[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly church activities, Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays.]
According to the New York Times “children 8-18 spend seven and a half hours a day” in front of screens. The L. A. Times reports that in the average American household watches TV for “eight and a half hours a day.” Yes, these are discouraging statistics, but they don’t have to be true of your home. As theologian and author Francis Schaeffer said, “The task of the Christian is to resist the spirit of the world in whatever form it takes in his own generation.” Schaeffer probably wasn’t thinking of your child’s Nintendo DS—but the principle applies. There are forces in modern life which push people away from nature and away from community and family. Resisting those forces doesn’t have to be so difficult—sometimes it just takes a little creativity.
To that end here are some practical ideas to help you think about how to get your kids away from their screens and into great outdoors:
- Family bike rides and nature walks: A side-effect of all that time in front of screens is that we don’t use our bodies. In contrast to most of human history, technology lets us live lifestyles in which we barely need to exert our bodies at all! If it has been a while since you’ve worked up a sweat, dust off those bikes in the garage and go for a ride with your family. Or if you are nearby some good trails for hiking we’ve got some ideas to help you make it special for the kids!
- Make your yard a place the kids want to be: Do you have a basketball hoop hanging over the garage? Do you have an age-appropriate playground outside? Do you have sporting equipment—bats, balls, skates, etc.—in the house? If not, consider making an investment in a few outdoor-oriented things to put up around the house. As the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.”
Plant a garden: Having a garden is not only a great way to grow your own food; it can be an outdoor classroom for your kids too! Involving kids in the task of gardening teaches them to value the processes of the natural world. They can see where food comes from and learn how plants grow. They can gain confidence because they are involved in creating something which grows and becomes beautiful and useful. And, of course, gardening is a great way to simply spend time with them.
- Take a family bird watching outing: Bird watching is an activity that can be done from the comforts of your own back porch or can be an excuse for an extended outing in the woods. Make it a project to buy (or build) birdhouses with the kids and put them up around the yard. Let your kids be in charge of filling them and let them experiment with what feed attracts which birds. If you don’t know the first thing about bird watching, that’s OK—learn it together with your kids. They’ll love it. Here are a few ideas to get started.
- Geocaching and Letterboxing: A great way to make a walk outside feel like an adventure is to take your family geocaching. Geocaching uses GPS (global positioning system) and other techniques such as good-old-fashioned orienteering with a map and compass to find hidden “caches” in remote places. A typical “cache” is a small weatherproof container with a notepad in it that you can write a message on when you find it. Kids (and adults) love treasure hunts and this is also a great way to teach your kids (or learn yourself) how to read a map with a compass and navigate in the woods. Here are some resources to learn the basics of orienteering.
- Make nature crafts: Nature supplies endless media for arts and crafts. You can find a project online and then go outside and pick up all the necessary supplies with your kids. Or just go hunting for interesting looking leaves, rocks and sticks and then set your kids free with what you’ve found and some basic craft supplies like glue or string.
- Outdoor games: Sometimes all it takes for a good day outside is a big field and a few trusty outdoor games. Red Rover, Red Light Green Light, Hide-and-Seek and so many others can turn a yard into a playground and an afternoon into a special memory. Outdoor games are great because they almost always involve the body, leave lots of room for creativity and don’t require you to buy a thing!