The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently changed its recommendation of no more than two hours of screen time per day for kids ages 2 years to 5 years old. They now recommend just one hour a day. However, the AAP identifies screen time as digital entertainment, which does not include online homework and learning-related activities. So for kids 6 years and older, screen time recommendations depend on the child and his or her family. Regardless of a child’s age, the AAP recommendation is to prioritize productive time over digital entertainment.
There’s nothing wrong with some TV time or video games once in awhile, but your whole family suffers when screen time reigns supreme. Take back control of your family life and reduce screen time to give your children more engaging experiences outside. It may sound easier said than done, but there are ways to make the great outdoors an exciting prospect rather than a punishment. Soon getting outside for some fresh air will feel like the ultimate thrill instead of sitting in front of the screen. Here’s how to get your kids ready to head outdoors.
Reconnect with Nature
A study from the University of Colorado Boulder found that playing in schoolyards with natural habitats and trees reduces children’s stress and inattention. Help your kids reduce their stress by planning more afternoons hiking and exploring in a nearby park. Or transform your own backyard into a nature-focused playground. Encourage tree climbing, digging for worms, collecting rocks and creating play areas near trees and natural foliage. Remember that everyday activities like homework and crafting can also be done outdoors and may give your kids more focus to get the task done.
Make It an Event
Kids sometimes need a push to get outdoors and embrace the fun waiting beyond their back door. Make getting outside into an epic event. Build a tree house and give your kids a private, kids-only area where they can play among the treetops. Or consider outdoor-only play toys like a trampoline with a safety enclosure for an over-the-top experience. You can also ask your kids to help plant a garden and watch them grow their own strawberries or peppers. Remember to regularly plan play dates and invite the neighborhood kids over so your outdoor space is the most exciting place to be on the block. Soon your kids won’t want to be anywhere else.
Get the Whole Family Involved
Your idea of a great time outdoors may vary from what your kids think. Ask your family what they want their outdoor time to actually look like. Give them fresh ideas like planning a picnic dinner at a state park on a school night. Or offer to pitch a tent in the backyard and read stories while roasting marshmallows. Empower your kids to come up with their own ideas to create their own fun. The more ownership they have over the process, the more engaged they will become.
Set Clear Boundaries
No matter how amazing you make the outdoors look like, some kids are harder than others to convince to put down the digital device and head outside. Set clear boundaries for how much screen time is acceptable and under what conditions. Many devices and services, like Amazon’s Kindle line, come with parental controls to set a pre-designated amount of screen time for kids. When screen time is up, the parental controls will enforce your rules instead of enticing kids to play just one more game. Once your kids grow accustomed to entertaining themselves outdoors, they’ll start putting the screen down on their own to do something more exciting instead.
[About the author: Susan Finch is a freelance writer with a passion for travel and helping small businesses find their online voice through content marketing, blogging and beyond. She is an eclectic writer with more than 10 years of experience contributing to guidebooks, magazines, iPhone apps, online publications and more. She can be found at BySusanFinch.com.]