Tips to steer your kids outside and away from screens for the winter and beyond

How to make outdoor play fun again for children this winter

Even before we found ourselves knee-deep in a pandemic that refuses to quit, most kids were already spending a lot of time in front of a screen, whether playing video games online with friends, scrolling through social media or watching YouTube videos. Now though, after nearly two years of varying forms of social distancing, Zoom school and limited interactions with others, screens have even more of a hold on kids.

So how do we mitigate this and encourage kids to trade screen time for outdoor fun? There are a few tactics to try over the holidays and beyond.

Schedule regular “no tech” time and stick to it

It may sound simple, but sometimes implementing a new routine comes down to scheduling. Parenting expert and bestselling author of three parenting books, Alyson Schafer suggests building “no tech time” into your daily schedule and keeping to it. “Establishing routines and habits helps,” she says. “Kids have forgotten they like being outdoors, so create a list of activities with them that they can do with their friends or as a family. When it’s no tech time, you can refer to the list and see what they would like to do from the items you’ve already generated,” she explains.

Take advantage of the season

Winter may not have the same cachet as summer when it comes to favoured seasons, but it’s actually the perfect time to get the family outdoors. There are a host of free or low-cost activities to choose from, including ice skating, tobogganing, cross-country skiing, winter hikes, snowball fights, fort building and more. A fresh snowfall combined with a bit of imagination can equal a fun afternoon outdoors for kids of all ages.

Use technology to your advantage

The goal here may be to limit screen time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use technology as a helping hand. “For those who hate the outdoors and are seemingly tech addicted, you could try using apps that get kids outside,” Schafer suggests. “For example, Earth Rangers is an app about nature conservancy, and the app delivers activities that are conducted outside, mostly.”

Make it a joint effort

Depending on the age of your kids and how well you know their friends’ parents, getting kids off screens this winter can become a joint effort. “Kids want to be social, they want to go where the action is. Work with some of their friends’ parents to co-ordinate outside activities together,” Schafer says. Group activities like a toboggan party, an outing to a skating rink for shinny hockey or even a scavenger hunt on a hiking trail can all be simple ways to build in some much-needed time away from technology.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO