My guest this week is Ginny Yurich, a Michigan mom of 5 who committed several years ago to having her kids spend 1000 hours a year outdoors. She is the founder of 1000 Hours Outside. She is a thought-leader in the world of nature-based play and its benefits for children. One of her top priorities is to inspire parents to invest in spending time in nature with their children.
Her 1000 Hours Outside Challenge spans the globe and has been featured on The Today Show, Weather Channel, Better Homes and Gardens and so many more. Many from all walks of life look to her for inspiration as well as practical tips on how to put down the screens and get outside. Ginny has a degree in Mathematics, a Masters Degree in Education from the University of Michigan, is a speaker, author, and illustrator. Check out her children’s book, The Little Farmhouse in West Virginia and 1000 Hours Outside Activity Book, Low Tech Nature Activities in a High Tech World.
In this episode, Ginny and I discuss how to get kids to spend more time in nature and why it’s so important for their development and mental health. There is overwhelming evidence supporting the health benefits of outdoor time and while it sounds easy to get outside more, it can be tricky. Lots of things can get in the way like weather, schedules, finding a safe place, etc. Ginny has some easy ways to approach and overcome these hurdles so it’s easier to make the commitment. We hope you and your family find your way to 1000 hours outdoors each year. Learn more about Ginny Yurich here.
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Benefits of outdoor time
- Helps children cognitively, socially, emotionally, and physically
- Supports immune function as well
- Complex movements enhance the way your brain functions
- The child-led process of exploring and the developmental benefits that come from unstructured play are huge
- Kids who have neurodevelopmental challenges, emotional issues, and behavioral issues, need opportunities like complex movement, time in nature, and unstructured playtime outside in order to strengthen the foundations in the brain and the body. This helps them achieve higher-level learning, better processing, better executive function, improved communication and socialization
Simple nature play helps kids socially
- Mixed-age play is really important for kids. It helps both older and younger children
- Kids are intrinsically motivated to keep playing so even if they seem bored at first, give them time and they’ll work together to come up with something
- It can take up to 45 minutes for kids to develop a playscheme
Children need playtime during the school day
- Advocating for this developmentally appropriate, really necessary practice of having recess during the school day is important
- Play and outdoor time is the foundation for all of our learning
- Research shows that kids actually learn better in school when given the time to play and move
Recommended books for parents
- Carla Hannaford – Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head
- Peter Gray – Free To Learn
- Angela Hanscom – Balanced and Barefoot
Tips on how to get outdoors more with your kids
- Look ahead at the calendar, if there is not enough time for play, start removing other things from the calendar
- Look ahead at the forecast and plan outings on the best weather days
- Plan for a good chunk of time 2-3 hours
- 3 F’s: Food, Friends, and a First-Aid kit
- Google Maps can help you find the green spaces in your area and there are usually photos and reviews
- Look at State Park websites, your local parks, and rec info, look at a radius of a couple of miles
- Look for places that have bathrooms and that are stroller-friendly if that is important to you
Resources for Ginny Yurich
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Complex movements enhance the brain … 00:15:44
Nature helps social skills … 00:21:35
Children need playtime at school … 00:24:00
Time outdoors helps physical and brain health … 00:28:00
How to start going outside more … 00:30:30
Outdoors is great for adults too … 00:34:00
1000 Hours Resources … 00:36:48
Episode Wrap up … 00:41:00
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everyone, welcome to the show, I am Dr. Nicole, and on today’s episode, we’re talking about how to get kids spending more time in nature and why it’s so important for their development and mental health. We’ve talked about this topic on the show before but today’s guest is a been-there-done-that mom of 5 who committed several years ago to having her kids spend 1000 hours a year outdoors. Her goal is one that I can totally get behind and support, and that is to help families match the amount of time spent on screens, which actually now is well over 1000 hours annually for most kids, with time spent in nature. Does it sound unrealistic? Wait till you hear the info that Ginny Yurich has to share, including tips and ways to make this easier for everyone. And before you assume that she lives in some tropical climate where the weather is fabulous year-round, I will tell you that she’s from my home state of Michigan where the weather is definitely less than ideal a good amount of the time. But before we dive in, let me tell you a little bit more about Ginny.
