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Screen wean! 8 fun and useful outdoor "chores" to coax your kids outside

No really. This is fun.

It’s a very funny accident that the text color is almost exactly like that of dog poo. Photo credit: Asha Dornfest

Spring is springing and it’s time to get outside and enjoy the show! My kids need some prompting to emerge from the winter “indoor slump” which, for them, includes lots of Minecraft, YouTube and other inertial screen-based entertainment.

It’s time for some screen-weaning. For us, it begins with reminding ourselves about all the toys, gear, and activities that can be used and done outside.

While “spring cleaning” is a major chore indoors (for me at least), outdoors it’s fun and energizing. Here are some friendly-yet-useful jobs you and your kids can do even when it’s not yet summertime-sunny:

1. Wash the outdoor toys

Your kids’ outdoor toys have been living a shadowy, forgotten existence in the back of your garage. Haul ‘em out on the driveway and wash them! Any time you let your kid handle a garden hose there’s bound to be some fun. Parents have shared with me that washing the water table and other outdoor toys can be as fun for kids as playing with them.

2. Clean the bicycles and riding toys (and update safety gear as necessary)

The bikes, skateboards, scooters, and play cars need a good de-webbing and dusting. While you’re at it, makes sure the helmets still fit, the knee pads and other gear is in working condition, and you’re basically ready to roll on the next warm day.

This is also a good moment for safety upgrades: reflectors, headlights, bells, or baskets. More for fun than safety, one clever Parenthacker attached a headlight to a riding toy with Velcro.

3. Wash the car

Here’s one of those grown-up jobs that usually gets kids interested, especially if you use those nifty, pop-up compressed sponges.

Note: Important to use a very small amount of biodegradable, all-natural soap, as the runoff goes to the storm drain, which goes to the local waterway. I only hand-wash our car once a year, and the rest of the time go to a commercial car wash which properly disposes of its waste water.

4. Weed the yard

I’m always surprised by how enthusiastic my daughter is about weeding. There’s a treasure hunt aspect to it for her, with the bonus of getting to hang out with earthworms (she’s a bug lover).

For kids who aren’t so motivated, some parents pay their kids a penny per weed.

5. Mow the lawn

Older kids get excited when there’s power equipment involved. Alternatively, a push reel mower offers great exercise and is a lot quieter (and cheaper). The cut isn’t as precise but it may do the trick for you.

My son used to use our reel mower, but got frustrated with it and “upgraded” to our plug-in electric mower. Even better, he now hauls it over to the neighbor’s house and earns pocket money mowing their lawn.

6. Prune bushes

Chances are you’ve got a tough bush somewhere that could use a little taming but doesn’t require precision. Let your kids do the pruning! My daughter LOVES getting her hands on the pruners, and the bush recovers from her “work” quickly enough. She then uses the twigs and branches for outdoor craft projects.

7. Play “treasure hunt” in the garage

“Hey! I forgot we had a badminton set!” “What’s lawn bowling again?” “Awww, look at this old tricycle!” “SIDEWALK CHALK!” These are the conversations we have each Spring when we “explore” the garage. Never underestimate the power of novelty.

8. Pitch the tent

The tent needs airing out anyway, right? Pick a sunny afternoon and pitch it in the back yard. Your kids will go NUTS and you’ll probably have to drag them back inside.

How do you coax your kids away from screens and into the fresh air?

Asha Dornfest is the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less and the publisher of Parent Hacks, a site crammed with tips for making family life easier.

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