Childhood looks so much different now than it did some thirty years ago. Gone are the days when parents have to beg their kids to come back inside for dinner or leave the playground – with the promise that “we will come back tomorrow.” Today, modern parents have to practically shove their children out of the house and put their gadgets down so they can play in the backyard or take a trip down to the local playground. Active play, one that requires a kid to sweat it out a little and interact with other human beings, is a lost art it seems.
Children today belong to the M2 Generation – or a generation of highly technological children. In just five years, media use including television, computers, mobile devices, social media, and video games has increased from 6.5 to 7.5 hours a day, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. What is even more alarming is that these children have become masters at multitasking, using two or more media devices at the same time, cramming nearly 11 hours of media content into seven hours!
For example, kids might be playing on the iPad while listening to music – shutting the entire world out. Building with blocks or dressing up Barbie is suddenly not as cool as it was a few decades ago. Kids’ play time versus gadget time is also a mismatch, with more children going for the latter.
A global survey by the Natural Conservancy revealed that 65% of parents are worried their kids are not spending enough time outdoors, and are too wired to technology indoors. The study also found that 82% of parents view spending time with nature as “very important” for their children’s development – second only to reading.
Kids’ gadget time is stripping our children of the chance to have a healthy and well-balanced childhood. It is also obviously putting a strain on their physical fitness and family time. So, while you still can, find ways to teach your kids to boycott their gadgets once in a while in favor of the playground and the great outdoors.
Start in your back yard
Never underestimate your back yard (if you have one). There are a lot of activities you can do there without making your kids feel that you are desperately trying to distance them from electrical outlets inside the house. For example, while they are charging their devices, take them out in the backyard or on the porch and ask them to build a birdhouse, pick up some dry wood for a bonfire or barbecue later that evening, or water the plants. Use the back yard to extend family spaces outside.
When school is out, you can also go camping in the back yard. Ask the kids to build and design their own tent. Not only are you helping improve their motor skills, but you are also encouraging creativity and ingenuity.
Bring the toys outside
Try bringing their toys – or even their mobile devices – outside. You can sit down at the porch or lie down on a picnic blanket. Introduce them to the outdoors gently. Take pleasure in exposing them to a different environment where the possibilities are endless.
While outside, read them stories about adventures with nature. Look for books with young, adventurous characters and stimulate their imagination.
Just add water
For some reason, kids love anything with water. They love to splash and get wet. When playing in the back yard, you can set up a portable pool, let them throw water balloons, and make some bubbles. When it gets all muddy, let them puddle in the mud and please don’t stress about the mess.
Tell them your stories
Make it a habit to talk to them and tell them your stories of what your childhood was like. Children look up to their parents and they want to be just like you. Encourage them to play as much as you did and eventually create their own moments with nature.
You may also engage their grandparents in doing this. Grandmas and grandpas usually have more time and patience to deal with the kids, so let them help keep screen time to a minimum. Grandparents know only one kind of play – active play. They firmly believe that active play is necessary in making kids healthier and they will do anything to make sure kids understand that.
Let them tag along
One way to limit your kids’ gadget time is to let them tag along when you are doing your grocery shopping, meeting a friend at a restaurant, or taking the dog out for a walk. Walk them to school, too. While you’re at it, be your own tour guide and engage your kids with the parks and buildings you see while walking. You can also take this chance to teach your kids to be more sociable – greeting and smiling at people and other kids in your neighborhood.
Invite kids over
Make outdoor play a social event. Send out cute invitations to other kids in the neighborhood and set up a colorful and fun playground in your back yard. It doesn’t have to be fancy, a few old car tires, flags, sticks, obstacle bars, and the like will do just fine. Ask your kids to help you set it up, and even bake some cookies for snacks.
Weekend is “explore time”
Make it a habit to bring your kids outdoors at least every weekend. Depending on where you live, you can swim at the beach, visit a botanical garden or a farm, go fishing or go on a hike. The activity can also be as simple as having picnic at the park or a morning jog. Turn this into family time.
We owe it to our kids to have a balanced childhood. As parents, we know all too well that the effects of modern gadgets on children’s development are undesirable compared to the benefits of active play from physical fitness, improved social skills, emotional stability, and mental alertness. Don’t let too much technology take nature away from your kids. Most importantly, don’t let gadgets take your kids away from you!
Jeanette Anzon is a graduate of Architecture. She enjoys photography, sketching, arts, film, writing and continuous education. To get to know her more, you can follow @jeanetteanzon
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