She is a Michigan mother of five and the founder of 1000 Hours Outside. She is a thought-leader in the world of nature-based play and its benefits for children. One of her top priorities is to inspire parents to invest in spending time in nature with their children. Her 1000 Hours Outside Challenge spans the globe and has been featured on The Today Show, Weather Channel, Better Homes and Gardens and so many more. Many from all walks of life look to her for inspiration as well as practical tips on how to put down the screens and get outside. Ginny has a degree in Mathematics, a Masters Degree in Education from the University of Michigan, is a speaker, author and illustrator. Her children’s book, The Little Farmhouse in West Virginia was published in February, 2019 and her most recent 1000 Hours Outside Activity Book, Low Tech Nature Activities in a High Tech World released just last month in April of 2021. Ginny, it’s such a pleasure to have you here. Welcome to the show!
Thanks Dr. Nicole. I feel like maybe I should have shortened my bio a little bit!
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
No! I think it’s great for people to hear about what you’ve done and what your mission is, and we’re definitely going to talk about the resources that you have available later. In your bio, you allude to your goal. I’d love to just start off by having you talk about where this idea came from. Was it an Aha moment that you had one day with your own kids? Was it something you read? What got you on this path of this 1000 hours outside idea?
This is just our family sharing our journey. I have learned so much just from rubbing shoulders with other people, from reading other people’s stories. That is really all this is. I never imagined that it would get as large as it has because for a long time, people thought it was very silly. But my story is that when my kids were little, I was drowning. I had 3 under 3 and my husband had an hour-long commute. So I was this 10 hour plus day with 3 under 3, and I couldn’t juggle all the needs. And every single day, I was discouraged and floundering, but I really wanted to enjoy those early years. I just was really having a hard time. So no one really tells you what to do with your kids. I think they tell you “Here is how you write your birth plan, here is what to have in your birth bag”, and then a couple of days later, you have this baby and you’re like “What am I supposed to do all day?” And so what we did is we did programs like the library and the moms and music and the swim, and they were fun. You know, they were kind of fun. I think they were fine. They were fine, that’s what I want to say. They were fine and they had good parts to them, but they were exhausting. So to get my 3 kids to the 45-minute library program took a considerable amount of work on the front, on the end, in the middle. I had to have snacks, and I’m trying to keep this kid occupied, and this one’s not sharing the toy.
So it would be 11 o’clock in the morning and I would just be totally exhausted and done. So what happened was I had a friend who had read the works of Charlotte Mason, who was an educator in the 1800’s, actually, and she has a whole educational philosophy. I thought “Who from the 1800’s knows anything about kids today?” And one of her recommendations is that kids should be outside for 4-6 hours whenever there is tolerable weather. And I just thought that idea was so absurd. I thought, “Well, what are they going to do?” As Americans, all of these programs that we have for children are 30-45 minutes, that’s it. And they’re very structured. You go, and in the first 10 minutes they’re doing this, and then — that’s why I thought “Well, 4-6 hours, what are they going to do?” But when you are a young mom, you want to have friendships. So I kept all my internal voices to myself and I went along. We went to this park, we were in Michigan, it was in September. She said, “Let’s go from 9 in the morning till 1 in the afternoon, bring a picnic and a blanket and that’s it.” And I just thought “Oh, this is not going to go well.” It wasn’t a playground. It was a park. Flat grass, trees, little creek. And it was the best day of my life, Dr. Nicole. Because the kids just played and as silly as that sounds, I had no idea that that could happen. And I sat on a picnic blanket, we each had a babe in arms and we had a couple of toddlers, preschool age, so there are 4 of those. They just ran around, and they were chasing things and jumping off things and throwing rocks into the creek and we had our lunch and it was just this beautiful day and then we packed up when we got in the car and everyone was pleasantly exhausted. They probably fell asleep on the way home. And then I just waited, like you just sit there and you milk that for as long as it will go. And all of a sudden it’s 3 o’clock. And I said, “Oh my goodness! I’m going to make it through this day!” So that was the start of this sort of eye-opening journey that I initially did just for my own benefit. I was just trying to survive. And in one day, we went from barely surviving to thriving. And so the course of the journey was that in time, and in a very short period of time, I started to see that our kids were doing really well. They were all of a sudden not getting sick. They were learning quickly. They were trying new movements outside. They were happier. So this changed our whole family dynamic.
