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  • Writer's picturejenniferlaceybaker

Finding the Balance: How to Trade Screen Time For Green Time – A Practical Guide for Parents

Kids on a nature walk.

When my oldest daughter was two, we sold our house, packed our bags, and embarked on a family adventure that led us to the lush tropical landscapes of Thailand. While the experience was incredible, the relentless heat and humidity often confined our outdoor escapades to the early morning hours. Amidst the odd jungle hike and beach day, we beat the heat by mostly remaining indoors, where our family inadvertently fell into the screen-time trap. Little did we know that breaking this habit would prove a challenge upon our return home.

We are currently living in a world dominated by screens. Convincing our daughter to disconnect became a formidable task. Caught between two extremes, our family oscillated between no TV and excessive screen time. The struggle seemed unending, and the dream of striking a balance between technology and outdoor play felt elusive. However, the undeniable benefits of spending time outdoors – improved physical health, behaviour, and mental well-being – motivated us to persist. We couldn't give up on the idea of reaching a happy middle ground.

Siblings on a nature walk holding a Canada flag

Fast forward to today, my daughter is now eight, and I'm thrilled to share that we've successfully stopped the screen time pendulum. Through trial and error, we discovered strategies that worked for our family, thus creating a bridge between the digital world and the great outdoors. If you, too, find yourself grappling with the challenge of replacing screen time with green time, this practical guide is here to help you navigate what can feel like a daunting transition.


How to Trade Screen Time For Green Time? Embrace the Suck...I Mean Journey:

The Navy Seals have a saying, “Embrace the suck.” Using it to talk about transitioning away from screens might be extreme, but this is a journey that, at the start, won’t necessarily be pleasant. So acknowledge, accept, and revel in the discomfort! Consider this a temporary obstacle that you will soon overcome. But first, this challenge starts with you. 

Reflect on Your Habits: Start by examining your own relationship with screens.

Since having kids, I hardly watch TV anymore due to a lack of time/interest. But, I do find that, like most, my phone has filled the gap. Recently, however, I have worked to limit my daytime use. I consume news with my morning coffee and primarily only use social media in the evenings after the kids have gone to bed. 

Mother and daughter on a nature walk.

Because children’s brains are like sponges, it is so important to demonstrate a healthy balance. I feel I failed at finding balance early on, but it is not too late to be the change you want to see. If you set the groundwork, your children will follow suit. After a long period of being consistent with our parenting around screen use, there is minimal push back. Many days, the TV doesn’t even get turned on, and the tablet rarely gets used. Now, there is renewed excitement when we make time to watch something, and as a family, we try to choose shows where we can learn along the way. 

Start Small with Outdoor Routines: Transitioning from screen-dominated days to outdoor adventures can be overwhelming.

Begin with small, consistent outdoor rituals, like a short daily nature walk or an afternoon in the backyard. These gradual steps build a positive association with the outdoors. 

I’ll be honest, though, we are not going for daily nature walks. That is the goal. But, at this moment, I don’t have the buy-in from my oldest. She enjoys spending time indoors at home, and rather than continuously push her out of her comfort zone, we are taking it slow. There are days, however, when I hold firm and explain that we are going for a walk because that is what our bodies and minds need. Fortunately (because momma knows best), she ends up enjoying herself. When we are outside, I aim to show enthusiasm and gratitude to underscore the idea that nature is an appealing alternative to screen time.

Family standing by their jeep with a christmas tree on top and snow everywhere.

We also experience seasons of life, where outdoor time rises and falls with the temperature. We make the most of our outdoor spaces throughout spring, summer, and fall. In winter, we are outside for prolonged periods a lot less. Find a starting point that works for your family, build upon it, and, in time, you will achieve a balance that works for you.  

Create No Wi-Fi Zones: Designate specific areas and times where screens are off-limits.

For my family, there are no screens at the dining table or in the kids’ bedrooms (mostly). We have also recently started to limit screen time to the downstairs TV only. The result of this was surprising. The kids are now playing much more in their rooms and common spaces upstairs, and when downstairs watching TV, they inevitably begin to play with toys in that space as well. 

Creating boundaries around tech-free zones has helped us to minimize screen dependency over time. As a result, we’re seeing more sibling interaction, creativity, and overall positive behaviour. If this is a challenging boundary, you could try going straight to the source by turning off the router for a set amount of time each day. Discover Outdoor Hobbies Together: Identify your child's interests and explore outdoor hobbies that align with them. As a family, we spend our summers camping. We love it, and luckily, the kids do too! So much so that I recently created The Happy Camper’s Logbook, a journal to record your family’s favourite camping memories. 

