How to encourage kids away from screens with alternate activities.

EVERYDAY HOME |  6.18.19  |  by Gia Dolney

Getting your kids away from screens can be a challenge in the summer.  At the same time, summer is also a great opportunity to enjoy the outdoors for recreation, exercise, or even if you want to de-stress.  In fact, being out in nature is proven to reduce your fatigue, your stress, and anxiety.  There’s a trend in Japan called ‘forest bathing’ where people go into forest or wooded area for an hour to reduce their stress. But there are simple things you can do, even with your children, to take advantage of outdoor time and help your kids get away from screens this summer.

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WHO Guidelines Say Children Need To Sit Less

According to the newest World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines (4/24/19) for children, “children under five must spend less time sitting watch screens, or restrained in prams and seats, get better quality sleep and have more time for active play if they are to grow up healthy.”   Included in those guidelines were statistics that world-over 23 percent of adults and 80 percent of adolescents are not sufficiently physically active.

The focus, then, would be on getting up and moving — this is especially great for getting kids away from screens.  And getting outdoors is certainly a joyful and healthful way to go.  Our children spend 35 percent less time outdoors than we, their parents, did.  So we do know how to do it, and showing our kids the way and encouraging them is going to be the best route.

Bring Back Play Time

In a New York Times article that reflected on solutions to the new WHO guidelines, this is what Dr. Juana Willumsen said who works on childhood obesity issues at WHO.

What we really need to do is bring back play for children.  This is about making the shift from sedentary time to playtime, while protecting sleep.

Here are a few ideas:  

  • Start a vegetable garden.  Even if you do this on your balcony, you are spending time with greenery and getting away from the everyday routine.  You can do this with your children as well. 
  • Take advantage of your local public parks.  Now that we have more afternoon sunshine, you can easily go to the park with your children for 30 minutes after work or at least on the weekends.   
  • Walk the family dog — even assigning dog walks to the children on rotation.  Children will often get away from screens with this family pet walk activity.
  • Visit your state and regional parks — these parks are often not as crowded as the federal national park system locations.
  • Make paper airplanes and going outdoors to fly them with friends. 
  • Do more biking — even biking to the park 
  • Throw balls or frisbees at your local park or in your backyard — kids can make up their own games and make new friends at local parks as kids join in with the fun. 
  • Play on the outdoor play equipment or playing basketball at a community park or at a residence.  Kids can invite their friends over for a game of ball.

Prioritize Unstructured Play Time

The trend is to be very old-fashioned with getting outdoors with your children.  This means lots of unstructured time — which is not about scheduling them for another ballet class or soccer team.  This is all about free play with friends and family — and it can instill independence and allow for imagination and freedom.   Your children can learn how to make friends on their own.

The Toy Association has a new website initiative called The Genius of Play with many unstructured play ideas for all ages.  Meredith Sinclair, expert on child playtime and the author of “Well Played” offers this tip —

Leave one night a week open for spontaneous fun. It’s so easy and temping to power-pack our weeknights with all sorts of after-school activities for our kids, but there is big benefit to leaving space for spontaneous playtime. Take time to visit a new playground, play a new game, build something together, paint, draw, sculpt with dough, dress up and make a video, ride scooters around the neighborhood, etc.. The key here is to let your kids playfully lead the way!