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Ten Tips to Take a Break from Screens and Get Outside

Adult taking a break from technology riding a bike outside in nature

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Most adults (and many children) spend hours in front of a screen each day.  In fact, research from GWI https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2022-global-overview-report reveals that the typical internet user now spends almost 7 hours per day using the internet across all devices. It’s crazy to think that statistic equates to a person spending 40 percent of their waking life online. The GWI’s broad global survey of internet users aged 16 to 64 also reports that we are spending 2 hours and 27 minutes on social media per day.

Then another alarming finding that was reported in the news this past week is that recent data conducted by The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) shows that Australian students are performing worse in numeracy, literacy and science than they did 20 years ago. And, unsurprisingly, it’s the use of social media and gaming that is considered to be detrimental to school performance. The survey also found that students who gamed for more than three hours a day were further behind in math than students who didn’t. Read the article  here https://www.skynews.com.au/australia-news/worldwide-testing-reveals-drastic-decline-in-australian-students-performance-across-maths-reading-and-science/news-story/4de1febdde5ae7d33c1ce074797af690

Now, I have not conducted any surveys, but can only report on what I have experienced first-hand in my last decade of teaching, and that is that students’ oral language, fine and gross motor skills, curiosity, attention spans and behaviour, have been declining year after year. I am no scientist, but I cannot help but notice a relationship between this decline in learning, and the increase in the use of technology paired with less time spent outdoors.

It’s also quite obvious to me that the increase in anxiety and mental health problems have increased in line with social media use, and once again the reduced time spent outdoors and in nature.

So, with ever increasing data on the benefits of being outdoors and in nature, it seems the obvious antidote to stress, anxiety and the negative effects of technology on our lives and that of our children is to be outdoors.

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An article in the American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature outlines the mounting research that points to a host of benefits associated with spending time outdoors which include increased wellbeing, happiness and improved cognitive function. There’s also alarming statistics cited in the article of the detrimental effects that a lack of green space has on children in later life, especially when it comes to psychiatric disorders.

With these alarming statistics in mind, why not use the holiday season to break old habits and acquire some new ones?

We adults are exhausted from increased workloads and time spent in front of computers, too much time on scrolling through social media and not enough time spent on activities that rejuvenate our tired spirits. Parents are worried their children show little interest in activities other than spending time on devices.

Let’s use this time to break the cycle.

Top tips for device detox and a getting outside these holidays

  1. Lock away devices or at least put time limits on them. Out of sight out of mind as the saying goes. I know it’s easier said than done. What I have found with my own children and with students, is if you explain your reasons for making changes (and maybe even read them the articles) they are more likely to cooperate. Of course, this means you have to stay off devices too, because we adults remember are also spending way too much time on devices instead of doing something useful or beneficial.
  1. Create a schedule of something to do outdoors every day. Aim for at least spending an hour outdoors each day. I have created a free printable with 24 days of activities to do with kids. Read the blog post here and download your free printable here.
  1. Do some gardening. If you don’t have a garden, visit your local plant nursery and get some indoor plants or even some herbs to pot up for a sunny windowsill.
  1. Visit a farmer’s Market. Browse through all the fresh fruit and vegetables and buy some to cook a delicious meal from scratch. Then Invite the family or friends over to share. If you have kids get them involved in identifying the names of the fruit and vegetables at the market, and get them involved in preparing the meal too. Not only are you spending some great family time together, but children are learning new skills and vocabulary. Read this blog post  to see how children benefit when they are helping in the kitchen.
  1. Go for a long walk. Take the dog, take the kids, or even a friend and go for a walk. Dress appropriately for the weather and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of being outside. Make sure you unplug too, no headphones, that way you can be in the moment. The Japanese have embraced a form of eco therapy called forest bathing. It began in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise to provide an antidote to tech burnout and inspire people to reconnect with the country’s forests. Researchers have subsequently discovered that time spent walking in nature is good for us. Make a daily walk in nature a habit. It will not only make you calmer, happier, and fitter, but will help you develop an appreciation of your natural surroundings.
  1. Depending on where you live check out your local community website for outdoor activities that may be happening in your area. Things like outdoor movies, outdoor music or theatre, ice skating, Christmas markets, whatever takes your fancy or just go and discover something new and different you haven’t done before.
  1. Have an outdoor picnic. Create some fresh picnic food and go to a favourite picnic spot or even your backyard! Lay on a rug and enjoy watching the clouds float by.
  1. Go on a bike ride. If you don’t own one you can always rent one. Have a ride around your local area or even go to some local off-road trails. Great for solo riders or involve the whole family. Or if it’s snowing where you are, go sledding, skiing or just build a snowman.
  1. Create an outdoor reading nook. If you’re in a cold climate and it’s snowing outside, by the window so you can see outside, or if you’re enjoying the summer sunshine, put up a hammock, or pull up a comfy chair under a tree or umbrella and read your favourite book. Bring a basket of books out for kids too and get them to lie on a rug and read too.
  1. Start a hobby. Everyone needs something that allows them to be in the moment and decompress. What about starting something creative? Learn to play a musical instrument, or get a sketchbook and some pencils and go outside and draw something you see, a tree, or flower or part of a building. What about knitting, sewing or crochet? Kids love these handicrafts too, and they not only keep your hands busy, but your mind sharp too. Find a local craft group, or lessons in your area, or perhaps use your allotted time for technology, to learn from YouTube.

Creating balance in our lives

Make getting outdoors a habit and priority these holidays.

We go on devices because we think there is nothing else to do. But, in reality, there is so much we can fill our lives with that is not only more meaningful, but has a positive effect on our physical and mental wellbeing, on our relationships and even our creativity.

Find an accountability partner or let your family members keep you accountable so that you stick to the schedule. We won’t ever be able to get rid of technology completely (unless we decide to live off grid), but we can bring our lives into healthier balance.

 

 

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