And then I started to come across the research, and there is book after book after book, stacks of research that speak to the whole child benefit of simple nature experiences, not adult-directed, just going. You just step out. And kids become engaged on their own in an age-based way, and eventually — so we lived that way for about two years here in Michigan. We’re over in the Ann Arbor area, Metro Detroit it’s really populated. We lived that way for about two years with the little nature group, and maybe four or five families that we regularly saw. We tried to get together 2-3 days a week for this 4-6 hour chunk.
We kind of completely changed how we were scheduling our lives. We schedule around the weather now. And we never ran into any other kids, Dr. Nicole. Never. On these beautiful trails that are really accessible, sort of right in the middle of everything, we were running into grandparents, but no children. And so eventually I added up my hours because I had read in a Dr. Scott Samson book, he was on PBS Kids and he has a book called How To Raise a Wild Child, that the average child gets a 4-7 minutes of outside play a day, and they are on screens for 4-7 hours. And so I thought, I’m a math major. I’m curious. I’m going to add up our hours. And we were outside for about 18-20 hours a week. It was us all nature group, a little more in the summer, a little less in the winter. But on average, and that added up to 1200 hours a year, which I had just read was the average amount of screen time for kids in America. And it was just a light bulb moment for me where I could look back on a year and think about how much life we lived in those 1200 hours. And I thought kids are just missing this. They’re missing it. So it’s not that screens are evil, but we’re missing it. And in fact, for people who join in on 1000 Hours Outside, my favorite feedback is they say “I would have missed this moment if not for this challenge.”
And so I came up with 1000 Hours Outside because it’s a little catchier than 1200 Hours Outside. So it’s based on our journey, it’s based on that Charlotte Mason number, but then the prevailing research from the Pediatric Occupational Therapists is ringing in around 3 hours a day and so we have a year long goal because I can’t go outside for 3 hours everyday. Sometimes we have orthodontist appointments, sometimes kids aren’t feeling very well, we have other commitments — but over the course of the year, I can ensure that we are getting hands on real life moments and balancing out that nature and screen time during childhood.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So, so good. So many Aha’s there, so many questions I want to ask around there. I can relate. You have me beat. You have one more child. I have four and mine are older now, teens and young adults, but I can so relate when you talked about having those three kids three and under, and I remember those days. I think there is so much pressure to be doing programs, doing activities and a lot of it, unfortunately is in the name of learning and development, right? Like you need to have your child doing these programs on the computer, you need to take them to these groups, you need to enroll them in these things. And the irony of that, as you point out, is that actually, the best and most important learning that comes especially in those early childhood years is from playing. From being outside. From exploring, from having unstructured time to just be kids and explore and navigate and move and all of those things. So I think that we have unintentionally taken away so many of those important and valuable developmental experiences in the name of these other things that actually don’t get us the results and they sort of wear us out, right? Like boy, I think so many parents listening can relate! “Gee, I’m doing all the things and I’m exhausted!” And especially for a lot of the parents listening to this show have one or more children diagnosed with some type of neurodevelopmental or mental health challenge or just maybe have a child with some difficult behaviors. Those of you in that boat, you’re at even bigger risk for burning out and being exhausted because you’re trying to force kids into these kinds of experiences. Take them to all the therapies, do all the things and you’re tired, your kid’s tired, it’s not going well. So Ginny, I just think what you’re offering here and what you’re talking about provides such a different but even more appropriate and beneficial avenue for us to get the results that we’re looking for in terms of development and learning and relationships and all of those things with our kids.
Right. It’s like you can slow down and yet you gain so much more. And I think that everyone’s on this path of good intentions. Everyone’s trying to do the best they can for their children, and I was just misinformed. And it makes sense. I think if we look at the marvelous development of little ones, that the baby at some point maybe rolls over and then gets up on all fours and then pulls up to standing, it’s like the most brilliant person in the world cannot come up with a course of study better than the one that babies come up with for themselves. So I think we forget that though. They hit maybe some different milestones, and maybe they hit them at different ages, or maybe they had their own personal set of milestones. But however that growth is happening, they hit one or two and then we think “Oh, it’s time for me to take over” but we forget that intrinsically they are motivated to grow and to learn all on their own, and then they learn from mastery.
