1,000 Hours Outside, One Family’s Story


boy climbing tree. 1000 hours outside. Des Moines MomWhen I was a child, outdoor play was not negotiable. Sometimes I chose of my own volition to commune with nature, but often I was gently pushed out the door by my mother with the vaguely threatening admonition to only return before supper if I were bleeding.

Boredom would typically give way to fort building with neighbor kids, to backyard baseball games played with my brothers, and to the establishment of an obedience school for every unwitting dog that wandered into our yard. I have fond memories of my childhood spent outdoors, but now that I have children of my own, I am not sure how to make the same life for them. My semi-rural and largely unscheduled upbringing is now contrasted with life in a city managed by a carefully constructed calendar. Is it still possible for me to inspire a similar love of the outdoors in my young children?

It seems that every day I stumble across a new article or research study highlighting the benefits of time spent in nature, especially for children. Time in nature decreases stress and anxiety, improves immunity, prevents nearsightedness, and fosters creativity.  In addition to the many studies enumerating the social and health benefits of time spent outdoors, the less tangible outcomes of connection to the natural environment and appreciation of natural beauty are also at stake.

But despite the clear advantages of heading outside to play, I struggled to prioritize pushing my three young children outdoors until I learned of the 1000 Hours Outside challenge last summer.

The 1000 Hours Outside challenge is a simple enough concept: spend one thousand hours outdoors over the course of a year.

We decided to start on July 1 rather than wait six months for a new calendar year to begin. I printed the mandala tracker from the 1000 Hours Outside website, hung it on our fridge, and eagerly ferried my six year old, four year old, and two year old outdoors to play.

When it was time for the two year old to come in for his nap, I realized we needed a plan for how we counted hours. Do we only track time when our entire family is outside, or do we allow exceptions for toddler naps and indoor activities which might involve only one child? To provide us with some flexibility, we decided to track hours whenever a majority of children were outside, which for us is two out of three kids.

Some quick mental math revealed we would need to be outside around three hours per day on average. Because we live in a state with such fun features as torrential downpours during June, heat advisories throughout the summer, the occasional polar vortex during February, and sustained thirty-mile-per-hour arctic winds during “spring”, I knew the only way we could conquer this challenge would be to build up a bank of hours on the days the weather is nice so we could hole up indoors on the many not-so-nice or downright hazardous days. With this in mind, we tried to spend at least four or five hours outside each day whenever possible.

Our favorite outside activities

Once we got started, we found no shortage of things to do. The classic childhood activities of drawing with sidewalk chalk, blowing bubbles, and riding bikes were joined by days spent making box cities in the driveway, running unsuccessful “grocery” stores selling crab apples and pine cones, setting up tents in the backyard, wading through creeks, reading bedtime stories on the front porch, and donning rain gear for puddle jumping.

We planted a garden, went on moonlit walks (especially fun when Christmas lights are on display!), caught bullfrogs and grasshoppers, and ate on restaurant patios. Lest I paint too rosy a picture, I will also mention the scraped knees, bee stings, and muddy hallways that peppered our adventures. There was whining about legs being tired, diaper blowouts thirty minutes down a hiking trail, and books left outside to be lost under a snowfall. But one year later, I can say without hesitation that the good outweighed the bad, and that a focus on time spent outdoors will continue to be an important value to our family.

mandala 1000 hours outside. Des Moines MomSo how did we do on the challenge? We completed it, but just barely. We logged Hour #1000 on June 28, which only left us two days to spare. If it weren’t for a strategically timed beach vacation in June, we may have ended the year short of our goal. We celebrated the end of our challenge by going out for ice cream—eaten outdoors, naturally.


Interested in learning more about how to increase the amount of time you spend outdoors with your family? The 1000 Hours Outside website is a great place to start. You can find loads of information on the benefits of outdoor play as well as printable time trackers and suggestions for outdoor activities. If you are a reader, There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather, Last Child in the Woods, and Balanced and Barefoot are all great choices for inspiration. I also found an investment in good rain and snow gear to be crucial, both for my kids and for myself. 

Amanda VandekrolAmanda is an Iowa transplant and homeschool mom to three young children. After working as a tax accountant for over a decade, Amanda has recently transitioned to running a musical equipment business with her husband, Kevin, out of their basement. Amanda doubles down on her time spent at home by also pursuing such hobbies as experimenting with new recipes, reading voraciously, and playing piano and guitar. When she does manage to emerge into the wider world, Amanda enjoys volunteering at her church and traveling far and wide, especially to cities and coasts. Her dream is to spend a summer living in England, preferably as a shepherdess.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here