1000 hours outside

Spending time outside, whether you’re a child or an adult, plays an important role in maintaining and enhancing our physical and mental health. Doctors, psychologists, educators, and many other professionals have promoted the idea that outdoor activities are actually the ones “that keep the doctor away” (apples are good, but they cannot be expected to do all the work for us). As early childhood is among the most impressionable times of our lives – a time when millions of new neural connections in our brains are formed every second, lighting up like fireworks – spending time outdoors, in nature, is all that more important. 

Unfortunately, partially because of our busy schedules partially because the technology surrounds us wherever we go, children in average have more “screen time” than “outdoor time”, and that is precisely the reason why the “1000 hours outside” initiative came to be. Its main purpose is to move our free time outdoors, for us to actively and consciously choose to spend time with our children outside, and to challenge ourselves to spend 1000 hours outdoors in a year (or as much as we possibly can). 

I took up this challenge (before I even knew about it) because I love spending time in nature, and even more so, because I know how important it is, and what a strong impact, both free and planned, outdoor play has on children. And what is even better, we never run out of things to do. There is always something new to discover, to learn, to play. Even more importantly, we can let our creativity run wild (quite literally). No matter the weather, we have a date with nature every day. Even though one might think that rainy days limit our activities outside, I have discovered that some gloomy, rainy days were among the best times we had outside with the kids; I mean, there is no better opportunity to introduce them to the song “Singing in the rain”, while jumping into puddles, and dancing among the trees in an empty park, singing our hearts out. 

Some days we spend on the playground, where children have an opportunity to express their creativity in the sandbox, play on the jungle gym or join some group sport activities. Other days we introduce or invent new games, where children are encouraged to pitch in by adding their own ideas and rules. We go on scavenger hunts, seeking some things that are easy to find in nature, and some things that are not, which makes it more challenging and fun, inspiring children to think outside the box. We take care of our garden by watering plants and herbs, raking leafs, collecting chestnuts for future art projects, and more. We draw chalk “graffiti”. We walk, and cycle, and skateboard, jump, and run, and do the flips. We do it all – we play, we learn, we grow. 

All those activities in nature, and more, enhance children’s cognitive development through new discoveries and problem solving, they impact their social development through contact and teamwork with other children, and what’s more, by spending time outdoors, children develop a positive attitude towards nature, and all the life it contains – a relationship which lasts a lifetime. Activities in nature also have a positive effect on language development, and the development of fine and gross motors skills. All in all, spending time in nature promotes overall growth. 

Many studies have found that spending time in nature has a positive effect on our mental health; it reduces stress and anxiety as well as the depressive feelings, and stabilizes our mood by enhancing the production of “happy chemicals” in our brains. 

As far as the physical health is concerned, scientists in Finland have recently discovered the positive effects of daycares which offer daily access to green areas and forest undergrowth – an environment rich in biodiversity – where children spend a lot of time outside taking care of flowers and crops. The microbes in natural environment affect a well-established microbiome in children, which enhances their immunity; making them not only happier but also healthier humans.

There are really no downsides to outdoor fun, and letting your children get dirty and messy instead of your home is just a wonderful side effect of spending more time outdoors. So let’s take it outside!

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