One of the biggest challenges to Screen-Free Week is finding alternatives to screens. Bringing out the board games and crafts is always fun, but the easiest destination with the biggest bang for the buck is to open the door and just go outside. Screen-Free Week is a great time to reconnect with nature and re-discover how time outside can be filled with wonder, exploration, imagination, exercise, fewer allergies, more conversation – and even greater school success.
According to a recent international survey by The Nature Conservancy, supported by Disney, 83 percent of U.S. parents accept the fact that time in nature leads to school improvement – in fact, it was the second most important influence after reading. Yet, 65 percent of U.S. parents of children ages 3 – 18 do not think their children are spending enough time outside. Parents expressed as much concern about children not going outside as they did about bullying, obesity and education. Stephanie Wear, a scientist for The Nature Conservancy commented, “This is really encouraging because it tells us that to parents, nature is not just ‘something to do’ but a crucial part of childhood.”
According to parents, preschoolers spend about 12 hours of each week outside, while teenagers over age 16 spend less than seven hours per week in nature. Parents from all countries surveyed want their children to spend more time outside than they currently do. Parents in the U.S., France and Hong Kong believe that homework is the biggest obstacle to older children spending more time outside, followed by the lure of technology. Only U.S. parents admitted that a primary obstacle to going outside is their children’s discomfort with being outdoors, e.g. too hot, too many bugs.
It’s fair to say, especially for younger children, that a major reason why they don’t spend more time outdoors is because parents or other adults don’t take them outdoors. According to The Nature Conservancy, we need to recognize parents as “the primary gatekeepers to nature.” Not surprisingly, the survey found that children are much more likely to be outside with a parent or guardian than a friend, teacher or extended family member. So, as we prepare for Screen-Free Week, it would be a good time to go on-line to the Nature Rocks Activity Finder which gives parents ideas on what to do outside, with kids of all ages and in all types of weather. Go to EYI’s Pick-a-Park website to search for one of the 700 parks on Long Island where you can enjoy these activities.