So that’s been part of our journey of learning to just take a deep breath. It’s scary because maybe everyone else is doing this, this this and this And you’re just sitting in the backyard or walking around your neighborhood, but the benefits help children cognitively, it helps them socially, emotional and physically, so you sort of get this whole child package while you’re improving your relationships and while you’re feeling better as an adult.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
It’s so true, and I think this idea of trusting and leaning into it, when you described that first experience you’ve had of sitting there on the picnic blanket and the kids were playing, and your initial thought being “What are they going to do for all of that time?” I do think that’s a concern a lot of parents have because at least the generation of us parenting right now, we haven’t been really given this idea that it’s okay and actually healthy and important for kids to have unstructured time. There is very much this thinking among the current generation of parents of “It needs to be structured, we need to be specifically engaging them in a particular thing” or as you said, 10 minutes of this — and very adult directed. And so it is this stepping back and this trusting that actually, the child-led process of exploring, the developmental benefits that come from that are huge, but I think that is a barrier for some people is trusting that that’s actually okay.
So let’s talk about one way that really excited me. So there is this book by Carla Hannaford, she’s a PhD. It’s called Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head. So I think as American parents — and I talk to a lot of American parents, we’re very concerned about academics. Report card, we’ve got our honor roll student bumper sticker, so this is top-tier. So we want our kids to do well academically. Now Carla Hannaford, the subtitle is “Why learning is not all in your head”, because I think for so many of us, when we think of learning, we think of sitting. We think of chalkboards and teachers and classrooms and worksheets. But what she puts in her book amidst so many amazing things is that complex movements enhance the way your brain functions, and as we sort of continue on this path of complex movements, our brains, our computer systems up there are working better. And so we’re giving our kids a lifelong advantage when we take them outside, because intrinsically, they are going to try and climb up on the fallen log and jump off. And then they’re going to try the little of the tree, and then they’re going to be 12 and they’re going to skateboard. My kids are getting older, so they are into basketball and trick shots. Juggling. We learned juggling yesterday. I’m seeing it unfold before my eyes, this series of complex movements. So she has this statistic. It’s my favorite, Dr. Nicole. She says elderly people who dance regularly have a 79% less chance of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia. 79% less chance!
I mean if pharmaceuticals had a pill for that, everyone would be taking it. That’s a huge number! And so what she’s saying is those complex movements are enhancing and protecting our brain function. So academically, we can stuff, stuff, stuff information. But what I really want is I want my kids to have a good functioning, quick-moving brain. It’s like all those neurons are firing faster, because the world is changing. We don’t know what jobs they’re going to have in 10-20 years.
So that’s just one very, very small piece of the puzzle there, but it’s fun to learn that — and I think it helps us feel better about making those decisions. To know: I’m going to go outside, my kids are going to walk on some uneven terrain, or they’re going to crawl or they’re going to have this sensory experience, and all of those things are going to help them with their cognition.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
It’s so true. Carla Hannaford’s book is so wonderful. I totally second that and recommend for everybody to read that, if you haven’t. And I think, especially for kids who have neurodevelopmental challenges, who have some emotional and behavioral issues, we need to be giving them opportunities like complex movement, like time in nature, like unstructured playtime outside in order to strengthen those foundations in the brain and the body for higher level learning, for better processing, for better executive function, for improved communication and socialization and all of those things. And again, the irony is, especially for kids with challenges, we tend to relegate them even more to a desk to work on adult-directed activities or therapy sessions where they’re sitting and being drilled on things. And I think what you’re saying is just so relieving for so many parents to go, “Oh. You mean I can stop fighting about all of that stuff with them and forcing it and let them spend more time outside?”, where quite frankly, most of these kids are quite happy and regulated anyway, and to know that I’m doing something…
And isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that amazing that that’s where they’re thriving anyway? And that’s okay! This whole journey is sort of to give permission to play. If you’ve got a goal to spend 1000 hours, it’s not your whole life. It’s not the whole years of childhood. But it’s this permission to say “Hey, you know what? I’m going to celebrate that we went outside and let the kids be kids and gleaned all the benefits from that just while enjoying ourselves.” I love how you say that, Dr. Nicole, that that’s where they’re thriving anyway. So if we trust that, and I tell you what, we can trust that because there are stacks and stacks and stacks of books. The research all points to the same thing. What the kid is thriving with anyway.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
That’s right. It’s so true, and even if we look at the last year or 14 months now, the stats of how much time kids are spending, not only indoors, but indoors in front of screens has grown exponentially with the pandemic, and to me, nature and time outside and what you’re talking about with this challenge provides a great antidote to what all of us and our kids have been through and if there was ever a time for us to be even more intentionally focused on spending time outside, being in nature, boy is now the time.
