I owe Ginny Yurich a big thank you. I’m not sure when or how I heard about Yurich’s idea of 1000 Hours Outside, a “movement for those who want a slower childhood and a fuller life,” but this was one internet find that actually changed my family’s lives.
My husband and I weren’t always the outdoorsy type. We both moved to New York City after high school and were more likely to head to a museum than a trail on the weekend. Sure, we both like a good day at the beach or a long run outdoors, but it wasn’t until we became parents that we became real outdoors people.
Our outdoor life began in earnest when my son was 4 1/2. In 2020, the New Year began with my son’s usual early rising and we quickly developed some serious cabin fever, which included a cranky kid who no longer found his Christmas toys engrossing and two parents who were tired of playing with trucks. So, we decided to take a New Year’s Day hike — even though it was bitterly cold outside. That hike turned a cranky day around (for all of us). My son ran giggling down the trails kicking up dead leaves and we discovered the power of time spent in Nature with a capital N. On the weekends, we started ditching the playground in favor of taking walks in the woods, driving up to an hour to try a new hike. Then when stay-at-home orders set in with the pandemic, there was nothing else to do, and we spent countless hours outdoors: On trails, at community farms, at the beach, and in countless playgrounds.
Flash forward to September 2021: With the world returning back to “normal” and my son back in full-time, in-person school plus aftercare, our weeks suddenly resembled our busy pre-pandemic lives. Monday through Friday we rarely got outside. At my son’s school, he’s allotted just 27 minutes outdoors — and that’s only on days it’s not too cold, too hot, or precipitating. We all felt cooped up back in our old routine. That’s when my interest in 1,000 Hours Outside became more than a vague awareness of something my peers were talking about online.
Through Yurich’s site I read up on her idea to set a goal of spending 1,000 hours outside for your family each year. The message of 1,000 Hours Outside is that any time outside is worthwhile — whether that’s at your local park, in your own backyard, or on some epic adventure in a national park. Because there’s no emphasis on outdoor time needing to be in deep, secluded nature, 1,000 Hours Outside is inclusive for any family anywhere. Study after study shows that time outside is good for kids (and adults too). I knew that prioritizing outside time was important, but actually making it happen always seemed to fall by the wayside.
With Yurich’s encouragement, I suggested the idea to my family as a New Year’s goal for 2022, but we made no concrete plans. Then, on the first Monday morning of the new year, my son said, “We’ll never get to 1,000!” and that was all I needed to start tracking our hours in earnest. My son and I bundled up and headed to the playground for an hour after aftercare. In the sub-freezing temperatures with ice on the ground, we were the only people there, but we got our hour in. Any doubts I may have had were put to bed when I posted about @1000hoursoutside on Instagram the stories from other families who’d tried to get to 1,000 hours made me certain we should keep going — if the mom who lives in Wales wasn’t afraid of rainy days, neither was I! In particular, I loved a comment from a mom who said she even turned quiet time into outdoor time by putting her kids in the hammock to listen to audio books.
I used to think it wasn’t worth bothering to get just 30 or 45 minutes of outdoor time, but with the new goal of 1,000 hours, I was suddenly looking for opportunities in every pocket of our calendar. Whenever we made a plan with friends, we’d suggest an outdoor activity. My kid and I struck a deal that we could go to the park after his aftercare as long as his homework was done. When it wasn’t too late, we’d take a walk after dinner on school nights. This winter I skied and ice-skated for the first time in 20+ years (it was glorious), and my kid took the first steps toward mastering both sports. We took a trip to California that was 100-percent hiking and beach exploring — and it was our best family vacation yet. Having a clearly defined goal for spending time outdoors has made all the difference in our lives: Our outside time has probably doubled.
With our busy lives, I didn’t keep up with tracking our hours outside, and I doubt we’ll get to Yurich’s goal of 1,000 hours this year, but that’s not the point (and Yurich would tell you that too). The purpose is to shift your mindset to make outdoor time a real priority for your family. I’m so grateful I did. I feel like we bonded in new ways and that our memories from the last year are more vivid. Right now we’re in the throes of summer vacation when 8 and even 10 hours a day of outdoor time are possible. While I haven’t picked up my tracking again: I’d estimate we’re on track for close to 400 hours this summer. How many hours do you think you could pack in by Labor Day?
LAURA FENTON is the author of The Little Book of Living Small and a small space and sustainable living expert. She lives with her husband and their son in Jackson Heights, Queens, in New York City. You can find her on Instagram @laura.alice.fenton.