Swapping ‘screen time’ for ‘green time’

Department of Conservation —  15/01/2015

By Angeline Barnes, Outreach and Education Coordinator

These holidays I want my kids to experience a kiwi summer that resembles the summer break I had as a child. Move over ‘life inside glued to a screen’ – it’s time to get childhood back on track.

Esme hanging upside down on the monkey bars.

The more hours spent hanging upside down on the monkey bars the better

Like other families, screen time, whether it’s time on a tablet, computer or television screen is a desirable activity in our house.

We know that ‘screens’ are the way of the future, so they have a place in our house. But the challenge for me, and all parents, is to balance a child’s digital and physical worlds. In other words, balance their ‘screen time’ with their ‘green time’.

To help kiwi families keep track of green and screen time this summer, DOC has produced a simple fun colouring chart.

On the chart, you will find sketches of seven native animals and seven screen/box images scattered amongst a tree. These sketches represent a chunk of time spent outdoors or on a screen. The goal is to record your time by colouring in the sketches and keep your tree balanced.

Alice colouring in the chart.

Colouring in the chart.

Over the last few weeks, my family has been testing the tool with great success.

How it worked for us:

We decided each box was worth one hour of time – so for every hour of ‘green time’ my kids enjoyed they coloured in one native animal on the chart, earning them ‘one hour’ of screen time.  Once redeemed, they coloured in a screen box on the chart, our tree was in balance!

We also agreed on a ‘green time family treat’ as a reward for completing our chart that week – we shared a fabulous day at Zealandia, hanging with the takahē, riding the boat and giggling at the silly kākā.

Chasing a takahē at Zealandia.

Chasing takahē at Zealandia

I learnt was this chart was a powerful motivator for my children. When I first introduced this, they were motivated to rack up their ‘green time’ purely because it earned them screen time, hard for me to accept; but a reality.

As time passed, interesting things happened.  The more ‘green time experiences’ they had, the more they wanted, their motivations changed and the light bulb went on! It was through their outdoor experiences they realised how much fun they could have outside exploring the natural world.

Esme hanging out with the paradise ducks at Zealandia.

Hanging with the ducks

Our charts took pole position on the fridge and served as a reminder to get outside and explore. At last check, our charts were out of balance, ooops! But not as you may expect; the native animal sketches were coloured in and the screen boxes remained empty. Bingo!

Balance Green Time with Screen Time charts on the fridge.

Charts on the fridge

Our green time activities were varied, some facilitated by me and others came from young curious minds.

By my definition, time in the natural world is not only about visiting parks and reserves; it’s time in our garden at home, a trip to Zealandia or a swim at the beach. It’s lying on the grass watching clouds; it’s picking strawberries before the birds get them and the smell of freshly cut grass.  It’s making mud pies, studying insects and the more hours spent up a tree or hanging upside down on the monkey bars the better.

Making mud piles from a pile of mud.

Making mud pies

Time spent in nature is vital for children’s physical, mental and emotional development.  It is also essential to ensure another generation of kiwi kids experience what we had and build positive childhood memories that one day they too will pass on.

Esme picking strawberries.

Picking strawberries

Use the chart, it’s free, fun, and simple to use. It’s easily adapted and is ready to print right now over on the DOC website. Enjoy!

3 responses to Swapping ‘screen time’ for ‘green time’


    Isn’t it interesting. Today we say children don’t know how to entertain themselves without TV, Xbox, or Computer. Then add in smart phones that children have at ever younger ages.
    I spend quite a bit of time Camped at the Rakaia Gorge Camp and we see families come in all the time. We have virtually no Cell reception, No camp TV, No camp Computers. Not even a play ground.
    In my previous capacity as Chair Person of the Society that runs the camp, Ive had irate parents say to that you advertise as a kid friendly camp. My kids a bored. Within a few hours the kids are creating there own fun and the parent hardly see them apart from meal times.
    Children still have the capacity to live without those Screens and are probably more adaptable than their parents, even though the parents will say “in our day’
    My 6 grand children who live in homes where the TV is always on argue over who’s going for a few nights with Nana and Grand Dad. To the camp or to our batch on the West Coast. No Screens where we go. And they have NEVER moaned about no TV.
    The first people who have to get their heads around screens are the parents and grand parents who see it as an easy way to entertain the young ones.


      It is great to see how quicky kids can adapt to life without technology. You’ve just to to have strength to live through the first few “I’m bored”, “this is boring” moments.


    Well done you on getting your children out and about enjoying the outdoors. It is what we did as kids too – a great way of learning and appreciating this wonderful country we live in.