Embracing Mother Nature: A Mom’s Guide to Spending 1000 Hours Outside Every Year

Embracing Mother Nature: A Mom's Guide to Spending 1000 Hours Outside Every Year

I’ve always believed in the transformative power of Mother Nature for myself, but since having children the role the outdoors plays in our overall wellbeing has never been more apparent. We live in a world where spending time in nature is often the last thing on our minds. Screens, copious amounts of toys and long days at school keep our children occupied indoors endlessly. On average, American children spend less than ten minutes outside each day.

I made a decision for our family that we’re going to resist the narrative. We won’t spend our days inside anymore. Rain or shine, snow or mud, we’re getting outside. Join me as I share the ins and outs of this journey and how it has shaped our family dynamics.

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Why 1000 Hours Outside

Right after I had my first baby an acquaintance was telling me about her family’s quest to spend 1000 hours outside that year. I remember her saying it’s only about 3.5 hours per day. And I vividly remember thinking, ‘Yeah, maybe if you live in Florida.’ But we live in the Midwest where for at least three months (if not much longer) of the year the temperature is far too cold for outdoor play. I thought she was a lunatic.

Then we got to our first winter with our baby. We were inside for days and weeks and months. And to say she was impacted would be an understatement.

When my kids don’t see the sun, they don’t sleep well. When they don’t breathe in fresh air, they have a hard time winding down. When they don’t get to run and jump and fall and get dirty, they don’t eat well either. And if we’re being honest, they don’t behave all that well either.

Then I remembered 1000 hours outside. So, I dug in and did all the research I could get my hands on. Here’s what I learned.

The 1000 Hours Outside movement is a growing initiative aimed at encouraging families and individuals to spend a significant amount of time outdoors each year. The concept is simple: aim to accumulate 1000 hours of outdoor time annually. This movement is not about achieving a specific number for the sake of it; rather, it emphasizes the transformative impact that extended periods in nature can have on physical and mental well-being. The movement originated from a desire to counteract the trend of decreased outdoor activity and increased screen time.


Ultimately, the thing I read that made me decide we were all in was that 1000 hours outside doesn’t even have to actually mean 1000 hours outside. It’s about making a commitment to spend more time outside. While the goal is to reach 1000 hours, the movement emphasizes the quality of outdoor experiences rather than just the quantity of time spent. Engaging in meaningful and enjoyable outdoor activities is at the heart of the movement. I’m a must-reach-the-goal kind of girl. So, learning this wasn’t necessarily about the 1000 hours let me breathe a sigh of relief. Okay fam, we can do this. Let’s go!

The Power of Nature in Family Bonding

There’s something magical about the outdoors that brings families closer. Whether it’s hiking through lush forests, running around the backyard, or enjoying a picnic in the park, nature provides the perfect backdrop for quality family time. Spending 1000 hours outside allows us to escape the distractions of screens and technology, fostering genuine connections and creating lasting memories.

When we’re outside, similarly to when we’re on vacation, I’m not distracted by all the things inside the house that need done. And my girls aren’t distracted by toys and screens. We have the time and space to explore, together. We have the opportunity to just be. To breath. To focus. Together.

It’s not difficult to see how impactful this is on our children. I don’t hear my toddler asking me to come play with her over and over when we’re outside. Because I already am. She has my full attention. She isn’t asking me to hold her. She’s not even asking me for a snack. She sees that I’m fully there and she FEELS that.

Health and Wellness Benefits

One of the primary motivations for our outdoor commitment is the myriad health benefits nature offers. From the physical advantages of fresh air and exercise to the mental well-being derived from sunlight and natural surroundings, the benefits for kids and adults are truly endless. Studies have shown that spending time in nature can reduce stress, boost immunity, and enhance cognitive function – benefits that are especially important for growing children.

There’s a strain of bacteria that can be found in the soil called Mycobacterium vaccae that when exposed to, can cause the release of dopamine in the human body. Better said, dirt makes us happy.

And then there’s the sunshine. We all know about Vitamin D. The sun is absolutely necessary for a strong immune system and strong bones. But what about our circadian rhythm? Sunlight plays an important role in regulating our circadian rhythm. (And coincidentally, blue light plays an important role in dysregulating it). Ultimately, we sleep better when we spend time in the sun.

Spending time outdoors has been linked to reduced stress, improved mood, enhanced creativity, and increased physical activity. Little bodies are challenged when they’re climbing on rocks and balancing on stream-soaked logs in ways they just aren’t when they’re inside. Core development, balance, hand eye coordination, finger dexterity, it’s all challenged when they’re running and playing outside. Confidence too. Let them get dirty and a little dangerous and watch their self-esteem sore.

Besides all that, seasonal depression is a real thing. If I can feel it, I know they can too. When we have to spend weeks inside in the subzero winters of the Midwest I start eating poorly, acting grumpy and dreaming of the sunshine. But man, when it’s summer and I spend my days soaking up the sun, I’m a different person. My kids are too.

