Kids between 8 and 18 spend an average of 7.5 hours in front of a screen — every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s probably not the most shocking statistic, since, between video games, TikTok and the latest streaming series, there’s a lot to do in front of a screen. But what happens if you replace a good chunk of those hours with time spent outdoors, looking at trees or a sky or even the ground? For some parents, the answer is simple: only good things.
Enter the 1000 Hours Outside movement. Michigan-based mother of five Ginny Yurich started the blog of the same name in 2013, followed by related books and the popular podcast, inspiring parents across the globe to get outside with their children — and track their hours with a goal of reaching 1,000. And by 2021, Yurich told Today, more than a million kids had participated in the challenge. Today, there are more than 607,000 #1000HoursOutside posts on Instagram.
Prior to starting her blog, Yurich struggled with parenting her young kids. She was constantly shuffling them from activity to activity, and was frustrated by how short the bursts of time were. Then a friend read the writings of British educator Charlotte Mason, who encourages outdoor play for children, and asked Yurich if she wanted to try to spend some time outdoors with both of their kids at the park. While Yurich had low expectations initially, she was shocked by how “refreshed” she felt afterwards. She kept it up.
“I started to notice that our kids were thriving,” Yurich tells Yahoo Life. “They were sleeping better, they were eating better. They weren't getting sick as much. They were trying new sorts of things outdoors, new sorts of movements. And over the past 10 to 12 years I've come across just stacks and stacks of research about how simple outdoor play helps kids with every facet of their development. It helps their cognition, it helps their physical abilities, it helps them emotionally, it helps them with their social skills — and it does a whole lot for the parents, as well.”
Why get outside?
Much has been written about why getting outdoors is so important for children, including how it helps them synthesize vitamin D from the sun, which is important for building a healthy immune system. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health states that children ages 3 to 12 who spend more time outside are less sedentary, meaning they are more likely to hit the CDC's 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity each day for optimal health.
Michelle Kondo, a scientist with the U. S. Forest Service, tells Yahoo Life that the mental health benefits of outdoor play may be the most impressive.
“Being outside can help improve our mood, it can reduce our stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression,” she says. “Time spent outside can reduce loneliness. Being outside can also improve how our brain functions. It helps us focus and pay attention.”
A study published in Science Advances in 2019 found that there is a link between nature experiences and psychological well-being, as well as a reduction in risk factors for certain kinds of mental health issues, such as ADHD and anxiety disorders, something the American Psychological Association (APA) echoed in a 2020 synthesis of nature's mood and cognitive benefits.
There’s also evidence that unstructured social play can be enormously beneficial for children. Many parents may think that giving their kids ample organized activities is ideal — but allowing them to have free time not dominated by organized activities, requiring them to come up with their own fun, can help them develop creativity, per research from the APA.
What parents are saying
Followers of the challenge, who can track their progress thanks to a chart available on Yurich’s website, don’t need any concrete evidence to know that getting outside is a great idea: The proof is in how their families feel after getting lots of fresh air, sun and nature time.
“We do a lot of parks days and walk trails,” North Carolina mother Makenzie Alaniz tells Yahoo Life of her two kids, ages 5 and 2. As a homeschooling parent, she was looking for ways to fill her kids' days "with adventure and fun," and is confident her family will hit the 1,000-hour mark, as they’re already at 200 hours. “Once the weather warms up, we will be at the beach. We also have a horse, so taking care of her and riding takes up quite a bit of time … If it’s above 40 degrees, then we have at least an hour or two of play!”
Natalie Waddell, a Texas mom of two kids, 2 and 4, also loves the challenge. She decided jump aboard at the end of 2022, after she noticed her kids were getting sick often and engaging in too much screen time. They keep it simple by playing in front of their house on most days.
“When I think of my weekend plans I try to find something that would double for hours outside as well,” she says. “If the weather is bad we try to power through it, and if it's not working we take a small walk and make up the hours another day. Texas has pretty crazy weather and we just roll with it. For instance February's goal was an hour a day and most days we would do two hours or 20 minutes, but still made our goal.”
Since starting the challenge, she notes, her kids have not gotten sick — something that was previously rare in January and February.
Plus, she says, “My kids fall asleep a lot faster and sleep better throughout the night."
Social media influencer Carly Riordan also sees the practical aspect of spending more time outdoors, telling Yahoo Life that the fresh air has been “amazing” for her family's overall mood.
Then there are some practical benefits.
“We've had the bonuses of longer naps and a cleaner house, too,” she says. “[There’s] way more time hanging with friends. It's easier to meet at a park than to feel pressure to invite a family over into our home. No need to clean before or after!”
Mostly, Riordan says, she loves not “having to plan activities” in order to entertain her toddler.
And, say says, “he is happy outside with minimal effort or guidance on my part."
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