Right. Absolutely. And socially, you touched on that too.There is a lot of good research about how simple nature play helps kids socially. Obviously mixed-age play is really important for kids. It helps both the older and the younger. But I remember as a kid, we had in our neighborhood this sort of run-down baseball field. We would bike up there when we were old enough and sometimes there would be 8 kids there, and sometimes there would be 4 and sometimes there would be 2. And you would come up with the rules of the day. How are you going to play baseball? This pickup game is not adult-directed. And Peter Gray has a bunch of great resources. One of his books is called Free To Learn, where he talks about how kids are intrinsically motivated to keep playing and so because of the intrinsic motivation, they are always trying to compromise and negotiate and assert themselves but not too much. Even in these sorts of pick up games of sports, there are hardly any injuries because you want to keep playing. So you’re not going to slide and ram yourself into the 7 year old because that one might get hurt and then the game ends. So there is very little injury because kids are very aware of all of the other children and what’s going on and all of those dynamics. You know they’re coming up with something out of nothing. They come up with this play scheme in their imagination.
So socially, it’s way different than sitting in a classroom where you’re told when you can talk. It’s very in a box in terms of what you can play with or can’t play with or who you can play with, but you go outside and — I would say probably my favorite book is by Angela Hanscom, she’s got Balanced and Barefoot. It’s about unrestricted — I would say if there was one book that every parent would read, it would be that one. I think the subtitle is something like… I can’t remember, sorry Angela. She’s fabulous. So she’s got a program called Timbernook where the kids literally just go play. But in her book, she talks about how it can take up to 45 minutes for kids to develop a play scheme. And you just have to wait that out. You have to be willing to sort of take a deep breath and say “It’s okay that you’re bored, I know you’ll figure something out. I believe you’ll figure it out”. Recess doesn’t even really allow time a lot of the time for kids to develop that scheme. I remember our recess as kids was an hour. And sometimes we would be so engaged in our play that we wouldn’t hear the bell. I got in trouble a couple of times because we were out on the playground, and all of a sudden you look around and there’s no one there except for you and your couple of friends because you’re so engaged and coming up with these different things. So you think about how that translates to a boardroom. Are you able to assert yourself, but not too much, to still keep everyone engaged. So these are lifelong skills, we give our kids lifelong advantages just by letting them play simply.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And if you’re a parent who is listening to this and you’re thinking, “Well my child struggles with those kinds of social skills, my child has difficulty in peer situations”, these kinds of outdoor, unstructured activities are great opportunities to develop that, especially when there are multiple ages involved, because your child may be chronologically older, but maybe in the area of social skills or some of these things is developmentally younger, playing with developmentally younger kids is going to be a better match for strengthening and growing their skills, than constantly putting them with kids who may be chronologically in the same age, but developmentally are much further beyond where your child is. So this idea of this mixed ages and developmental levels and just letting kids see where they take it, and of course providing some guidance and whatever you need to where necessary, but trusting the process, I think it is huge with that and I appreciate you raising the issue of recess because it’s something that I’ve advocated for now for years.
We have taken away so much of the opportunity that children have even within the school day for the important movement and outdoor time that they need. I mean I consult in districts now that don’t have recess anymore or have PE down to maybe one time a week for 30 minutes, and the kids get a 15 minute recess with their lunch, and it’s not enough time. And then we wonder why so many kids are struggling in the classroom. So I think that piece is so important that this isn’t just what we’re doing at home with our kids and families. This is also advocating for this developmentally appropriate, really necessary practice of having kids outside and doing recess during the school day.