But how?

Committing to spending 1000 hours outside may seem daunting, especially with the demands of modern life. From integrating outdoor activities into daily routines to planning weekend getaways, finding the balance that works for your family is key to reaping the rewards of an outdoor lifestyle.

Okay but what are we actually doing outside for 1000 hours? Great question! I like to make things easy on myself so we come up with simple ways to get outside that don’t require a lot of energy on my part.

  1. Eating outside: When we don’t have to bundle up, we eat all our meals outside on our back patio. You’ll see me dragging a highchair out the backdoor every morning around 7am during the nicer months. Kids eat slow as heck, so this can take up a lot of time!
  2. Scavenger Hunts: I love to tell the girls we’re going on a scavenger hunt and looking for pinecones, acorns, dinosaur eggs (insert nature nouns here). We walk around our neighborhood for hours exploring nature and bringing all our findings home. This is an excellent activity for between nap and dinner time when you’re done trying to come up with entertainment for your kids. Let Momma Nature entertain. We once found a dinosaur egg (rock) and brought it home to incubate it. For weeks my toddler fed it blueberries in its bowl and kept it under the overhead stove light. One day she woke up and it had hatched / we had bought a toy dinosaur and replaced the rock. She’s been talking about that for months now.
  3. Picnics: At least once a week when I pick my daughter up from her half day preschool we go straight to the park for a picnic and play until naptime. It’s often these short periods of time in between meals and naps that feel the most daunting. It doesn’t feel like there’s enough time for a whole outdoor adventure. This is when we keep it simple and don’t plan to go too far from home. Squeeze in what you can when you can.
  4. Hiking: Save this for when you have an extended period of time to be outdoors. Rain or shine or even snow, you can find our family hiking. We have rain boots and snow boots and lots of weather protecting clothes to keep the complaining to a minimum. The most important note to take about family hiking is to have low expectations and let your kids lead. It’s not about the miles, it’s about the time outside together. We do a lot more walking through the woods looking for mushrooms/bugs/flowers than we do actually hiking.
  5. Playing in the dirt: Plant a garden or simply some flower seeds. Dig for worms. Make a pile of dirt and climb on it. Take toy trucks and cars outside and make a dirt path for them. Kids are washable. Make a mud kitchen with old Tupperware, pots, spoons, etc.
  6. Paint rocks: Jump in puddles. Bubbles. Chalk. Hula hoops. Bikes. Read books. Kites. Balloon Volleyball. Clean the patio furniture. Car Wash with all their toy vehicles. The opportunities are truly endless.

If your children are a bit older than mine you might also benefit from the curriculums you can purchase from 1000hoursoutside.com (but please know you do not need to spend money to spend time outside).

Embracing Seasons and Diversity

Nature unfolds its beauty in various ways throughout the year, and each season brings unique opportunities for exploration. Whether it’s building snowmen in winter, enjoying the vibrant blooms of spring, basking in the summer sun, or marveling at the colors of fall, our family has learned to appreciate the diversity of experiences that come with spending time outside. Embracing the changing seasons adds depth and richness to our outdoor adventures. It also teaches resilience to our girls. You’re cold? Me too, we’ll be okay.

Unless it’s dangerously cold outside, we’re going out. We make sure everyone has the appropriate gear and plan to get outside for short periods of time. In January and February if we spend a half hour outside total for a day, that’s a huge win. Sometimes it’s only for ten minutes at a time. But again, it’s important to remember this is a goal that doesn’t have to be reached. One that we all benefit from just from trying. In the winter we even count taking our dogs outside and throwing snowballs while we wait for them to do their business. Get creative and have fun!

Striving to spend 1000 hours outside each year, even if we don’t actually reach 1000 hours, has been a transformative journey for our family (Let’s be honest, with a toddler who still naps and a baby with a low tolerance for weather, we do our best, and you should too). We’ve learned to get unbored when we start to feel bored. We’ve become more creative and far less lazy. We’ve learned resilience and we’ve learned how to honor nature. We pick up trash when we see it and we say ‘hello’ to squirrels and ‘excuse me’ to trees.

If nothing else, I hope I’ve given you a new perspective on spending time outside with your babies, even in the absolute dead of winter. It doesn’t have to be hard, and I hope you let it be easy and natural. I hope you and your children immediately notice the benefits. And I hope for your Momma heart, you remember it’s not about the 1000 hours. It’s a rally call to disconnect from modern day and reconnect to Momma Earth.


1000 Hours Outside website, podcast and app can be of great value if you decide to embark on this journey.

I found a lot of inspiration in There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather by Linda Åkeson McGurk. Although not directly related to the 1000 Hours movement, it’s full of evidence about why we should get our kids outside early and often.

Next on my reading list is Until the Streetlights Come On by Ginny Yurich Med.

Gear up for family hikes with the Osprey Poco Plus! Spoiler alert: it’s our favorite, and we’re not just winging it!

Happy Travels!


Brandy Gilbreth

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