school, and it’s pretty safe to say that screens now rule.
Fortunately, as things have opened back up, there are opportunities to be found, and there are quite a few ways that you can get your kids off the screen and back into nature. You just might need to get a little creative.
Easing into it
If you have die-hard technology users, consider easing into the whole “outdoors” thing. There are a few things you can do that start with using their phones.
Theme parks and some cruise lines have already hit on this as a way to get kids to look up from their screens to see what’s around them.
Put together a photo scavenger hunt, where they have a list of items that they need to take pictures of on their phones, and then head to a park or nature reserve for them to find those items. You can make the list completely random or do themes (birds, plants, colors etc.).
They’ll be so busy looking for their list items, they might not even realize they’re actually out enjoying nature.
If you’re headed to a particular park or nature area, do some homework. Look at their website and see what things will be easiest to find. You don’t want a list of random birds that are difficult to find or flowers that only bloom at a certain time of year.
You probably know your kids better than they know themselves. If you have a competitive bunch, give your item list a point structure. Pick rewards that they’ll want to win.
For example, the child who has the highest point total gets to pick where the family has lunch. If that would create too many arguments, then maybe the one who wins gets to choose what they want to eat – just once.
It seems as if kids can find a Tik Tok or YouTube video in mere seconds. Involve them in finding places to go or things to do. Let them do the searches and come up with potential lists of fun outdoor events or locations.
Letting them use their screen time in this manner will give you insight to what they might find interesting. This, in turn, can help you plan outdoor trips that they have a better chance of enjoying.
Also, hang on to their lists. If they complain about going somewhere, you have proof that they thought it looked interesting enough at some point. Being a little devious is perfectly acceptable in this case. 😊
Maybe your family is more receptive to getting outside and just needs a little nudge. If that’s the case, there are plenty of things you can do to get the kids off-screen time and into nature.
One good thing about the suggestions below is that you can use screen time proactively and productively to create the best plan for your area.
Kids can look up all kinds of information that can make a garden a success. For example, what zone are they in and what plants grow in that zone? How much work do certain vegetables take to cultivate and grow them? What preventative measures can be used against bugs and rodents?
Let them do the research. Then discuss, come up with a plan, and execute it. Once you get outside and establish the garden, tending it can be their job (with your supervision). They’ll also be learning the importance of how to see a plan through from beginning to end.
Do you live in an area that has a lot of birds? Have the kids look up which ones and then build a birdhouse or bird feeder that will attract them. If you have hummingbirds, kids can research what flowers attract them. Then go out and build a flower box and plant those flowers.
Of course, the easiest way to get kids into nature is to find outdoor activities that they will enjoy. Zoos are an obvious choice for many families, as are waterparks. But also, consider looking for outdoor performances, such as concerts or plays. Or compromise and find a park that has a “Family Night” where they have activities and then shows a movie outside.
Screens are here to stay and getting into fights about screen time is (frankly) a waste of time.
You would be much better off refocusing your energy into finding creative ways for the kids to use their screen time to further enjoy nature. Once their eyes are opened to places or things that they have had a hand in choosing, they may just be more interested in getting outside more often…and ditching the screens while doing so.
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