Yeah, and there are good studies that say the longer recess is, the better they do academically. So we have it backwards. I actually taught in Farmington, here in our area, I taught for 5 years, I taught math and then, my last year, I was coordinator of the math department, kindergarten to 12th grade, and it was the year that they were sort of ushering in a full-day kindergarten. And all the kindergarten teachers, there were sort of all these meetings, like what gets infused into the second half of the day for these kindergarteners? And the teachers were so unanimous, they kept saying “Play and rest, play and rest”, and then it didn’t go that way. It got filled with whatever — worksheets and content standards and those things, but the teachers know, play and rest, that this is part of child development and it also helps them with the academic piece that we seem so concerned about. It helps them greatly. So recess it — I mean some people would say this is a fundamental right of children, that they need to be able to play. This is how they’re designed, this is how they’re biologically made.
So I’ve talked to a couple of PE teachers in there, they’ve tried to implement 1000 hours outside with some of their students and kind of connecting with the families in that way, and I think that’s really cool but they always love to have someone advocating for them, because I think that they just get sort of shoved to the side as being unimportant and sort of a last thing, when really, I think that’s the first. We say that play and outdoor time is the foundation for all of our learning. This is the base. And then the rest of it piles on top.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So true. Beautifully said. And I think one thing you alluded to earlier in the conversation was about the physical health benefits as well of how spending time in nature supports immune function, it helps our mental health. We have all of these studies on this about how being outdoors supports many aspects of our physical health as well as our brain health, right?
Right. So it’s a win-win-win. Physically, kids who engage in risky play, that’s risky to them, they’re more coordinated in the long run. So we’re helping with coordination, we’re helping to stretch ligaments. They get injured less, we’re helping with eyesight. They don’t have the nearsightedness issues, kids who were outside for a certain amount of time. We’re helping to move the lymphatic system and move all those sorts of things. We’re helping with the vestibular sense as they roll and spin. I mean, truly, I can’t even really believe — and we’re 10 years into this, that I’m still learning of new benefits. I learned last year about the benefits of exposure to morning sunlight.
Morning sunlight goes through your eyes, it hits your brain, it wakes your body up and it affects 100 of your body systems. 100! Including how you sleep at night. So who knew? Just 15 or 20 minutes, and what a beautiful daily rhythm that the colors of the day are really made to guide us through the day, kind of winds down in the evening. So all of these things I’m continuing to learn and there continues to be more and more of this lengthy list of benefits, and that helps keep me motivated, because actually, it’s not easy to find the time for it or to make the time for it because it’s scary because you’re doing something different from everyone else.
So it can be a lot of work, depending on the age of your children or any struggles that you’re having. You know some kids have a hard time with transitions. So they’re not going to want to go outside. All those things, you have to have maybe the right snacks and you’ve got to have a water bottle. There are some things that you need. You’ve got to find places or safe places. It’s not all that easy. Or there are mosquitos or it’s too hot or it’s too cold or all of those things. So anyway, learning about it keeps me motivated and keeps me keeping that as sort of a frontrunner in terms of how we schedule our time.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
To that point, let’s dive into some tips that you may have, because I think that you have done a marvelous job of convincing people that this is important, and now I know the wheels are turning and people are going “Okay, how do I do this?” You’re a seasoned, experienced mom. You’ve parented kids through all different developmental phases at this point. I’d love for you to share a few tips that you have for people around, maybe ways that you have found to make this easier or to keep track of things or that kind of stuff. What little tips do you have?
