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When I sat down to set my 2021 goals, I challenged myself to get uncomfortable.
I’m usually all “Business!” “Health!” “Personal Development!” But something about these goals felt too blah for my post 2020 life. So I added one that makes me feel uncomfortable and itchy:
HAVE MORE FUN.
LISTEN. I’m a fun person.
But my preferred fun is the grown-up type of fun. Like a night out at a play, a late-night hockey game, or a long, multi-course meal paired with craft beer. And of course, organizing the basement or alphabetizing the spice drawer.
Basically, the types of fun that do not work for small children.
I’ve been a mom to earth side children for four and a half years. Much of that time has felt arduous. And hey, being a mom IS hard work. But I see parents who have a lot of fun raising small kids.
The feeling of having SO MUCH FUN has been fleeting for me.
I want that. For myself, my kids and my husband.
I want to have a lot of fun.
So I wrote “have more fun” in my PowerSheets with my color-coordinated pen and put a few stickers on the page to make it final. All the while trying to ignore the feeling of dread that I don’t know HOW to have fun with little kids.
But either way, I’m a fun mom now. Whether I like it or not.
1000 Hours Outside
As 2020 drew to a close, the feeling of panic really set in. I was trying, but I just couldn’t figure out a way to make our lives more fun.
I signed up for a subscription craft box and decided we would celebrate at least one random holiday a month. But that would cover a total of TWO days. And what’s worse, what if the craft box showed up on the random holiday? Then I would be down to one day of fun.
About the same time, mentions of the #1000HoursOutside Challenge started cropping up on social media. And it was like a light bulb clicked on. The 1000 Hours Outside challenge is simple to understand: spend 1,000 hours outside in a year.
I can do this!
This would be so easy. On nice days, we spend 4+ hours outside. And 1,000 hours outside means that we only had to get 2 hours and 45 minutes per day. SO EASY! And as long as the day was perfect, we’re good.
Then I remembered we live in Southern Illinois, where “perfect” weather is elusive.
Because of the freezing cold winter. And the rainy, windy, muddy March and April. And the scorching hot summers that start mid-June and seem to extend through the first few weeks of October. So I guess that leaves us with about 2 months of decent weather.
This means we need to spend 16 hours per day outside during those months.
I love nature but that seems less doable.
Hm. Maybe I can’t do this…
But really, what do I have to lose? Even if I fall short, more time outside is better than less.
On a whim, I clicked “Buy Now” on a book I had been wanting to read called There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather. What I saw as an excuse to add to my Book Graveyard turned out to be one of the most influential books I’ve read.
Part memoir, part practical guide for getting kids outside in all weather, There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather is enjoyable but packs a punch of conviction. After the first chapter, I was all in on the mantra of the book:
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”
I’ve already added it to my staple Mom sayings. I’m looking forward to the endless eye rolls it inspires as my children age.
The very first ah-ha moment was that I do not dress myself or my kids appropriately for cold weather. I took a long hard look at our outerwear and realized I was coming up short.
The kids’ gloves were so/so and although the kids have puffy coats for cold weather, I only put snow pants on the kids when it snowed. But in reality, bundling up for cold weather means adding an extra layer to the whole body.
I was woefully underdressed, as well. I would throw on a sweatshirt, vest, and ear cover and call it good. From my children’s perspective, having a mother who was shivering and miserable modeled that there actually is such a thing as bad weather.
No wonder we couldn’t handle being outside for more than 15 minutes!
The first change I made was putting on snow pants on the kids, even if there was no snow. We found that the extra layer made temps below 28 degrees F (give or take, depending on the wind) bearable and dare I say enjoyable.
Next, I order my 20-month-old some better mittens. Her mittens were hand-me-downs from her older brother, but too big. They covered all of her hand real estate but were not comfortable and easy to remove.
I ordered these mittens from Amazon. They aren’t too bulky and are still cozy. Initially, I balked at the price, but I reminded myself that her current mittens saved money, but didn’t save the play.
I then examined what I was wearing. I hauled out a big, long, winter coat from the back of my coat hook. My winter boots are just insulated rain boots since it’s rarely dangerously cold but more likely muddy. On really cold days, I pair my boots with wool socks for extra warmth. On the coldest of days, I add my Carhartt overalls as a top layer.
