The Best Ways to get Kids Outside and off Electronics

I have a confession to make. Against popular belief, I have used electronic devices as babysitters for my kids when I needed to get things done around the house. Things like cooking, cleaning, laundry and bathing (if I’m lucky) are simply too difficult to do when you’re being asked for snacks every five seconds. Enter the tablets, smartphones, game consoles, etc., and a supreme parent-fail.

Then, one fine day, my eldest child called my youngest child a vile word that won’t be repeated. Youngest child responded with a different, yet equally vile word. In that moment, I decided it was not only time to put some restrictions on what the kids were watching, but also it was time to reduce our time on the electronics altogether. It was time to get outside.

Before you check out thinking you couldn’t possibly find the time to (gasp) go outside, hear me out. Consider how much time you spend checking your social media or watching cat videos. If you think it isn’t that much, look on that nifty new screen time tool on your phone which breaks down your usage. If it stirs up guilt inside you like it did me, this article is perfect for you.

Benefits of Getting Your Kids Outside

We won’t bore you with all the details here because you probably already know the big benefits of being outdoors like helping your body to synthesize Vitamin D, lowering stress and anxiety and improving blood pressure. However, did you also know that myopia, or nearsightedness, is on the rise in children, and can be linked to not enough time in the sunlight? We didn’t, either.

Playing with electronics or video games has some negative impacts on children like shortened attention spans, less physical activity leading to obesity, and limited social interaction. Some violent games and videos have even altered children’s behavior and sense of right and wrong.

Getting your kids off their phones and outdoors allows you to spend time together as a family while making memories that will last a lifetime. But, whatever will we do once we go outdoors? Ah, we are so glad you asked. Keep reading for our top 10 activities for getting your kids outside and off their electronics.

Top 10 Activities to get Your Kids off their Electronics

1. Camping

Okay, this one admittedly isn’t the easiest option on our list, but it certainly is fun and there are tons of family memories to be made. If you plan it well, you could even find a place where cell service isn’t available, effectively rendering all electronic devices useless. We love our camping trips because it gives us the chance to really connect with the kids and get to know them outside of our normally busy lives.

2. Bicycling

Wherever you live, you can usually find a traffic-free area to ride bicycles. When our kids were really young, we attached a bike seat to the back of our bikes so they could ride along. There are also bike trailers for kids who are a little older. We found ours at garage sales, but they are easy to find at places like Walmart and Target. In fact, we found most of the bicycles our kids used growing up at garage sales or thrift stores. We did finally invest in full-sized bikes when they were old enough for one, because they would not grow too big for it.

Remember when biking to always wear helmets and practice proper hand signals when in traffic. If you must ride on the roads, remember to ride with the traffic.

3. Gardening

Gardening with your kids is not only fun, but can also be a great learning experience. Additionally, caring for plants instills a sense of responsibility. You can plant flowers, herbs or vegetables, and kids of all ages and skill levels can help out. Some plants that we have found to be easy-to-grow, hardy and pretty include sunflowers, cockscomb, tomatoes, green beans, and tulips..

If you choose to plant a vegetable garden, you will provide your children with skills they can use for the rest of their lives. They might even be interested in trying out the vegetable they planted. This is a huge bonus if your kids are picky eaters like ours. Plus, isn’t it rewarding to eat the fruits of your labor?

4. Backyard Games

There are SO many fun things to do that fall into this category. Games like horseshoes or bocce ball are probably a bit difficult for younger children, but older kids will get a kick out of these old school games. This volleyball/badminton combo set is also a fun activity for older kids.

Depending on your personal level of comfort, trampolines can be fun for all ages as long as the safety net is included and only one or two people use it at one time.
Some other games you might enjoy playing as a family in the backyard include:

  • Lawn Darts — don’t worry, they’re less murderous these days
  • Tag — yes, the old-fashioned kind
  • Hide-and-seek
  • Ladder toss game
  • Cornhole
  • Lawn bowling
  • Nerf gun challenges
  • Croquet

Put a fun spin on your gaming by turning it into a family tournament complete with winning brackets and maybe even a cool trophy. You could even have your tournament take place over multiple days and with multiple games.

5. Fishing

This is another activity that requires some planning. Make sure you have valid fishing licenses before you head out. If you already have fishing poles, grab some bait and head to a lake or pond. Fishing is a great way to instill patience and perseverance in children. It is also a great way to relax and have some one-on-one time whether fishing from shore or from a boat.

Be prepared if this is the first time your child has been fishing since it is a stark contrast to the instant gratification provided by electronics. It is truly a good lesson in “good things come to those who wait.”

6. Basketball, Softball or Baseball

Install a basketball hoop above your garage door or head to a local park with hoops. I remember shooting hoops with my grandpa when I was younger. He taught us how to play HORSE and how he was supposed to use “granny shots” to score at games with his high school basketball team in the 1930s — no layups or slam dunks for those guys.

