Background Various types of near work have been suggested to promote the incidence and progression of myopia, while outdoor activity appears to prevent or retard myopia. However, there is a lack of consensus on how to interpret these results and translate them into effective intervention strategies. This study examined the association between visual acuity and time allocated to various activities among school-going children. Methods Population-based survey of 19,934 students in grade 4 and 5 from 252 randomly selected rural primary schools in Northwest China in September 2012. This survey measured visual acuity and collected self-reported data on time spent outdoors and time spent doing various types of near activities. Results Prolonged (>60 minutes/day) computer usage (-0.025 LogMAR units, P = .011) and smartphone usage (-0.041 LogMAR units, P = .001) were significantly associated with greater refractive error, while television viewing and after-school study were not. For time spent outdoors, only time around midday was significantly associated with better uncorrected visual acuity. Compared to children who reported no midday time outdoors, those who spent time outdoors at midday for 31–60 minutes or more than 60 minutes had better uncorrected visual acuity by 0.016 LogMAR units (P = .014) and 0.016 units (P = .042), respectively. Conclusions Use of smart phones and computers were associated with declines in children’s vision, while television viewing was not. Statistically significant associations between outdoor time at midday and reduced myopia may support the hypothesis that light intensity plays a role in the protective effects of outdoor time.