The Happy Camper's Logbook by Wild Child Literacy

In addition to outdoor family activities, I also think it’s vital to introduce children to team sports. It provides opportunities to improve communication, develop friendships, learn teamwork—the list goes on. Last spring, despite strong objections, I enrolled my daughter in soccer. Mid-season, while acting as the goalie, she made an incredible save. Her team, coaches, and parents were so proud. It was a huge boost to her self-confidence. We still reminisce about it. She can’t wait to start soccer again this spring. 

Team sports provide an opportunity for every child to experience tremendous personal growth. But, whether it's planting a garden, birdwatching, or walking the dog, find an activity that makes the great outdoors more engaging and enticing.

Master The Screen Time Teeter-Totter:

Were you ever having fun on the teeter-totter as a kid, only to have your friend jump off? With a few tried and tested tips, you don’t have to worry about crashing to the ground in your journey to trade screen time for green time. 

Put a Screen Time Schedule Into Place -  This will look different for every family, but consistency is key! Especially when it comes to building understanding and acceptance of boundaries.

Consistency has always been something that I have struggled with. I am rather laid-back but have an innate need to follow rules. Setting boundaries is easy for me—enforcing them not so much. And I couldn’t quite understand why my spirited daughter rebelled so hard against my attempts to create family rules. In hindsight, I realize my inconsistency in holding the line caused confusion. 

I’m not perfect, but I am getting better at holding firm. During the school week, we limited screen time to the occasional show as a family after supper—more often than not, it’s skipped altogether. On the weekends, the TV doesn’t come on until rooms are clean (this is where some inconsistencies creep in. But, hey, it’s a work in progress!) 

Allow Opportunities For Unstructured Outdoor Play - Give your child the chance to experience risky play.

The Canadian Pediatric Society recently released an article titled: As Safe As Necessary: A New Approach to Play. The main takeaway that stuck with me was when Dr. Emilie Beaulieu, author of the CPS guidance document and a pediatrician in Quebec City, said, “Children should be kept as safe as necessary during play, not as safe as possible.” 

I highly recommend taking a read-through. Risky play in an outdoor setting fosters creativity and imagination, resilience, and increased confidence. Let your children explore their surroundings freely, whether by building forts with branches, jumping in puddles, or engaging in spontaneous outdoor games. 

Dad and son in skate park

As your Wild Child grows more independent, avoid using sayings like “Be careful!”. Of course, continue to provide supervision and be mindful of safety issues, but do your best to let your child make judgment calls on what kind of play they feel comfortable with. Remember, we are trying to create space to take risks, not instill fear, and risky play actually teaches your child risk-assessment strategies. 

Try Out Nature-themed Tech: Screens are not the enemy when used with a balanced approach. So, if comfortable, try integrating technology with outdoor experiences using nature-themed apps.

In this context, screens become tools for learning that add to the outdoor experience. I, myself, have not used this approach. I prefer to keep green time free of screens. The fact that I’m not very tech-savvy doesn’t help either. Regardless, some great apps come to mind. iNaturalist is one. This app encourages users to explore and document the natural world around them, creating an interactive experience. I am sure there are some great geocaching and birding apps as well! 

Nurture Through Nature, Not Screens:

But what about when I need to get dinner started? Look, I get it. There are times when TV is a sanity saver. And I use it as such, too! But again, we go back to finding balance. Children crave connection. The more moments you can give them, the more you will see them blossom. So, pour everything you can into nurturing a connection, and you may be surprised at the outcome. The richer the connection, the more sparingly screens tend to be used. 

Document Outdoor Adventures: Turn outdoor experiences into cherished memories by documenting them together.

Create a family nature journal, capturing observations, sketches, and thoughts during nature outings. Nature journaling reinforces the connection with nature, serves as a lasting keepsake, and builds strong family bonds.

A Walk In Nature Journal by Wild Child Literacy

Celebrate Milestones: Acknowledge and celebrate milestones in your journey from screens to nature.

Did you learn a new outdoor skill or complete the 1000 Hours Outside challenge? Well, heck ya, those milestones deserve to be celebrated! Whether with a special treat while on a family picnic or a BBQ with friends, these celebrations create positive reinforcement and keep things exciting and fun. So, set goals and, as a family, enjoy working together to achieve them. 

Stay Flexible and Adapt: Recognize that finding the right balance involves adapting and evolving to life as it happens.

Stay flexible and be willing to change your strategies as needed. Maybe the weather hasn’t been great, so instead of spending time outdoors, you opt for a family game night. Great! Remember, it's about creating a sustainable and enjoyable lifestyle.

Boy and girl climbing a tree

Moving away from screens toward nature is a transformative journey that requires dedication, patience, and creativity. By embracing a mindful approach and implementing practical strategies, you can successfully guide your family toward a balanced and fulfilling relationship between technology and the beauty of the great outdoors. 

If you are ready to transition your family away from screens and towards the great outdoors, but you aren’t sure exactly what to do, check out our latest blog on how the shared experience of nature journaling can build strong bonds

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