10 Strategies for Getting Kids Off Screens This Summer

Use this time to give children a digital reset before school resumes.

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The kids have had enough. It's time to wean them off the screens that have replaced in-person education and socialization over the past year, and there's no better time than summer vacation to give them this badly-needed digital reset. Parents should use these precious few weeks to pull that plug of dependence and remind their children of what it's like to play freely, offline, for hours on end.

Of course, this is easier said than done, which is why I'd like to offer some practical strategies for giving kids a delightfully old-fashioned, screen-free summer. As a full-time working mother of three elementary school-aged children, these are the same tips and tricks that I am using to keep them distracted and entertained without resorting to the allure of Netflix shows and Minecraft.

1. Set Clear Screen Time Limits

Establish how many minutes or hours you're OK with them having each week, and carve it into some stone tablets that can never be altered. (I'm partially kidding—forget the stone tablets, but do make a firm rule.) For example, you could say they're allowed to watch for an hour on Sunday morning, or for 15 minutes in the evening while dinner is being made, or none at all for the rest of the summer—and then stick to it. That helps put arguments to rest.

2. Confiscate the Devices

"Out of sight, out of mind," as the saying goes. Power down those tablets, phones, and extra laptops and stash them in the back of a closet until September rolls around. Throw a sheet over the TV or unplug it. Cancel the cable subscription. There are all sorts of drastic measures you can take to shake your family out of its screen addiction and force them to find other things to do. 

3. Get Kids Cooking

Involve them in meal preparation by assigning recipes that you'd like them to make each day. They'll develop new skills at chopping, cooking, and baking if they stick with it—and you'll have an array of tasty dishes (and maybe some not-so-tasty ones) at the end of it.

4. Sign Up for Lessons

There are numerous half- and full-day camp options and lessons that can occupy a child's time, such as swimming, art classes, tennis, dinosaur camp, sports camp, and who knows what else. Look around your community for activities that can get them out of the house for a few hours each day.

5. Establish a Reading Routine

Go to the library once a week to stock up on fresh reading material. Take your kid along to choose what she or he wants to read, and that will help keep them enthusiastic. Parents, don't micromanage it; let them read summer trash if they so please. Back home, see if you can set up a cozy reading nook or a hammock on a porch where they will be inclined to read and relax for prolonged periods of time.

6. Do a Kid Swap with Friends

If you have a friend who also wants to reduce their child's screen time, but that child still requires constant supervision, see if they're open to doing a weekly swap—one day with both kids at your house, one day at the friend's house. This takes some of the burdens off a parent to keep young children entertained.

For older kids whose friends are free to play, establish safe travel routes for them to move between houses. Go over them verbally and in-person to ensure your child is confident with navigating them, and then sit back and let go.

7. Establish a Daily Minimum for Outdoor Time

Maybe it's one hour, maybe it's four, but setting a minimum amount of time that you want your child outside will help you stay on track. It doesn't matter what they do outside—they could do crafts, read, play, snooze in a treehouse, snack, swing, build LEGO, walk around the block a few times, go to the skate park or a nearby playground—but the point is to get them in the habit of spending time out of the house.

8. Squeeze in Microadventures

The idea behind the microadventure is to do small adventurous things in short periods of time around a typical workday. This could be an early morning hike and breakfast picnic, or a weeknight campout and bonfire with s'mores. Don't fall for the myth that you need long chunks of interrupted time to have adventures; all it takes is a willingness to move quickly, and you'll still feel refreshed by the end of it.

9. Assign Household Chores

Just because it's the summer holidays doesn't mean kids can slack off. There's still a household to run, and older ones should be expected to pitch in, which has the added bonus of helping to pass the time. Create a daily housecleaning schedule. Require them to do dishes, hang out laundry, vacuum, take out the recycling, pick up the mail, and more. The same goes for outdoor work. Get kids to weed gardens, water plants, cut the grass, and pick ripe vegetables. 

10. Create a Challenge

Learn how to ride a unicycle. Aim for a maximum number of jumps on a pogo stick. Master some skateboard or scooter tricks using a homemade ramp. Get really good at shooting hoops or using a slackline. Build a treehouse or a backyard zipline. Paint a huge mural on the side of a garage. Improve one's chess-playing skills. Make a film that depicts the summer's adventures. Set up a home baking or lemonade stand. Write and put on a play with siblings and neighbors. There are so many bigger projects that a child can undertake to occupy their time, while building practical skills at the same time.