Technology has become so integrated into our everyday lives that it is sometimes hard to remember the importance or unplugging. When it comes to our kids, schools across the country are giving children I-pads and laptop computers to use at school and take home as early as kindergarten. The age is getting lower and lower that children are being given their own cell phones and the video gaming industry is constantly coming out with new and improved technology that draws kids in. Most of us can probably admit that our children are a little too obsessed with technology and gaming at times and wish that we could get them to go outside and play.
There are several proven benefits to getting your kids to spend more time outdoors. The one most recognized is for exercise; however, there are several cognitive skills learned through outdoor play as well such as stimulating imagination and creativity, reducing anxiety, helping to develop problem solving and leadership skills and improving communication and listening skills. Children also begin to develop a better understanding of their environment and the world around them and have more finely attuned senses when they play outside rather than sit in front of a computer or television screen.
How can you convince your tech obsessed kids to set down the controllers and go outside? Ordering them outside to play not working for you? Tearing your kids away from the screen may be difficult, but there are several ways to encourage outdoor exploration that work and instill great values in children as well! Before you know it, your kids will be begging to pack the car and go for a weekend camping trip completely unplugged!
Getting Your Kids Outside
Set the Example
Mom and Dad, you guys need to unplug too from time to time if you want your kids to be. “Do as I say, not as I do,” isn’t applicable when it comes to this situation because your kids are always going to model your behavior and learn their values from you. Actions speak much louder than words so set down the cell phone, step away from the computer screen, and go enjoy some outdoor play time with your kids.
Have Family Time Outside
Try moving your family game night or movie night into a family gardening day or outdoor play day. You can take the family on hikes if there are nearby lakes or state parks (there are always plenty of short, easy trails for kids and/or beginners), take the family dog to the dog park together, or just go on a walk or to the playground. Make it a ritual to get outside together as a family at least once a week while you are breaking the tech habit. Here are a few fun family games you can play together outside or while camping.
Use Technology for Education
With my own experience, letting my children, ages 9 and 7, use their tablets to learn helps to foster more interest in going outdoors. Letting them watch videos about animals and the environment, and use the internet to look up answers to questions they had about nature (with supervision) made them want to get involved with nature themselves. We limit gaming time to ½ hour for every 1 hour you spend learning something whether it’s by watching educational programming such as the Planet Earth Series or looking up different things they want to learn about like volcanoes, or pollution, or what’s happening with the Dakota Access Pipeline. Using technology to stay informed and be engaged can be very useful in getting your children to be more engaged outside.
Having a staycation in your own backyard can be fun and exciting for kids, especially younger ones that may not be used to be away from home. Camping in your own backyard gets kids used to the idea of sleeping in a bag on the ground or in a tent outside. Children can feel vulnerable when they are tired and sleeping, so being close to home can be very beneficial in transitioning your child into knowing that being outside with mom and dad is safe and fun. You can even make your backyard camping seem more rustic and adventurous with a few of our Camping Survivorman Style with Kids ideas.
If your kids are not used to having unstructured play outside, you may need to help them out by planning a fun activity that you can do together like a scavenger hunt! You can make up your own or find one online to print off, but the concept is simple—go explore and find stuff! Scavenger hunt activities are fun for kids because children love games and competition, they get to run around and they have a sense of pride in themselves when they find the items on the hunt. This kind of play is great for developing problem solving skills, attention span, and exploration. Parents will have fun too watching their kids be little nature detectives.
If you need a little help getting your scavenger hunt going, check out the Snipe Game by Education Outdoors. It is a simple scavenger hunt game where you hide 2 snipes and get your kids actively hunting for them. If they do not find them, the snipes will begin chirping louder and louder until found. This simple game is a great start to getting your kids actively playing outside.
Encourage Kids to Get Dirty
This may go against every mothering instinct in your body, but you have to let your kids get dirty. Especially if you are wanting to take your family camping in the great outdoors, a little dirt is something you are going to have to get used to. Next time it rains, tell your kids to go dance in the rain, splash in the puddles and be silly. Get down and work with the dirt as a family by planting a garden together and tending to the garden daily. Make mud pies, dig in a sandbox, dig up worms after the rain, build outdoor forts, and tons of other activities that may get your kids a little messy.
Take the kids outside at night. This is usually very fascinating and exciting for children because most parents make their kids come indoors at night, for obvious reasons. Some cities have nature parks that have night time observation areas where people can set up telescopes and star gaze, you can also take a walk around your block before it gets too late at night. Fostering the excitement of getting to go outside will encourage your children to be outside even more.
Most bigger cities have an extensive parks and recreation department that plans tons of different activities to get children involved in the outdoors, sports, and their communities. Try getting your kids into an outdoors day camp this summer where they can hang out with a lot of their friends and make new ones too. You can also sign them up for outdoor sports like baseball, swimming, horseback riding, soccer, and many more. Sometimes, there are conservation projects or Citizen Science projects that your kids, or entire family, can get involved with. These will teach your kids about respecting the planet and how human interaction can have an impact on our resources and environmental health.
Earn Tech Time
During the summer, it is easy to implement a rule of earning time for technology or games. For every hour or two of outside play time, your kids can earn ½ hour of gaming time, or whatever works best for your family. This strategy may change in the winter to earn their tech time in other ways such as doing chores, but the result is the same—your kids begin to look at technology as a luxury, not a necessity.
Have Friends Over
Kids always enjoy the outdoors more when their friends can play with them too. Allow your kids to have friends over to play, or meet up with other moms for playtime at the park or zoo. Kids love being around other kids and that is when they are the most active. Have you ever visited a park where all the kids are sitting down just talking to each other? Of course not! kids want to be active, they just don’t know it sometimes!
Implementing any or all of these strategies into your daily lives will get your kids to really respect and love the environment and being outdoors. If you have children who are extremely tech obsessed, or hard to get outside, you may have to start small with just a few of these ideas and continue to build on them. However, by keeping a positive attitude, and engaging with your children in their outdoor activity time, you’ll soon have kids that you can’t keep indoors!
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Kelly’s passion for the outdoors permeates both her personal life and her professional role as a member of the Parks & Recreation Board in Maple Grove, MN. Whether she’s camping with her family in their camper at a state park, pitching a tent in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), or even glamping in their backyard, Kelly’s enthusiasm for embracing nature is unmistakable. This zeal extends to her role on the board, where she actively contributes to the acquisition, development, and maintenance of city parks and trails, enhancing leisure and recreation opportunities for all residents.