In the 21st century, technology is childhood’s constant companion, acting as everything from a big-screen babysitter so a toddler’s mom can take a shower, to an integral aspect of teens’ social and academic life. A typical day for school-age kids likely includes early-morning texting from the bus stop, video games and social media after school, television viewing before bed, listening to music on their smart phones and more texting after lights out.
Kids today spend on average more than seven hours each day in front of electronic media. In contrast, they spend only minutes per day in unstructured outdoor activities, like climbing trees, building forts, playing hide and seek or bike riding on a sunny afternoon. The kind of activities that only a generation ago were as much a part of the fabric of childhood as Wii, Facebook and Angry Birds are today.
The importance of media in today’s world is indisputable, but a sky’s-the-limit approach to technology can have a powerful downside for kids if it’s not tempered with something more down to earth. Children who spend too much time indoors in front of electronic screens are simply not as active. They’re also missing out on profound mood effects of outdoor time: studies show that stress levels fall within minutes of going outside. In this fast-paced world, spending time in nature helps kids focus, reducing symptoms in children suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In addition, free play teaches kids to share, cooperate and resolve problems.
It is too simplistic to romanticize the “good old days” and advocate a return to a time before technology when kids roamed freely. It’s a new world, with new challenges. But there are ways to help kids use technology in a manner that benefits them most while reaping the benefits of outdoor play.
6 Suggestions for Outside Play
1. Go Geocaching: Take your kids on an outdoor adventure that combines popular GPS technology and a treasure hunt. Don’t have a GPS? There are several smart phone apps that can do the trick. Learn more at www.rangerricktrails.com.
2. Transform favorite online game into real ones: Try this fun Angry Birds outdoor adaptation: You’ll need old shoe boxes, paper cups, magic markers and rubber balls. Build a wall out of shoe boxes, then set up some paper cups along the wall to represent the Pigs in the game (your kids can draw pigs onto the paper cups too). Have your children take turns throwing rubber balls representing the Angry Birds at the paper cups, or Pigs. Have fun and be creative!
3. Play Seek and Find: Have your child research your family’s next outdoor adventure by searching online with NatureFind, which offers location information for wonderful parks, hiking trails and other outdoor recreational spots near your home when you input your zip code. Pack water, snacks or lunch and venture out to find nature in your neighborhood.
4. Picture This: Take photos of nature with your child and upload them to Ranger Rick’s Nature Photo Contest. There’s no deadline and great prizes, so go out in each season and snap away.
5. Tweeting is for the birds: Scope out local birds, or other interesting wildlife, in your backyard and log onto Wildlife Watch to share your findings with others.
6. There’s an app for that: Enjoy some of the many nature and wildlife-related apps available on your smart phone, including:
- WildObs (a suite of apps that help you identify and record wildlife)
- Click-the-Birdie (Bird photography game for kids ages seven and up)
- NatureFind (mobile component for nature and outdoor event search engine)
- North Face Trailhead (locate hiking trails near you)
- Florafolio (interactive field guide to native plants of North America)
Get more tips on balancing screen time with green time: Five parent-tested tips to limit kid’s screen time. What activities do you enjoy doing outdoors with your family?