Why 1000 hours outdoors?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

I set out a goal of reaching 1000 hours outdoors in 2015 and after giving it a good effort (although, if I'm being honest, not a great effort), I accumulated over 510 hours counted that we unplugged and got outside.  And despite a small defeating feeling from last year's attempt, I'm going for it again this year. 

If for any reason, you've been asking yourself why am I doing this at all - here's both a rationale and a recap from last year's effort that will hopefully shed some light on why I'm doing it (and inspire you to try to be better at outdoor time too). 

I wrote a little about my immediate reflections last year in April about how being outside was making me feel more calm and seemed to enhance our quality family time (but was also a lot more difficult to rack up the hours than I initially thought).

I was originally inspired by Ginny who runs the 1000hoursoutside instagram account.  At about the same time, I had read The Winter of our Disconnect by Susan Maushart and was completely intrigued with learning more about family life and technology and raising kids in a plug-addicted world.

And so I stepped into the challenge myself to reach for 1000 outdoor hours in 2015 to get a better vantage point for myself.  And as part of my goal, I also read The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv and was gripped with interest and fascination.  (recommended!)

Since then, many of the books, articles, and TED talks I've watched around kids and technology have all been interesting and sadly, just the scratching of the surface on the research.  This whole technology takeover happened so quickly, that we've barely had time to see what the effects even are for kids, for relationships, for the environment.

So for some number crunching (that makes me honestly dizzy and scared):  One of the most commonly cited numbers is that the average American child gets about SEVEN HOURS A DAY of screentime  (about three hours of TV and four hours of other screens: phones/tablets/computers/video games).   In a year's time, that's 2,555 hours on Screens for kids!

For some personal reflection:  in our home on weekdays, screentime isn't allowed to start until after 11am.  We have one TV (downstairs) and one tv upstairs that's connected only to Netflix.  We have a wii but it doesn't get used (yet anyway) for video games, and we have one iPad.  Brandon and I are the only ones with phones and the kids aren't allowed to use them for games.  So, if I'm being one hundred percent (painful) honest, looking at Gemma who is four and half and not in school yet:  She gets about two hours in the afternoon for a movie/show on TV, probably an hour of iPad time in the late afternoon (just to get her out of my hair of asking me questions), and then at night probably another hour maybe...and this is a good day where I am present the entire time to monitor.  If it was up to her it would certainly be more screentime.    So Gem clocks in on average about four-five hours a day.

So for my kids - we're looking at about 1,825 hours a year on screens (and for my screen time - surely closer to 7 hours a day!) So setting a goal for 1,000 hours outside for the year seemed like a goal towards BALANCE which is what I hope to create in our life.  It doesn't seem unreasonable to expect our kids would spend equalish amounts of time on screens and in the outdoors, right?  It was in fact though, a lot harder to do than I though it would be.  My goal was not to demonize screens, but have a healthy balance in plugged and unplugged living for all of us, myself certainly included in that balance.

My goal offered me an opportunity to slow down, to breathe in this wild and chaotic current life with the breezes and to the tune of the songbirds in our yard.  I felt more present this year when my focus stayed steadfast on my outdoor goals, than any time during my young motherhood ever, yet.

In Louv's book, there was this passage that I highlighted and dog-eared the page as it spoke so deeply to my own reflections about my thoughts on busyness and relaxation and how as a mother to young kids I feel so strung out in so many directions that sometimes I feel that quality time with the kids - real face to face slow living - falls to the bottom of my to do list for the sake of all the other things that need done.
"Weekends are no longer for recreation, but for the undone chores that pile up during the week....if anything, 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."  -Last Child in the Woods, p.120-121
What if instead of glorfying the busy that comes with life today, what if we (read: type A-ish Mum Me) allowed us to just chill the heck out?!  What if we just played, and learned through natural moments that the outdoors provide at every turn.  What if every single thing didn't need to be absolutely efficient.  In the spirit that thought, this year I even stopped taking my headphones on dog walks and jogs because I used to justify a walk/jog as doubling up on time to listen to audiobooks - like the walk/jog wasn't a reason enough.  Now I just walk and daydream and listen to the sounds that nature provides....I'm present in my walk, I'm present in my life.

