There’s plenty of evidence that shows that Australian kids are spending more and more time on screens, and, as a result, less time engaged in physical and creative pursuits. And we all know that monitoring and regulating kids’ screen time is a difficult task, especially if both parents work or you’re a single parent. School holidays, in particular, can pose a real challenge in terms of finding things for kids to do that don’t cost the earth and that keep them away from their screens.
To make life a bit easier for you these school holidays, we’ve come up with 5 ways to encourage your kids off their screens and out into the real world.
1. Dust off the old sports equipment
Most of us have a pile of sports equipment stacked in a corner of the garage, much of which hasn’t been touched for years. Use the holidays as a chance to sort through this pile and get the kids moving at the same time. Pump up those deflated balls and get the kids playing footy or soccer, or take them down to the local court for a spot of basketball. You might even discover a dusty but perfectly usable badminton set or a totem tennis pole that just needs a new ball and bats. Whatever you find, make the whole process fun and physical —involve the kids in the sorting and repairs and involve yourself in the games that ensue. You never know, they might get so obsessed with totem tennis, they’ll forget about their screens altogether!
2. Encourage their green thumbs
There’s very little that’s better for kids’ mental and physical health than getting into the garden and digging in the dirt. Traditionally, most kids aren’t that keen on gardening, as they associate it with chores like dead-heading or raking, but even these jobs can be a lot of fun and surprisingly satisfying. Get them involved in your overall plan for the garden — tell them what you’re aiming for and what you’d like to achieve by the end of the weekend, and set them the challenge of helping you get there. Whether this is a matter of clearing all the leaves from the lawn or building a new garden bed, engage the kids in your vision and they’ll be far more likely to want to play a part. And give them tools to work with (such as your prized guillotine lopper or long-reach secateurs) and difficult jobs, so they feel a great sense of achievement when they’re done.
3. Get thee to a library!
Local libraries offer a great variety of holiday activities and entertainment, particularly for younger kids, and are also full of those things called books, which are far better for your child’s mental development than computer games. If your kids aren’t already members, tie in attendance at one of the activities with signing them up and borrowing some books. This way, you can use the school holidays to kick-start a new reading habit, or reinvigorate an old one that may have fallen by the wayside as the screen took over. Of course, you can also borrow quality DVDs to fill in those down times between kicking the footy or mulching the broccoli.
4. Make screen time creative
Experts agree that there is very little chance of keeping children off their screens completely over the holidays, so the key is to make the time they do spend on-screen creative and productive. For example, there are heaps of free applications that teach kids to make simple animated films, compose music or even design 3D structures and gadgets, turning the screen into a creative tool that contributes to your kids’ development, rather than detracting. And setting rules around the allotted time on-screen, which you stick to, is essential, as your kids need to know that holidays don’t mean cart-blanche. Or, if you have a child who is particularly screen-oriented, book them into a holiday workshop in an aspect of digital art or design, or even in basic game coding. This gets them out of the house, meeting other like-minded people, and turns their obsession into something positive.
5. A day out in nature
For at least one day of the school holidays, plan a trip into the bush, your local botanic gardens or park, and spend some time taking in the sights, sound and smells of the natural world. Plan a picnic and get the kids involved in deciding what to take and preparing the food. Bring along one of your newly pumped up balls and play a game of kick-to-kick, or pack the badminton racquets and have a bit of a laugh while you’re exercising in the fresh air. A day out of the house in nature is not just going to benefit the kids, it will help the whole family relax and re-set, leaving everyone better prepared for the new school term.