How do you get children off their screens and outdoors? One of the reasons we wanted to leave London for the countryside was to enable the children to spend more time outdoors. We wanted them to have plenty of space to explore safely and with three lively boys it seemed a good idea for our sanity too. However, whilst we have a lovely garden with a treehouse already installed (OK, it’s a rickety platform with some rope lashed around the edge to prevent falling children), the lure of the screens is still great. Although it’s easy to have a fixed idea of what children ‘should’ be doing outside, everyone is different and not all children will enjoy nature trails or horse riding.
All the children enjoy caring for the chickens and guinea pigs and my eldest has become really interested in bee keeping so this is something we are looking into at the moment. Gardening is popular in our house and the children have tried growing everything from chillies to birdseed! The youngest recently decided to make himself a patch to grow some peas. Unfortunately, he chose the middle of the lawn and now the patch of dirt and stick label makes it look like we’ve buried one of the pets there. On the upside, hopefully we will get some peas out of it although he is currently checking them twice a day to see if they’ve grown yet. This sometimes develops into digging them up to see if their ‘ready’ so maybe not.
I’ve put together some other ways I encourage my children not to spend too much time on their screens and get outside, hopefully these will give you some ideas.
Provide alternatives that they enjoy
The swing and climbing frame set in our garden was left behind by the previous owners and this really hasn’t seen any use by our children. They will go up in the treehouse occasionally if friends are over but they rarely will otherwise. The trampoline we got them has seen endless use though by all three boys. It’s finding what motivates them to get outside as it’s not the same for all children. The football gets little use but the cricket set is much more popular in our house and is used from grandparents to toddlers.
When we think of outdoor activities the usual nature trails, cycling and den building spring to mind but there are hundreds of things that kids can get involved in and many have their own clubs and societies. There are archaeological digs for kids, falconry days, archery, geocaching (outdoor treasure hunt, check it out at https://www.geocaching.com/play), climbing, bird, butterfly or bat watching.
We found that our boys loved hunting for fossils and unusual pebbles. We have visited Dorset many times and always head for the best fossil hunting spots. Charmouth is their favourite and there is a little heritage centre which runs fossil hunting expeditions. We are also members of ‘Rockwatch’ https://www.rockwatch.org.uk/ which is the club for young geologists. They organise field trips and rock and gem fairs and members are sent regular information on all things geology. There really is something for everyone.
Sadly, we don’t seem to be able to push our children out the door and for them to come back hours later, ruddy cheeked and grubby. Sometimes they will play happily outside but there’s no escaping the fact that we often have to get involved to encourage them. This is actually not a bad thing and we have lovely memories of playing cricket on the beach in Normandy, getting stuck on a rope swing (me – I wanted to ‘model’ adventure but ended up modelling comedy), and attempting to cook hot chocolate in a Kelly kettle (mildly successful). I’ve found that certain activities such as playing boardgames are much more popular if you offer to play too. The laundry will just have to wait.
Take everyday activities outside
I’ve found that getting the kids outdoors means it becomes a more natural place for them to be. They don’t always have to be doing something ‘outdoorsy’ it can be their normal everyday things that they would do anyway. Things my kids have done outdoors include:
- Eating (including breakfast on a school day)
- Painting/playdoh (save the carpet!)
- Violin lessons (something really lovely about playing in the sunshine, perhaps not one for when it’s raining)
- Stories for younger children or reading for the older ones
- Board games
Nerf gun shooting range
If your child has a vast array of nerf guns but is short on willing participants to be fired at, this idea is for him or her. Wash some tins (you need at least six) to pile up for shooting practice. You can also use flour to mark out lines for distances so they can move back as their aim improves. If you are careful where you site your shooting range such as against a fence, this reduces loss of bullets into the undergrowth. Happy shooting!