I feel so fortunate that I am able to spend so many of my work day hours outside and I feel it makes a huge impact on my mental health. It is so easy in the hustle and bustle of life to skip that 30 minute walk outside. But even taking five minutes to listen to the birds while we drink our coffee, can make a huge impact on our mood and well-being. This is true for children and adults.
For a couple years now, our preschool has attempted to spend as much time as possible outside. Having a goal has kept us motivated and pushed us on the days we might feel a little more lazy. We try to really pack in the hours during the warmer and summer months, to make up for the days where it is just too cold to play in the rain. Or too windy to play in the snow. We have almost reached the end of 2023, and we are going to be cutting it very close this year. Here’s hoping for cooperative weather.
The idea to start tracking hours, was inspired by a website called 1000 Hours Outside. They encourage and create resources for families to set goals and track hours for time spent outside. If 1000 sounds like too many for your family, then try for a lower goal and you might surprise yourself. The goal could be to see how big of a number you can get and then next year try to beat it! Whether we, as adults, enjoy being active outside or just sitting in the shade with a book, our children learn through example and it is our responsibility to instill these habits in our children.
Keep it simple.
Bring a book.
Take a walk.
It doesn’t always have to be a grand adventure, although those are fun too.
Dress for the weather. Once children (and adults) realize they can be comfortable and learn to trust their gear, they are much happier for much longer in all types of weather. If they learn that being outside is uncomfortable, then it is hard to undo that perspective.
Always have snacks and drinks. Picnics don’t have to be fancy, but they make great memories and I guarantee they will extend your time outside. It is always fun to have surprise snacks, so right as everybody is getting whiny and tired, you can pull out snacks and that keeps everyone happy just a little bit longer. On nice evenings, eat dinner outside with candlelight or a campfire.
In the warmer months, eat outside at your favorite restaurant or at the park.
Explore new spaces and notice changes in scenery. Visit the same place again and again throughout the year to talk about and notice the changes that have taken place. We live in a state full of different types of landscapes that change with the seasons, take advantage of it.
Even if you are not a “naturey” family, there are plenty of things to do. Bring your child’s favorite toys outside when they start to lose interest and they are usually given a whole new life. Set up an outdoor movie on a projector or go to the drive-in. Take a walk through town and look in the windows of all the stores.
Mostly slow down and relax! I think we forget that we don’t have to be busy or exercising to be outside. Stare at the moon, watch the sunset, or just lay down on a blanket and listen to the birds together.
Jessica Lewis is the owner and lead teacher of a small private preschool in Wilton. She has a B.S. in Early Childhood Education. She and her husband have two boys of their own and she is inspired by children and enjoy learning and growing along with them.