Need to get children outdoors?

How to escape those iPad screens

Many parents want children to stop staring at computers and get some exercise. One mother investigates how to motivate them

Water run: children are transfixed by fountains. Photograph: Tony Kyriacou/Rex

We live in a Cornish town with three beaches. There’s a small park two minutes’ walk from home where neighbourhood children congregate, and a bigger park you could reach in 15 minutes on foot. The sun is shining, school is over, the day has plenty of daylight hours left in it, and there are many things the children could be doing to unwind.

“I want the iPad,” says my eldest son, stomping in from secondary school.

“It’s not fair,” complains my daughter. “He’s got the iPad.”

“Can I have your computer?” asks the middle one. Inevitably, despite having beaches and parks and friends at their disposal, what my children want to do after school is pick up a screen – any screen – and stare at it like zombies. They are not even interesting zombies – they could certainly not summon the energy to find a human being and devour their brain. They just want to look at pixels and consume some media.

They are not alone. Today’s children spend an average of four and a half hours a day looking at screens, split between watching television and using the internet. Last year it was reported that a child born today will spend a quarter of its life staring, in a non-work-related way, at a screen. I recently taught a residential creative writing course for teenagers in Devon at a centre with no internet connection, and was struck by the teenager who yawned all morning on the first day, explaining his insomnia with the baffling claim that: “I can’t sleep without Wi-Fi.” When you add in adult fears that our children will be abducted or run over, it becomes far easier to keep them inside where we can see them, and let them be passive, coddled, safe, on a sofa.

However, in the past few years a growing number of people and organisations have begun coming up with plans to counter this trend. A couple of years ago, film-maker David Bond realised that his children, then aged five and three, were fixated on screens and iPads to the point where he was able to say “chocolate” into his three year old son’s ear without getting a response. He realised that something needed to change, and, being a London media type, appointed himself “marketing director for Nature”. He documented his journey as he set about treating nature as a brand to be marketed to young people. The result was a film called Project Wild Thing.

Bond has hit a nerve. “It is great,” he says, “to have formed a rallying cry: children need to be outdoors more.” His film charts the birth of the Wild Network, a group of organisations with the common goal of getting children out into nature. The network has grown exponentially, and now comprises over 1,500 organisations, from huge charities such as the National Trust and RSPB, to smaller mental health organisations, teachers’ groups, and pre-schools.

“It’s something we’ve been campaigning on for the past 100 years,” says Jim Wardill, community team manager at the RSPB. “Environmental education work is a fundamental part of what the RSPB is and does. Over the past 10 years or so, people have realised that kids just aren’t getting out as much. It’s about the connection to nature, the emotional bond you develop with the outside world.”

Source: TheGuardian Read more

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