Basketball is ideal because it can easily be played with any number of people that are available. You do not need to have two full teams of players to have a good time.

Like basketball, you don’t need a full team of players for softball or baseball. Simply, tweak the game to fit your family. Take turns at bat and running the bases. If a full game just isn’t working out, take turns at pitching and batting practice.

7. Hiking

Hiking is a great family activity that works no matter how many or few people you have with you. Heading out on the trails with your kids is a great cardio workout for everyone and offers the chance at taking in nature. If you are lucky (and quiet), you might even spy some awesome wildlife.

Step up the hiking adventure by preparing a scavenger hunt list of items for each family member to find during the hike. Bring along a pair of binoculars to zoom in on birds or other hard-to-see animals. If you have a young child, look for a hiking baby carrier, so you don’t wear yourself out holding him the entire time. If you plan to go on long hikes, be sure to pack some snacks. I hear kids love those.

8. Snow Sports

The dead of winter is no time to stay cooped up in the house, unless you are facing a major blizzard. Once it passes, get out and enjoy the snow with your kids. It is ideal if you have proper snow clothes, but not a necessity. These snow overalls are great for keeping the kids warm and cozy while playing. Growing kids might only get one season of use out of them, so this is a good item to find in second-hand shops if you can.

There are tons of things to do in the snow including sledding, ice skating, skiing, snowshoeing, building forts and snowmen, and making snow angels. Of course, a skiing trip would require some planning and using some vacation time for the majority of us. Still, there are lots of things to do in the snow in your own backyard.

9. Eat Out(side)

Change up your dinner routine, if you have one. No judgment, we ate dinner on the couch last night. Plan a cook-out in the backyard. Whether it is roasting hot dogs over a fire or grilling burgers, sit outside and eat together. If you are able to have a campfire, roast some marshmallows and make s’mores for dessert. You could make it a part of your weekly dining routine and set aside one night to eat outside.

10. Water Sports

Unless you’re into polar plunges, this activity is best left for the summer months. If you have access to a community pool, watering hole or even your own pool, you can easily lure the kids away from their devices with swimming. Of course, water sports can encompass many things. We’ve had the time of our lives simply walking along a creek while looking for rocks. We’ve brought home some of the coolest geodes from these outings.

If you do have a pool, don’t plan on lying on a float while the kids play. If they don’t tip you over, they will try climbing up on the float with you. We decided that during pool time, it’s best to join them in whatever they are doing. We’ve always had swim goggles for the kids, but last summer we decided to invest in our own. We were amazed by how much fun we had diving and looking around the pool bottom, and our investment led us to spending about three-times as long in the pool.

If you don’t have a pool, you could incorporate any old garden hose into any of our Backyard Games (No. 4) activities listed earlier. A more spontaneous activity is playing in the rain. For a few months, my kids would shriek with joy, drop everything and run outside anytime it began raining. Water toys like these water balloons are super easy and make for another fun, albeit messy, way to cool off outside. A few other water toys include:

  • Super soaker water sprayers
  • Slip and slide mats
  • Splash pads
  • Water tables
  • Inflatable water slides

Tips for Introducing Activities to Get Your Kids Outside

Be prepared for some opposition. Your teenager might be ready to level up, and he simply cannot break away from the game right now. Your eight-year-old might tell you whatever idea you’ve picked out is boring, even if she’s never tried it. It’s okay, you’re the parent, and you’re in control. Hiding power cords and chargers is one sure-fire way to prove this. A few other tips include:

  1. Start small. If you’ve never taken the kids camping, try eating outside first. (No. 9) Now is not the time to go big or go home. Ease into difficult activities.

  2. Expect some whining. Introducing activities to get your kids off their phones is basically asking them to remove one of their appendages. Do not let some light arguing get you down nor discourage you.

  3. Be patient. Outdoor activities for kids like gardening may not go exactly as you think it should, but it’s okay. Your main goal is to get your kids outside, not plant an award-winning flower garden.

  4. Have fun. If you’re having fun, your kids will follow. Do not make things too competitive or difficult. If the unexpected happens, roll with it.

  5. Make sure activities are age appropriate. It’s not the time to tackle bucket-list goals like that mountain hike or 10-mile bike ride. Be aware of your children’s limitations and don’t overdo it.

  6. Do not allow phones during outdoor time. Set the lead and leave your phone inside or at least out of sight for the duration of the activity.

Getting Your Kids Outside

Engaging in outdoor activities with your kids not only gets them off their electronics, but also gets you off of yours. So, as we see it, this is a win-win situation. Being outside is beneficial for a number of reasons, but your family’s health and well-being trumps them all. The great outdoors is calling, what are you waiting for?