I've always considered myself to be an indoorsy person. I don’t know, but maybe being indoorsy is inherited. Early in marriage, my husband and I joked that it was a good thing we found each other so that we could be indoorsy together. And four children later, we have cultivated a very indoorsy family, contending that there’s nothing else we would rather do than cozy up on the couch with a good book to read aloud.
Yet, I found myself reading books on children thriving in nature, and I was fascinated by them (from the comfort and warmth of my own couch, of course). I read about raising healthy, confident children by being out in nature, boosting mental and physical health (for free!) just by playing outside. I read quotes from these books like, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes." My (indoorsy) way of thinking was being confronted with a much different perspective.
Somehow all of this thinking and reading led to discovering a movement called 1000 Hours Outside. The challenge of this movement is simple enough: spend 1000 hours outside in a year. Our family decided to embark on this challenge that would fight against our own indoorsy-ness and give our children the full experience and benefit of nature.
We accepted the challenge of 1000 Hours Outside, realizing that even if we missed the 1000 hours mark, we would all still benefit greatly from our time outside. So I printed off a cute chart to record our hours, found a free app to keep up with the time, and we were ready to go outside!
Except, some of us weren’t. At first, it was a battle. (Remember my theory on the heredity of indoorsy-ness?) Some of our children who preferred to remain indoors had to be convinced to go outside. We had to say things like, “Yes, dear son, I know you want to read your book. But you can read it outside and get some fresh air. Now go!”
1000 hours outside in a calendar year (an average of just under three hours per day) is an ambitious endeavor. In order to diversify our time outside, we engaged in a variety of activities. We hiked together. We discovered beautiful waterfalls and faced our (ahem, my) fear of heights (my palms are tingly and sweaty even thinking about those severe drop offs, whew!). We did some hard hikes and climbs, but we showed our kids that we can all do hard things. Countless hours were spent outside between brothers playing football. Creative games were constructed by an older sister and played by an acquiescent younger brother. Fireflies were caught and released. Riveting games of flashlight tag occurred on warm summer evenings. Artistic chalk masterpieces were carefully created. We camped outside underneath the brilliant stars, all cozied together inside our tent, playing games and laughing. All of these things helped us cultivate a new normal for our family, one that took us from indoorsy to outdoorsy.
Over the course of our year outside, I began to notice two new developments in our family. The first is that the more time our children spent outside, the more they wanted to go outside. It was like a new habit was being created. That’s actually, in fact, what happened. One year later, our children play outside every day. Yes, even when it’s cold, and no, they no longer require any type of convincing or prodding. Now they eagerly run outside, often with a football and always with their imaginations.
The second development I observed in our time in nature is that it enhanced a sense of wonder in all of us. Things that we typically regarded as ordinary were suddenly extraordinary to us. The glimmering spider web patiently being spun by its maker. The yellow and black fuzzy caterpillar slowly inching itself along the rock (but don’t touch - those American Dagger Moth Caterpillars will sting!). I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but now when I find a spider in my house, my first inclination is to take it outside instead of squishing it. Being outside in the world the Lord created makes me see His creation differently. I didn’t set out for this to happen, but it did.
One year. One challenge. Countless adventures. A variety of weather. Oh, and let’s not forget a pandemic. But we made it. Over one thousand hours spent outside. Our kids are already asking if we will do the challenge again. But here’s the thing: we don’t need to. This challenge awakened a desire inside each of us, adults and children alike, to be outside. Not a day has gone by even in this new year that our children haven’t wandered outside for a period of time. No longer does the weather faze them. January days, albeit chilly, are just as good for playing outside as April days, with the exception of requiring more clothing.
I believe with all my heart that our one-year challenge of being outside created new healthy habits that are here to stay. And I’m ever so grateful. Of course, we still love to cozy up on the couch together each evening to read, but during the day, you will find us outside enjoying the good creation the Lord has made. I highly recommend this journey to any family willing to accept the challenge!
If you're interested in learning more about the benefits of outdoor play for children OR you'd like to try out tracking your family's time outdoor OR plunge right in to the 1000 Hours Outside challenge, here are some resources to help you on your journey...
Time Trackers are a great visual way to record and observe your progress. There are many options to choose from, or design your own!
The 1000 Hours Outside website is a great hub for information and a community of others committed to this challenge.
The Swedish-born author of "There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather" discovered, after moving to Indiana, that the Scandinavian approach to raising happy, healthy children was vastly different than that of Americans. She shares her own journey as a mother seeking what was best for her family.
There are many things keeping our kids inside these days, but perhaps a deeper experience of and connection with nature would prove to be healing for many of our modern-day maladies. Last Child in the Woods offers anyone influencing young children an in-depth look at the significance of environment-based experience and education.