Time spent in nature is essential for our children’s health. More on why we should trade screen time for green time –
Photo courtesy of Auleen Kerzan Photography
Like most parents, I find myself in a constant love hate relationship with screens. Sometimes, an episode or two of Curious George buys me a much needed break in our day. But, inevitably I feel guilty. Am I melting my son’s brain? Am I failing him?
The American Academy of Pediatrics report that children spend an average of seven hours a day on screens, including television, devices, computers and phones. I’m sure you’ve read these statistics before. After all you’d be hard pressed to find a parent who is unaware of the countless negative consequences associated with screen time.
As parents striving to promote simplicity, screens seem like an obvious enemy. Equally, the last thing we need is another layer of guilt. So, rather than focus on reducing screen time, I’ve found it more helpful in our family to focus on increasing green time.
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Photo courtesy of Erin Barkel Photography
Because, one of the most concerning issues surrounding the time our children spend on screens is what they’re missing out on while they’re glued to the television. What could they be spending their time doing rather than watching screens?
The flip side of this statistic is that the average American child spends only five minutes playing freely outside. Five minutes. How has it come to this? When 75% of children spend less time outside than prison inmates alarm bells should be ringing.
Our children are facing a genuine crisis. Rates of obesity, mental and emotional health issues and chronic disease are soaring and crippling our kids. Richard Louv, author of The Last Child in the Woods, believes, as do I, that many of our children’s mental and physical health issues are due to a lack of time spent outside. He famously refers to a lack of time spent immersed in nature as nature-deficit disorder.
Time spent outside arguably provides the greatest canvas for free play to take place. Unsurprisingly, with a reduction in time spent outside, free play is also on the decline. Studies have shown a correlation between a deficiency of free play and a lack of sense of control. Free play is the best arena for kids to exert their control. To make the rules. To create their own worlds. To problem solve and practice emotional regulation.
So, how can we promote green time over screen time this summer?
There are so many different ways to experience the outdoors with our kids and it doesn’t always have to be a grand adventure. Here’s a dozen ideas to get you started:
- Create a veggie patch in your backyard with your child
- Play at your local park
- Grab some saucepans, cups and jugs from your kitchen. Take them outside. Give your child some water and watch them make their own fun. If you’re game, add some child-safe food dye for a fantastic science experiment.
- Climb trees
- Go for a hike and wear your baby or child if they can’t walk yet. There are mama and baby hiking groups, like Hike It Baby, to help mums get outside on a regular basis with their kids
- Light a campfire in your own backyard and roast marshmallows under the night sky while peeking at the stars
- Go for a swim in the ocean or a lake
- If your child is ready consider enrolling them in a Forest School instead of regular school so they can spend time outside every day
- Fly a kite – so much fun for kids and adults alike.
- Blow and chase bubbles on your deck (one of our favourite things lately)
- Ride bikes
- Wash the car together – our little guy absolutely loves washing the car, it usually gets done twice!
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If you enjoyed this post you might also like…
- The Power of Spending Time in Nature as a Family
- What Families Gain from Time Spent Outdoors
- Exploring vs. Observing: 6 Tips to Help Kids EXPLORE Nature
- 30 Simple Ways to Immerse Your Kids in Nature
The statistic you quoted was time children spent playing FREELY outside…comparing it to the amount of time prisoners have outside only serves to create panic among parents.
This statistic does not cover kids playing any type of organised sport..basketball, baseball etc It does not cover kids going to swimming lesson. It probably does not even cover the walk to school…even from the car !! Surely the recess or lunch break is US schools is more than
5 minutes ?
Jeanette – Melbourne Australia
I’m reading through Angela Hanscom’s Balanced and Barefoot now. She focuses in on the importance of unstructured play in nature as opposed to indoor recreation centers or organized sports in helping kids develop social and physical skills. It inspired me to take the kiddos to a state park last weekend which they loved in spite of (because of? kids are weird that way) the July heat. We were cut short on the trail when my three year old was stung by a wasp but in spite of tribulation I know they’re excited to return soon!
Marjorie Sarah Cottrell says
I love your take on this and suggesting increasing the green over monitoring the screen! I am a mom to a 3 & 5 year old and we’ve been taking care of various herbs and flower pots on our front porch this summer. It’s been our daily ritual to greet and water our plants and we’ve been loving it. Then once we’re out we do a walk or bikes or play. It gets us out there every day. Thanks for the ideas!