You might be looking at all of this and thinking “this is way too expensive!” Yes, I agree. This is pricy. But I won’t grow out of my winter clothes, so I’m ok investing in products that will keep me warm that also last a long time. When it comes to the kids, I bought snow pants and boots second hand which saved me a small fortune. But I started looking in September for these items. If you wait until the first snow to find cold weather gear at resale shops you’ll probably come up unsuccessful.
I also think about the money I’m saving by getting my kids outside – broken household items from pent-up energy, countless re-fills on craft products to manage boredom, and possibly a few canceled streaming subscriptions that used to get us through the week.
If we want to get outside in the cold, proper gear is non-negotiable.
And remember this! Playing outdoors in cold weather does not have to be a contest of suffering. Putting on proper clothes makes play more fun and extends the time you can stay out. As an added bonus, I’ve noticed when we’re outside in cold weather for a decent length of time, my kids fall asleep quickly and sleep better! Even if you don’t see the value in improved play, you might be able to get on board with better sleep!
Quick note: I don’t want to diminish finances. When it comes to access to outdoors, access to proper clothes is a real barrier (among so many others!). I know there are families that have to make a choice between paying the rent and buying winter coats. There are organizations that can help with this! And I want to become more educated and helpful on this topic, so if you have any thoughts I am listening!
We play outside regardless of the weather, but I know once the weather warms we’ll ramp up our time. So I’m approaching our monthly goals with this in mind. For the month of January, the goal was to spend 31 hours outside, which equals 1 hour per day.
We finished our first month of 2021 with a total of 33 hours, 47 minutes, and 17 seconds. Almost 3 hours ahead of schedule!
When it comes to tracking, I use the Clockify app. It’s easy, has a free version, and has a neat report feature. That’s perfect for me. I’m embracing unstructured play for my children, but I’m still a data nerd at heart!
The Difference is Astounding.
I have read countless times that children need time in nature and I know this to be true because I’ve felt a deep connection with nature since I was a child. Nature has the power to change us, but I had never seen the transformation with my own eyes.
Until the last few weeks.
“Mommy. I’ll be the leader and find a way across this stream. You see that water feature? We’re going to step there, then there, then your foot might get a little wet but it’s ok because you can just hop and you’ll be across. Ready, Mommy? Follow meeeee!”
My four-year-old is introverted, a highly sensitive person, and a homebody. He prefers to stick close to me in new environments. But just a few minutes bathing in the sensory treasure trove of nature and he’s leading the pack. He tracks Gruffalos, hunts Bowser, and investigates deer poop. We leap across streams, crawl through caves of thorny bushes, and run down hills.
When he falls, he gets right back up. When he gets muddy, he shrugs it off.
He’s like a different kid. He’s confident and care-free. His anxiety disappears and he’s a problem-solving adventure seeker.
If I didn’t see the transformation with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it.
And much to my own shock, I’ve changed as well.
I let him run ahead without yelling “BE CAREFUL!” I curiously observe as he leaps and bounds without dictating a direction and end goal. And happily, I’m actually having fun.
Looking at the weather as a problem that can be solved, not a constraint to wait out, has opened doors to a whole new mindset.
It’s no longer TOO cold, TOO rainy, or TOO gross. The weather is objectively cold or wet. It’s not objectively gross, that statement is my opinion. If it’s cold or raining, we figure out how to adapt our clothes and outside time to get our daily fresh air quota.
The first step is the hardest.
For sure, when we started this journey I didn’t see how we could possibly make outdoor, cold-weather-play work for a four-and-a-half-year-old who loves Mario and a 20-month-old who struggles to walk in snow boots. But here we are! It’s working. It’s not our favorite, but we appreciate the nuances of nature in this cold season.
I’m excited to see how we adapt throughout the year and inevitably who we become. The sky (and mountains and ocean) is the limit!
Have you done the 1000 Hours Outside Challenge? Or made a commitment to play outside in less than optimal weather? I’d love to hear about it! Please share in the comments or join my Facebook Group and let’s chat!