There is this prevailing piece of advice, and actually there is a book written about it, and the book is fabulous. But it’s called There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather, this is the little tip: Only bad clothing. But I don’t necessarily agree to that. Because I think there is a lot of bad weather. So I would say my top advice is to find your best weather days. You’re going to be happier if you’re not freezing cold or if you’re not in the middle of a monsoon or whatever. So that’s how we started. We looked ahead at the calendar. So we started with de-scheduling, which is not having our lives so full, so we had space to play. But we would look ahead with the best weather days. If you’re just starting out, you’re going to be happier if the weather is nicer. And then you kind of build up your stamina a little bit. So that’s what we did. We sort of looked for good weather, we looked at chunks of time. Could we go somewhere for maybe two hours? The kids — because they take a while to get into their play schemes, so then they want to play. Just sort of having that ability to stay a little bit longer. So I say my 3 biggest tips are the 3 F’s: Food, Friends and a First-Aid kit. So you bring along some snacks that your kids really like or something special, if it’s safe where you are, you call up some friends, outside tends to be a pretty safe location, and you find a location that maybe is not near a main road if you’ve got little ones. I use Google Maps. This is where I find what to do. Google Maps because it shows all the green spaces. And then there are reviews. So you can see — I use that, I use websites like the State Park website. Locally, the Parks and Rec — I would go in the radius of a couple of miles, all these different cities, what are the parks and rec? They’ll have a list of all the parks. We go to school playgrounds after the school day is over, sometimes. Word of mouth. Geocaching groups, Facebook will have some different even photography groups. Sometimes we’ll have these places that you can play, you can cross-reference with Instagram, that’s what I do. You can type in a location and kind of see what it looks like. So we found these places that we love, we’re always trying to find out if there are bathrooms, if it’s stroller-friendly, that’s good information to know. And then word of mouth. I have shoved myself into many conversations and said “Hey, what are you talking about? Where is that place?” And so if you have a small arsenal of places that you can visit that your kids enjoy, you only need a couple. Or if you have a yard — we lived in a townhouse for a while, we had just a little balcony. We put a water table out there, that worked fine. If you have a small, little arsenal of places to go, if you’ve got some good snacks, if you have a friend or two you can call up, that’s all you really need and trust that this is a worthy use of your time and very worthy for your children.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Love that. And I think such a worthy use of time for us as the parents or the adults as well. We’re talking about all of the important great benefits for our kids, and what a worthy use of time it is for them, but let’s not forget about ourselves too. We benefit from time spent outdoors. We benefit from time to sit and decompress while the kids are running around, or chat with a friend while the kids are playing. It’s a valuable thing for us as well, right?
And I sometimes tend to think, what else is there that is that multi-age and far-reaching? I don’t like the same movies that my kids do. I don’t like the same kids that my small children do. I don’t like the same games. It’s like you sort of placate them and you do those things because they’re important. But you’re not really both really enjoying it. It’s not both for you. But nature is! Nature is for the infant newborn all the way to the grandparents. It spans the generations, there’s something for everyone that meets you right where you’re at. So I like that too, that I go out and I feel better and it smells good and I hear the birds, and my mood is uplifted.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Absolutely. Just that pause helps rejuvenate everybody and allows the rest of the day to go better too. So I think so often there is this idea of “No I can’t waste the time to be doing — to sit on a blanket or sit in the grass and watch my kids play because I should be doing other things”, and you’re totally flipping that around and going “No, by doing that you are meeting so many important needs for your child and for yourself, and it allows you to do everything else better.” So it’s this counterintuitive slowing down to speed up kind of mentality.
Right. And acknowledging that that is hard, and that is why I have a goal. Because otherwise I would skip it. I would skip it for cleaning, I would skip it for these other things that are pressing. But childhood flies by and I have never met one person who says the opposite. I’ve never met one person who says “Oh, that really lasted a long time.” It doesn’t. I read one thing one time that’s like “Someday I’ll have lines in my carpet again from the vacuum.” Someday I will, and the house will be quiet, my parent’s house is always clean, my in-law’s house is always clean. And someday I know I’ll be there too. But for now, we’re choosing these activities that benefit the whole child, that benefit me, help me be more present. Help me enjoy these years and really cherish them and know that there will be a season for the other stuff later on.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love it. You’ve got some great resources. Let’s talk a minute just to let people know about the challenge because I think you do have resources available to this idea of setting a goal, prioritizing it, tracking it. I believe you’ve got some charts, you’ve got some things. Tell us about the resources that you have that can help people really implement this.