This year, with my conscious effort on the goal - we got to be part of the living of nature.  We played in puddles and mud and creeks and bodies of water.  We stared into the grass and watched ants build up their mounds.  We guessed at constellations, caught lightening bugs, and howled at the moon.  We built new forts in our backyard, discovered new paths and trails in our hometown, and kept track of the animals that make their home around our home.  We lived and grew among the living, growing natural world.

And not just the kids, because truthfully, this year has been a huge reminder that I can set boundaries and limits for screentime until I turn blue in the face for my kids, but until I am a living example of a healthy unplugged/plugged-in balance - it will do no good what I preach to our children.  If I am daily reminding myself of my connection to the outdoor world and how it brings peace and rest to my body, soul, and mind - it will be easier for our kids to make that same connection....a life lesson that will serve them well as they continue to grow and compete in our plugged in society.
"First and above all is for the parents to understand the connection itself.  The future is not about designing a curriculum.  It's about awakening to creation.  Kids have to feel that this connection is vital and deep in their parents.  They see through us all the time.  They know what is fake and feigned.  As the connection becomes more vivid to us, our commitment to it becomes more authentic, and children respond to that authenticity." - The Last Child in the Woods, p.302
With my eyes up and off of a screen, I am calmer and gentler and kinder as a mum (and as a person too).  I am slower and more intentional. I am less stressed and feel like I'm in so much less of a hurry. this is so embarrassing to admit aloud, but many times when I'm involved in entertainment screentime, the thought bubbles up in my mind, 'these kids are distracting me!' and it feels so frustrating.  But what the heck kind of a world is it if I can't recognize that the screen is the distraction from THEM! 

The past year has been eye-opening, though we didn't even come close to our goal of 1000 hours I am so very grateful that we had the goal to push us towards more intentional outdoor time.  It has laid the backdrop for the kind of childhood I want my kids to remember when they're grown:  that they climbed and ran and built and hid and swung and discovered and explored and solved problems and played in the great big world.

Some important guidelines I discovered along the way, for anyone interested in attempting more outdoor time for themselves:

1. Pack snacks!
2. Invest in quality outdoor gear appropriate for the season for yourself (and your kids but they care way less about being too cold or too wet in my experience).
3. Don't be afraid to try somewhere new:  a local trail, park, or outdoor venue.  We've even spent time roller blading and riding bikes in the high school parking lot for a change of scenery!
4. Water is always the cure to all child bad moods.
5. Step back.  Yes, they'll do things that look too dangerous and scary - but let them show you that they know their own limits and have thoughts on creating solutions.  It is lifelong character building!

Looking back through my photos of this year, most of our favorite moments and certainly those with the biggest smiles happened while we were outside in the living world - with the sky all the way up high and the rocks of star dust orbiting in the vastness of space even above that.  And the bugs and burrowing animals moving around in the ground below us and the bubbling, molten lava even below that.  There is reassurance and power and inspiration that comes from the boundary-less feeling of the outdoors.  You can dream anything, the possibilities you can imagine are endless, and all those things that get caught up in your mind and make you feel worried float off with the wind.

There is an outdoor enthusiast quote that gets around the interwebs that I love.  It says, "Kids don't remember their best day of television."

So, get out there!  Your children's favorite childhood memories are waiting to be made.

Helpful information:
Screen Free Parenting:  Screen-Free Activities
NPR:  Kids and Screen Time: What does the research say?
National Wildlife Federation:  Health Benefits of kids being outdoors
TED Talk: Dimitri Christakis - Media and Children 
TED Talk:  Sherry Turkle:  Connected but Alone
Simon Sinek:  On Millennials in the workplace
Screen Free Week information - May 1-7, 2017
Childhood Unplugged - photo inspiration and encouragement to techfree playing
Let the Children Play - Outdoor Resources

Some of the links are Amazon affiliate links in this post.  Thank you for supporting Team Studer. 


  1. I loved every single one of your pictures on this post. And I agree-- the screens distract from my kids, and that's sad! I'm always happier when I put it down!