The iPad Playdate (And an Alternative)

 Hi Folks! This wise essay comes to us from Ernie Allison, who describes himself as a “bird nerd” since he was a kid. He loves contributing to conservation efforts and spreading awareness about bird issues and nature in general. Writing for has given him “the opportunity to spread awareness as well as learn about hummingbird migration patterns.” He says he spends his days trying to get his grandchildren outside, writing, and watching his hummingbird feeders. Sounds extremely pleasant! – L. 

Helping Kids Embrace Nature

The other day I was visiting my grown daughter and 5-year-old granddaughter. It was just a short visit; I was in the neighborhood and decided to drop by and catch up. My daughter had set up a playdate for her daughter with another girl her age. The plan was for the two girls to play in the living room or the back yard while Beverly (my daughter) chatted with me and got some housework done. The playdate had been contrived so that the mother of the other girl, who also had a toddler, could have a couple hours to herself.

As we were talking, we heard shouting and struggling from the other room. The two girls were not getting along very well, but we just let them be, assuming it would work itself out. Then it was quiet for a while. Very quiet. Suddenly, the silence was broken by angry shouting and foot stomps. “MOM! Lilly is playing with my iPad instead of me! It’s my turn to use it!”

We were confounded. The girls hadn’t been quiet because they were getting along, they had simply stopped interacting and were focusing on technology instead. “The iPad is going away. You have a guest, go play with her.”

There is no question that technology is becoming a huge part of people’s everyday lives. Many of us are glued to our cell phones. We spend our down time watching TV. These habits are passed on to our kids.

There is, of course, a lot of research about the benefits of nature on children. The studies state that kids who spend a generous amount of time outdoors have more focus, creativity, and cognitive abilities. Many of the studies stop there, though. They don’t go into why.

I believe the biggest reason spending time in nature is beneficial is because it allows us to experience things. There is no simulation, just actual occurrences. In nature, plants and animals do what they want. Observing these actions allows us to draw conclusions, make connections, and think for ourselves.

So instead of encouraging an obsession with technology, encourage your child to learn to appreciate nature on another level. Here are some ways how:

  • Eat meals outside. Whether it’s at a patio table or a picnic on the grass, having meal time outside allows family bonding. It removes some of the distractions of technology, and puts you in a place where you can watch trees change with the seasons, and really observe your surroundings.
  • Place bird feeders in your lawn. Make a check list of local native birds and have your children mark off the ones they see. When they see a new wild bird species, teach them about their migration patterns, eating habits, and other facts. Watching a feeder is an educational experience that can be made into a fun game to replace tv time.
  • Go. Whether it’s too the park, the zoo, a science museum, camping, a hiking trip, fishing. Wherever it is, just go. Experience nature in new ways. If it’s winter, go snow shoeing. If it’s summer, find a lake to swim in. If you’re going into the wilderness, have children keep their eyes open for new plants and wildlife.
  • Use Outside Play as a Reward. Not that rewards are necessary for good behavior, but you can use outside play time as something to look forward too. “After you get your homework done, you can go outside and work on your tree fort.”

With the increased paranoia about the “dangers” our kids are in, many parents are afraid to send them outside by themselves and don’t have the time or patience to watch them. But if you teach your children to be responsible for themselves, then there is no reason they can’t go to the park across the street. Chances are they’ll enjoy the freedom even more than their afternoon television shows. – E.A.

Black Chinned Hummingbird, Hummingbird Library

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