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The day has arrived, my kids have gone back to school. I know some parents relish the time being at home with their kids over the summer, but I find it very difficult. My kids are 8, 6 and almost two, so finding activities to keep them entertained at their varying ages and interests was a challenge!
One of my biggest challenges this summer was getting my kids to play outside. After a lot of coaxing to get them out the door, they often only stayed outside for 10 minutes before announcing ‘I’M BORED’ and heading back inside. They were happy to play with lego, games or other toys when I set limits on screen time, but they wanted to be inside. I found this extremely frustrating, but it also made me so sad. Sad that they preferred to play inside than to explore the neighbourhood and meet other kids. Sad that they weren’t experiencing nature, breathing fresh air and running freely. Sad that childhood isn’t what it used to be and that my kids are part of the statistics saying kids are leading more sedentary lives and engaging in active play less than ever before.
I decided I had had enough, and pulled the plug on screens. I announced we were having a screen-free-day. There would be no tv, iPod or iPad for the entire day. I hid the remotes, and the computer mouse, and I put away the ipad. They weren’t happy about it, and there were tears and lots of anger. But we quickly got out the door and headed to the park and screens were forgotten.
I made a few observations throughout the day:
-They didn’t ask for screens. When I told them it wasn’t going to be an option for the whole day, they stopped asking.
-They got along! My older two kids fight constantly, but they actually played together nicely!
-They were less moody! There were no blow ups, and no one snapped or got angry like they usually do when screen time was over.
-They played outside!
-They fell asleep fast and hard! My 8 year old, who usually takes a long time to fall asleep crashed the minute his head hit the pillow!
As a child, I do remember spending days in front of the TV, but I also remember days spent running around in my neighbourhood and at the park. I remember running through sprinklers, biking with friends and exploring the little wooded area behind our neighbourhood. Part of me feels like technology is getting in the way of these childhood experiences. I understand it has it’s benefits, and we can do so much more and connect in so many ways now than ever before. But this summer, I had many moments of wanting to throw out each screen in the house if it meant my kids would just play outside!
So where does that leave me… I don’t feel like I can completely deprive them of technology, it’s not going anywhere. There are opportunities to engage and be social, opportunities to learn and be creative. Not everything online is a time suck and not everything offline is engaging and amazing. But what I need to do, and believe me it’s a constant struggle, is to find the balance between the two so that their childhood is full of all that is out there to experience.
We will be having more screen-free-days in our house, and I am trying to engage them in activities that I like to do and hope they’ll follow my lead.
How do you balance technology use and outside play in your home?
Finally it’s starting to feel like summer in Ottawa, and that means the bugs are out. In our house, my husband is the bug catcher. I really prefer not to have anything to do with killing mosquitos, spiders, ants or centipedes. The few times we’ve found a mouse in the basement, I’ve covered my eyes and looked away while he dealt with it. It’s true, I don’t like bugs, or small creatures, and I think my kids are catching on. I’ve heard my 2 year old yell out ‘ANT!’ and run away whenever she sees one. My son tends to get a bit worked up whenever he sees a mosquito in the house. I’m a bit concerned about what a family camping trip might look like.
How did this happen? Did I manage to pass along my disdain for these small creatures on to my kids? Am I a bug-a-phobe?
Apparently there is something called biophobia, which is being uncomfortable or afraid of ature. It’s more and more common among generations of kids who are raised with in a culture where most of their free time is spent watching television or playing video games. They just don’t get opportunities to be “one with nature.” We do live in suburbia, and my kids do watch tv, but there are many parks around us and we spend time outside as often as we can. That must not be enough.
I realized that even when I was growing up, I didn’t have that many experiences with the outdoors. I was a Brownie for a few years, but we never camped and our family vacations were mostly road trips out East or to Florida. Sure we went to zoos and aquariums and had pets, but how often did I head out to the woods and catch a dragonfly in a jar or let a caterpillar crawl on my arm? Ew gross. Never!
So I started thinking, at some point in our history we lived in the woods, right? We hunted, we built what we needed with the things we found around us. We entertained ourselves with what nature had to offer. We weren’t afraid of bugs or small creatures. Or peeing in the woods. Embracing nature should be in our genes, shouldn’t it? When did we start being afraid it?
After a little bit of research about kids and nature, I came across an interesting read, Children’s Outdoor Play & Learning Environments by Randy White & Vicki Stoecklin. Here’s a summary of what they had to say about kids and nature:
-teaching kids about the environment needs to start early and be hands on.
-a love for nature develops when kids have free, unmediated contact with it.
-kids can develop a love for nature when they have free access to it for long time periods.
-it’s only when we give kids the chance to build an intimate relationship with nature for an extended period of time that they can appreciate its wonder.
-when kids appreciate nature, they will learn to appreciate and cherish the whole planet.
-playing outside and in nature helps kids use their imaginations (this is so true, I have memories of creating imaginary worlds in the small row of trees behind our park growing up!)
-when kids play in nature, they are more likely to have positive feelings about each other and their surroundings.
– outdoor spaces allows kids to gradually distance themselves from their parents or caretaker, which helps them experience independence and separation.
These all seem like very good reasons to encourage our kids to play outside, and in nature. So how do we do this?
Do you have ideas or suggestions on how you help your kids cultivate a love of the outdoors?