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Simple Alternatives To Solitary Screen Time For Device-Hungry Kids And Busy Parents

Because getting outside - and getting dirty - is always a good thing.
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As parents, we’re constantly worrying about our kids. How they feel, what they’re eating, if they’re behaving, if they’ve brushed their teeth today (or this week). Yet when we’re stressed (often), rushed (mostly) and busy (always), we don’t think twice about giving our kids a tablet for 10 minutes, half an hour, or even longer, so we can get dinner ready, tidy up around the house or respond to work emails while the virtual babysitter looks after our child.

Nearly all of us will already admit to giving our kids screen time to curb a tantrum, help comfort an over-tired child or reward one who’s just done their homework or come home from a busy day.

Turns out, that tablet time is keeping children indoors and, often, alone: new research from Persil has found that by the time a child is seven, they’ve spent two years of their lives in front of a screen. We could re-train for a new career in two years. Or, in theory, negotiate Brexit.

What’s more, over half that time with a screen is solitary, without friends or family around.

Persil’s survey also found that UK children spend more than twice as much time in front of screens as outside playing, with 62% of parents surveyed saying they wished their kids would spend more time outdoors. Nearly 80% of parents admitted that screens were convenient, however, many worried about the long-term negative implications, with over 60% wondering how screens might negatively affect a child’s creative thinking, hinder psychological development (a concern for 66%) and impact social skills (a fear for 77%).

This concern isn’t a new one: Persil, together with parents, recognise that screen time worries have existed nearly as long as screens have - and is trying to change things. Happily, the solution is simple: open the front or back door and get the kids to embrace the outdoors – and to learn to love getting dirty again. Join Persil and find some great tips and ideas for how to get your kids connecting with Mother Nature, from building a den to making a muddy volcano.

Don’t miss these easy alternatives for the kids to enjoy in place of screen time. We all know we live our best lives outside: splashing in puddles, soaking up the sun, running in the breeze… And our kids do, too. So, grab some wellies and start exploring.

Play ball

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Fact: whether your child is 3 or 13, they will love throwing and kicking a ball around outside. And it can be any kind of ball, thrown or kicked or caught any kind of way: bouncing a basketball or netball against a garden wall, playing catch with a tennis ball with siblings and parents, attempting to score a football goal but kicking the ball over the garden wall and really, really annoying the neighbours (super fun for kids, less so for parents). Ball play helps children with hand-eye coordination and to develop motor skills, plus you never know: you could be practicing bowling with the future James Anderson right now.

Meet magical creatures

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We’re going on an insect hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared… hang on, we’re kind of scared. Insects can be so gross. But our kids don’t need to know that: they find spiders fascinating, earwigs extraordinary and snails utterly captivating. So taking them on an insect hunt around the garden - and then researching the mini-beasts you’ve found – could teach you both something new. Also, if you have any pets at home, playing with them is the perfect post-school activity - and they love to be outside. Spending 20 minutes chasing Fido, crawling around after the pet tortoise or watching your guinea pigs inhale their kale salad isn’t just fun, it’s therapeutic. Studies have shown animals can help children with everything from reducing stress and anxiety to learning empathy skills.

Unleash their inner Picasso

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Don’t be afraid to get messy – indoors or out – and set up a fun crafts station for the kids. From painting en plein air on easels outdoors so they can imitate the French impressionists, to creating festive decorations for an upcoming celebration, using conkers, pine cones and leaves you found in the park, an arts and crafts session gets both you and the kids engaged (and improves coordination, fine motor skills and encourages creativity). It can also be relaxing – there’s a reason colouring books are now best-sellers for adults. Top tip: if you’re going to get the glitter out – and don’t want to spend the rest of your days scrubbing it out of your kitchen countertop, which is the opposite of relaxing – then head outside with a tablecloth and get sprinkling.

Get muddy

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Instead of begrudging the sometimes rainy English landscape, use it to your advantage and suggest a different kind of baking session with the kids – one that doesn’t involve an oven. Make some mud pies: all you need is smooth soil, water, twigs for mixing and a bucket/muffin tin to mix them in. You can also dig out baking tools like cookie cutters and rolling pins to help shape the messy creations. Have a scavenge around the garden/crafts box and see what you can find to decorate them with: flowers, stones, leaves, jewels, stickers, buttons, whatever…

Just be

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As parents, we often feel we’re flailing (or failing), if our kids aren’t doing something, all of the time. But actually, there’s a lot to be said for not making plans and just being. Sit on the grass and have a chat with your kids, cuddle them, tell them a story, play a quick card game. Or lie down and count stars together. Tablet, what tablet?

Persil has created a video that brings their research data to life: seven-year-old Sophia embarks on a space training expedition which sees her completely alone in a training capsule for a year, and vividly illustrates how solitary screen time isolates children from their friends and families.

For more tips and ideas on getting your kids away from the tablet and into the fresh air, visit Persil’s Dirt Is Good hub.