Kids have access to all sorts of technology and gadgets—smartphones, tablets, portable gaming systems, virtual reality headsets, and more. Plus, streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ help ensure that children can watch whatever show they want with a few simple swipes of a screen.
With so many different tech options available, it is little wonder that parents struggle to manage media consumption. Video games and apps are a good way to keep your children entertained when you’re trying to get dinner ready or when you need a breather.
If you find your child constantly staring at a screen, however, you might realize you have a problem. Even though it is important for children to know how to use technology in the Digital Age, it is also important that they spend time playing with toys and playing outside.
If your little one spends more time staring at nature videos than they do playing outside, it is time to make a change. Here is how you can begin to limit screen time and start encouraging outdoor play.
Know the benefits of outdoor play
Outdoor play can help children remain physically healthy, expand their imagination, learn how to take risks, develop a love of nature, and more. Children miss out on important life experiences when they spend all of their time indoors staring at a screen.
Going outside encourages kids to run, jump, and explore the world around them. Active play is one of the best ways to reduce obesity in children. Outside play also provides unstructured time, allowing children to figure out ways to entertain themselves and create their own games.
Technology often makes the decisions for children—for example, certain apps only move forward if the child pushes the right button. But when they’re playing outside, there are no limitations to their creativity. They get to decide if the stick is something to build with or something to throw. They get to decide whether or not they should climb the tree or dig in the dirt under the tree.
Schedule a time for screens
It isn’t unusual for families to hand over a tablet whenever a kid starts to express boredom. After all, there is so much to do on a tablet! The problem with this is that children start to rely on technology for entertainment, often using it for hours on end.
Know what the recommended amount of screen time for your child is. For example, most researchers agree that children between the ages of 2 and 5 should only get 1 hour of screen time a day.
Once you know how much time your child should be spending with screens, create a schedule of when they can have access to televisions or tablets.
Choose times when distracting with technology would be most beneficial to your family—maybe you want to keep your toddler quiet while you’re making dinner or let your elementary schooler relax after school. Once you have assigned times for screens, stick to the schedule.
Explore nearby parks
To encourage your child to spend more time outside, start visiting nearby parks and playgrounds. Visiting different locations allows them to explore new areas, which can help keep them interested and engaged.
You’ll find that each playground is a bit different, allowing your child to experience a range of equipment. From inclusive playgrounds, to nature playgrounds, to obstacle course playgrounds—you’re sure to discover a playground your child loves. Visiting playgrounds also gives your child a chance to play and interact with other kids.
And you’re not limited to playgrounds. Visiting a duck pond, botanical garden, or rock formation can be as entertaining as a traditional playground. Visiting a new location where they can explore and discover is what matters most.
You may even discover new locations in your town that you didn’t know existed! Ask friends and family for locations they recommend as a way to get started, as well as research local parks in your area.
Find weather-appropriate activities
Different seasons mean different outdoor activities! Most of the time, children figure out their own activities to do each season. However, if your child needs some help getting started, here are some ideas.
Spring is the perfect time to plant a garden with your child. Pick out flowers or veggies to grow and take care of them all season long. As the weather begins to warm up in the summer, spend time swimming or playing in a sprinkler.
Fall is the perfect time to play in leaves or go on a hike. And as the weather cools down in the winter and snow begins to fall, your child can enjoy making snowmen or having a snowball fight.
You won’t want to send your child outside in extreme weather conditions, but don’t let a little cold or hot weather keep your child inside. Dress them in weather-appropriate clothing and send them out for some fresh air!
Give some freedom
Depending on where you live, give your child to have the chance to explore the outdoors by themselves. The freedom to play in the backyard or to take a walk around the block gives them a chance to discover the world without the restriction of a parent.
Total freedom to make their own rules as they explore the world boosts your child’s imagination and self-esteem. It also provides them with a sense of independence.
Of course, you should always consider your child’s age and the safety of your neighborhood before you send them to play independently. While giving them freedom is good, you also want to keep them safe.
When you do send them out, make sure you know where they’re going. Have them agree to stay in an approved area. Also, find a way to watch them from afar—many parents are turning to smartwatches for children as a way to track their child while they play.
Explore nature as a family
While there is value in letting your children play outside by themselves, there’s also value in exploring the outdoors as a family. Leaving screens inside and getting out as a family allows for bonding without the distractions of technology.
There are many ways to go about getting outdoors as a family. It can be as simple as taking a nature walk around the backyard or as elaborate as visiting a national park.
While you’re outside with your child, ask questions that allow them to think about the world around them. You might ask toddlers to find a flower of a specific color, while older children might appreciate the challenge of finding a specific type of flower.
Not only does getting outside as a family allow for bonding opportunities, but it can also improve your own health! It gives you the chance to get moving and also exposes you to serotonin-boosting sunlight. You might find your own mood approving!
Organize a playdate with other kids
The great outdoors is even more fun when you’re with a friend! If your child is reluctant to play outside by themselves because they find it boring, having a buddy might help them realize how much there is to do outside.
Next time you want to have a playdate, organize a picnic at a nearby park. The kids can enjoy a quick lunch, followed by an afternoon of playing outside.
Outdoor games require children to communicate and work together in ways that technology doesn’t allow for. Watching a movie together might be fun, but it doesn’t encourage communication in the same way active play does.
Playing outside encourages kids to create their own rules on how to play. For example, if they want to play a game of soccer but only have two players, they have to figure out a way to adapt the game and agree upon the new rules.
Buy tempting toys
Buying the right type of toys to keep outside can encourage reluctant kiddos to head outdoors. If your child struggles to come up with their own ways to play outside, outside toys such as a trampoline, backyard playgrounds, or ride-on toys can help keep them from growing bored.
There is a wide variety of outdoor toys available. If you have a backyard, your options are limitless. Large backyards are perfect for trampolines (or inflatables if you’re worried about the liability risks of a trampoline) or playground structures.
If your backyard is smaller, you might want to consider options such as playhouses, water tables, or basic swing sets.
Even if you don’t have a backyard, there are still outdoor toys you can purchase. Scooters fold up for easy storage, making them ideal for storing in apartments. And, even simple outdoor toys such as balls or digging toys can keep younger children entertained.
Don’t fall into the trap of letting your kids spend all day staring at a screen—encourage them to get outside and enjoy everything nature has to offer!
While there is nothing wrong with letting your kids spend time with technology, there needs to be a balance between age-appropriate screen time and outdoor play. The tips above can help you find that balance.