I was inspired by Ginny of 1000 Hours Outside blog and instagram account last year in early spring and I have not been able to get the idea out of my head. So this year, as part of my 100 small things list, I included attempting to log 1000 hours outside as a goal.
In logistical terms, I try my best to start my cellphone timer when I go outside and then pause it and start again during the day as needed. At the end of each day, the timer shows how many hours/minutes I spent outside. Because I'm tracking it and it's such a huge numerical goal, I haven't had trouble forgetting to set the timer because I want that time to count and be accurate! I keep track of my daily time on a notepad entry on my cellphone and then at the end of each week, I total it all up and update in my Around Here blog posts on Friday.
The morale behind 1000 hours (as you'll see on 1000 hours outside blog), comes from the research that an average American kid spends about 1,200+ hours on a screen yearly - so a goal of 1000 hours outdoors to match the screen time seems like a reasonable idea. There should be some balance to life, so it makes sense.
What didn't make sense to me at first is how difficult it feels to actually log that many outdoor hours! How quickly time seems to pass when I'm writing a blog post or stuck in a Law&Order SVU marathon during naptime while multitasking some household chore. But when I started this year, I'd find myself outside and glancing at my timer and be shocked that no more than twenty minutes had passed. I mean, I considered our family a fairly outdoor-kind of a family, but this goal has proven that to reach the equivalent to what is the national standard for screen time, take some serious dedication and focus.
It has taken me all the way until now to FINALLY, in late April!, surpass my first 100 hours (of 1000) outside for the year. (Please know I am doing a happy little dance over here about that). I'm hopeful that my next 900 hours will go by easier as the days are warming up and lasting longer, but only time will tell.
I have been reflective on my goal so far and if these increased outdoor hours have done anything to me in terms of productivity, energy levels, my mind, body, and spirit well-being. As I'm only four months into the year and still have a long (900 hours long) way to go to reaching my goal, there surely is a lot more to be discovered about the effects of significantly increasing my time outdoors - but for now, here are some of my initial thoughts.
Being outside makes me feel more calm. When we're inside, the clutter, the noise, the messes (!), the chores piled up, the pings of notifications from my phone - even (unrecognized until I take it away) the constant hum of electronics working in our home gives me this tense shouldered feeling that is released after only a few minutes outside. It's astonishing honestly.
A few weeks ago, I was just at the end of my sanity rope with the kids and chores and I just shouted, "get on your coats! Outside!" and I just dropped whatever I was doing and we all went outside. The kids found things to do and I sat there listening to the wind and the birds and after a few minutes could feel this literal calmness wash through me. Like, yes, THAT was what I needed; I needed to get out and be a speck in the vastness of the world with the endless sky above us and the winds circling me from who knows where they just were, and my kids tiring themselves out in the fresh air and realize that all my silly little stresses are nothing to be upset about. That fresh air can do something to a person's soul that is for sure.
Lately, I've used my goal as a motivator for when I'm doing things that can be done anywhere - so why not outside? If I'm going to read, I head outside with kids in tow. We've been enjoying long, slow mornings eating breakfast, reading, and playing in the front yard as the weather has been beautiful.
Sometimes I literally just go outside and do nothing. I just watch the kids play and rest - I'm using the third trimester as an excuse - but then I also just read from The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, this statement that made me realize it's not so bad to be an example for our kids of just doing nothing every once and a while: "most parents have an acutely tuned sense of responsibility - to the point where they consider relaxation and leisure, for themselves or their children, a self-indulgent luxury." He goes on to talk about the real danger of 'supermoms' (and dads) who are running on impossible schedules only to crash and burn - and their kids who feel the pressure to jump on that same incredibly fast moving treadmill to do everything possible, and all of it perfectly.
Being outside gets me to move my body. It's just a natural tendency to both want and have to move more when you're outside. I've been wearing my fitbit for the past few weeks and I can usually guess just by looking at the steps for any given day how much time I spent outside. With three young kids and two big dogs, I am lucky to have a lot of body moving motivators - even when in my state of 34 weeks pregnant, I generally would rather lie on the couch and blaming it on being too tired. This is the least amount of weight I've put on for any of my pregnancies (granted, I am chasing after three living kids this time- but even still) and probably the most amount of energy I've still had towards the end too.
It feels good to move my body, especially when I'm outside. I've been noticing that my tired feeling after a day of busting my butt doing chores feels a lot worse than my tired feeling after a day spent outside moving naturally with the kids. It's a very unscientific note, but one that I think warrants some kind of recognition.
Another completely random and surprising vanity-type payoff of my increased outdoor hours - you would not believe how many people have been commenting on my 'tan' in late April. Literally, just this morning three people said something about how tan I look - to which my only reply is, 'thanks, I've just been outside a lot with the kids.'
I also find it so much easier to say 'yes' outside. They're not wrecking the house with toys or spilling stuff on furniture or carpets - usually outside, they're only messing themselves up and a quick bath or shower can remedy that problem. I say yes to mud and rocks and dirt and water- all of my kids favorite things to play with. When I say 'yes,' their eyes light up and it's as if I can see their wheels turning in their minds about all the ways they're going to experiment and create new stuff. They are freaking happy, and I'm happy because I just get to watch their joy unfold.
I already mentioned our slow mornings on the porch, so we've been adding quality family time during the early hours of the day - but with the longer days, our quality time (and outdoor time) has extended into the night. We've already enjoyed dinner outside a few times and then at the request of the kids stayed outside until bedtime watching the stars and moon take their place in the sky.
As soon as Greyson gets off the bus, his first question is, "Can we play outside?" and Violet now knows how to open the front door herself and plenty of times while I'm making breakfast for Greyson before school I see her little white-blonde head outside on the patio with the dogs. Gemmi has been cracking me up with how she has been pretending to be on a cooking show and will mix up all sorts of weird stuff into buckets of water while talking aloud about what she's doing, "and then two spoonfuls of this water mix and then you have to flatten the top or the juice pie just won't turn out right..."
Yesterday, we picked Grey up from the bus stop and headed out to our favorite summer spot at the swim beach at Quemahoming Dam. It's not officially summer yet, and actually the Que isn't even officially opened yet for the season, and we were the only people there - but can I just tell you that our three kids - ages 6, 4, and 19 months - played for two and half hours. They built moats in the sand, dipped their toes in the water, Gemmi made her juice pies (like 20 of them), they played on the playground, Grey tried to catch minnows, Violet spoke to the geese in what I think is actual Geese language, we took a hike on a path that led back to a great fishing hole that Grey lost his mind over, we helped a fallen tree stand up again, we threw rocks into the water, and we talked and laughed and LIVED out there under the great blue sky.