So we have this free tracker sheet. It is the simplest thing. It is a piece of paper and you color in your outside hours. And what it does is it keeps that goal as a priority. It gives you permission to play, and it models for older children this balance between screens and nature. I want my kids to grow up and know that screens are fine, but we really want to fill our lives with what we want to fill it with first, and screens get the backseat and not the other way around. So for my kids, they’re coloring in those little bubbles. It’s modeling and then it’s also giving them the skillset, which is that you have to pay attention. You know these screens are meant to steal your time to a degree. That’s how they’re designed. So we have to be giving them these skill sets. They’re going to be parents within the next couple of decades and screens are going to be more pervasive. So the tracker sheets are really cute. They’re free. So there are a bunch of different designs. Some people spend 6 dollars and they get them blown up at Staples or OfficeMax, so they’ve got it hanging on the wall. Some people do a little friendly competition within their own family. Everyone gets their own sheet. So that’s on their website and just a lot of great articles about why it’s important to hang upside-down, and what kids get out of stomping in a puddle. And all of those things that seem frivolous and unimportant, that kids want to play with their friends more than they want to be on screens. That’s been studied in some way. They really want that. So there are just good resources there and ways that would encourage a parent to be able to take a deep breath and say “Okay, this is okay for me to do.”
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love it and I think that tracker is so nice because it gets kids involved in that too. And I was thinking, as you were talking, even an interesting exercise would be to have one or to make one for screen time and for time outside to help kids, especially as they get older, to say okay, where are you with your balance of this? I love that, making it visual and intentional. I think it’s great. Tell us the website.
It’s simple. It’s just 1000hoursoutside.com
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Fantastic. And we will link to that in the show notes. I want to also have you talk briefly about your new book because I believe that’s filled with activities and things, right?
It is. So this is the story of the book, Dr. Nicole. I was asked to write the book by a publishing company. So maybe it was not my first choice. I am a really big advocate in child-led and these are more activities that you would set up. But in the course of making the book, I fell in love with these activities because they end up being open-ended. If you make wildflower play-dough, that actually ends up being very open-ended and it smells good and it’s beautiful. There are little games and crafts. And then what happened is that I finished the book and it got cut because of COVID! So this was the journey of my book. It actually wasn’t supposed to come out until November, but we ended up — they’ve cut a ton of titles because of COVID and Act of God and all of these things. So we self-published it and it came out on Thursday of last week. We got our copies and I was on The Today Show on Friday and the timing has just been great. So it’s here now and it’s 50+ Low-Tech Nature Activities. You know, making a pumpkin village. And I’ll tell you what, I can’t even really describe how much our whole family, we included grandparents and friends ages 3-70, just loved every single one! We’re painting pinecones or making nature weavings and all of these things! It sort of rejuvenated in me a passion to try some of these activities a little more often. And it’s a good jumping-off point, which a lot of families are asking for, like where do I begin? So this is a really good jumping off point. If you know you can go collect sticks and then make some twig stars and decorate your playhouse or your home or your Christmas tree, then that gives a little bit of extra motivation and a little bit of a goal. So it’s beautiful, there are 6 chapters, all different ideas for all different seasons, multi-age, and then it’s got a little bit of my own little tidbits in there. It really turned out to be a beautiful book.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Well I’m so glad that you went ahead and published it anyway. The irony of it getting cut during COVID — Hello, if there’s a book that people need, it’s this one! So I’m glad you went ahead and did that and I think it’s so true: Some parents, some families just do need a jumping off point with more structure, of I am just a person who needs to have something concrete that we’re doing, or maybe I have a child who needs to have a tangible goal, who doesn’t do well, at least yet with just total unstructured time. So I love that it provides a good starting point or that — I’m sure what great activities for even school settings or camps or daycares, all of these kinds of things.
And in the back if there’s —-
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I have had it ordered, I can’t wait to get it. Sign it for me!
Yes, I am! The pre-sale ends tomorrow and I’m signing all those copies, but in the back there is a developmental benefits key so that you can say, “Look! We’re doing this thing, it just seems like play, but here are the developmental benefits that come along with this activity or that activity.” And it’s good for us to know and be reminded of those things so that we can feel good about our decisions to allow kids to do what they’re naturally inclined to do.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Beautiful. Give us the website one more time for our listeners.
It is 1000hoursoutside.com.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Fantastic. Ginny, this has been a wonderful conversation. I have so enjoyed talking with you. You have such a wealth of experience and information to share and I know you have really inspired our listeners to spend more time outside, to trust the developmental process with their kids outdoors. Just really can’t thank you enough for being with us today.
I just absolutely enjoyed it, thanks for having me on, Dr. Nicole.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And thanks to all of you, as always for being here and listening. We will catch you back here next week for our next episode of The Better Behavior show.