With 24-hour TV channels, console video games and a never-ending supply of computer games, it can be quite a challenge to get kids off the couch. However, with a little perseverance, it can be done! Spending hours cooped up inside is unhealthy for kids and apart from being harmful to their health, kids who spend too many hours glued to an electronic screen are prevented from enjoying the simple joys and pleasures of childhood.
If you think your child is spending far too much time on the couch (is a couch potato) and not enough time running around and being a cheerful and carefree kid, here are a few useful tips on how you can get your kid off the couch and into the fresh air.
- Lay down the law – don’t forget who is in charge. Remember that saying our parents used to use -my house, my rules – do the same. Limit TV or computer time and stick to your guns (no matter how much offended kids protest). If you think that your child is spending too much time cooped up inside, tell them to turn off the TV, video game or computer and go outside. Kids who are left to their own devices will happily spend hours lazing in front of the television or in front of the computer screen, and for this reason parents need to be the ones who say -enough is enough .
- Getting involved – actions speak louder than words. It’s no use encouraging kids to get outside and play when parents are spending their own time in front of the telly or computer. Parents need to be involved and they need to be caught up in the action. Parents can take their kids to the local park for a few hours, or those who are extra energetic can find out more about local hiking trails, etc. Internet websites, such as www.joburg.org.za and www.uncoversouthafrica.com provide parents with a wealth of information on enjoyable outdoor and indoor activities (for rainy days). When kids see how much fun they can have, it won’t take much encouragement to get them off the couch and into the -great outdoors’ and what’s more when they see that mom and dad are just as keen to get out and explore the world – it will add to their enthusiasm.
- Holiday camps provide city-living kids with the chance to get out and enjoy nature. There are several holiday camp establishments, and finding the perfect one that’s located nearest to you is as easy as an internet search. In the Forest is a Johannesburg based holiday camp and here kids attend the camp for the day (with a one-day sleepover). The website, intheforest.co.za provides detailed information on the cost of the camp. With an abundance of fun-filled activities such as wild treasure hunts, nature walks, crazy obstacle courses and arts and crafts, it won’t be long before kids forget all about their video games and the 24-hour cartoon channel. Most of the camps are reasonably priced and not only will kids have their day jam-packed with open-air fun; the camps are a fantastic place for making friends. For working parents, holiday camps are a great alternative to traditional aftercare and parents are afforded the assurance that their child will be getting the exercise and all the fresh air that they need. Most of the holiday camps accept children from as young as 6-years old and those who are not too eager to allow their child to sleepover are able to arrange day-visits. Thanks to In the Forest and the other local camps like Jod’s Pony sleepover camp – holidays are anything but boring.
- Explore the neighbourhood – many parents don’t realise just how many invigorating outdoor activities are literally right on their doorstep. Cities have many well-maintained parks and if money is a little tight, there is nothing better than packing up a picnic and spending the day picnicking. Take a ball or a few other outdoor games and kids will be kept busy for the entire day. There are also a lot of public swimming pools and again for a minimum fee, a family can enjoy a fun day out in the sun. Families who are pressed for time can also make a point of going for a walk together each evening and if there’s a family dog, be sure to take the pup along!
- Play dates – kids who don’t have siblings or those who have siblings who are a lot younger or older than they are, are often drawn to the TV or computer as a source of amusement and companionship. Having somebody to play with makes outdoor play all the more fun. Play dates and even sleepovers are a wonderful way to give an only child an instant playmate and parents should use the opportunity to get kids off the couch and involved in outdoor games activities. Set up a tent outside or use the forgotten playhouse to coax kids to play outside. As long as kids are kept busy, they’ll quickly forget about the tempting electronic games and gadgets that are inside the house.
The benefits of outdoor play
Playing outside has tons of benefits for kids. Outdoor play improves a child’s problem solving abilities and spending a few hours outside will also help kids to develop their motor skills. Today kids are expected to take on a lot more responsibilities – school is demanding and many kids are involved in extra-mural activities and their lives are rather structured, with little time left for carefree fun and playtime. Encouraging outdoor play is important and kids can -let their hair down’, get dirty and just enjoy the simple pleasures of being kids. It’s been proven that children who spend too many hours cooped up inside suffer from headaches, insomnia, obesity as well as stress-related illnesses such as depression. Regular outdoor play encourages creativity, improves concentration and it also helps to decrease temper tantrums.
Instead of buying your child another video game, why not consider buying outdoor toys and games such as paddle pools, buckets and spades, bikes, etc. In South Africa, we are blessed with a year-round warm climate and with so many fun outdoor things to do, there is no reason why kids should be spending their days on the couch or in a dim room surrounded by computer-generated images. Remember to ensure that kids are protected from the sun’s harmful UV rays while playing outside and don’t forget the sun block.