The feeling of mud under your fingernails, a worm in your hand, and grass stains on your knees. Caught up as I was in the joy, the realization came like a whisper to my heart: I had forgotten what it meant to wonder at the earth.
I spent the majority of my own childhood outside, but somewhere in the shuffle of growing up, I had forgotten how to love the outdoors. I tolerated nature, even enjoyed it at times, but within specific parameters: no annoying bugs or dangerous wildlife—especially ticks and snakes!
After having my daughters, I began to spend more time outside. Outdoor situations often made me uncomfortable, but I pushed through for my daughters’ sake.
So, this year, I decided to do something crazy. Inspired by an Instagram challenge,* I committed to spending 1,000 hours outside with my girls. And although it’s only a few months into 2021, the challenge has already changed us.
The change the outdoors can bring
The beginning was hard. I am a fierce hater of winter and have struggled to find beauty in a season so frigid and desolate. As an adult, I passed winters quietly indoors, as I sipped tea, ate hearty stews, and hoped the weeks would go quickly. “If I could just make it to spring,” I would say to myself, “then life will be beautiful again.”
For the first time in my life, I determined this year would be different. We would spend time outside, regardless of the weather. I would learn to find beauty in the cold.
The first week of January brought temperatures in the 30s. I didn’t want to go outside. But I remembered our outdoor challenge, and I knew I needed to start. So I bundled up my girls and took them to the park. We were the only people there.
Surprisingly to me, my girls didn’t mind the cold. They ran around happily, slid down slides, and enjoyed the swings. I checked the clock on my phone, wondering how many hours had passed since we had arrived—and was surprised to find it had been only 20 minutes. Ugh. I made a goal of staying for one hour, but I wasn’t sure I could even make it that long.
As we neared the hour mark and I was getting ready to leave, a mother showed up with two kids around the same age as mine, and we started talking.
I learned she was doing the same outdoor challenge. Then I found out she was also homeschooling her kids, and we discovered we had many other things in common. Suddenly, I found that I didn’t want to leave the park anymore.
Talking with her made the time pass more quickly. I was no longer focused on the cold or how miserable I was. I was enjoying the excitement of meeting a kindred spirit and seeing our children playing in the winter sunshine. It showed me that I needed to plan outdoor activities that took my focus off the cold.
I went home and made a winter bucket list. My list included local hikes, ice skating, snow play, and outdoor attractions. I scheduled activities on weekends when my husband could join us, and invited friends to come along on our weekday adventures. I shared the list on my Instagram to keep me accountable. If I publicly declared we would do those winter activities, then I had to make them happen!
When it snowed, we stayed outside as long as we could, taking snowy walks through our neighborhood, building snowmen, and making snow cream. I conquered walks and hikes by pushing my girls in our double stroller as they snuggled under blankets. My 4-year-old would bring a little basket to collect “winter nature treasures,” so we could take them home and talk about them. On my birthday, a cold, rainy February day, we explored underground caverns. I had never spent a birthday outside before, but it was a magical day for us all.
We went outside in all weather: the snow, the rain, and the wind. It wasn’t always easy, but it always felt worth it. Sometimes there would be meltdowns or tears, and sometimes we would only be outside for 20 minutes. But we would come inside—the wind and sun tingling on our faces— make tea, and usually be in better moods.
For the first winter of my adult life, I didn’t have cabin fever. Getting outside had become exciting, even adventurous. There were many times I laughed through a challenge, because it felt hard and ridiculous at the same time, like the day the wind blew my beanie right off my head and the blankets out of the stroller.
When life gives you snow, make snowballs . . .
In the midst of the wind and rain and snow, here’s what I realized: There’s no such thing as bad weather.** There is such a thing as bad attitudes, poor outerwear, and negative mindsets, which can color the way we view our experience outdoors. I realized that children don’t really mind the cold. They love exploring the earth by digging in mud, running their hands over textured chunks of ice, and collecting pine cones in wicker baskets. When big gusts of wind ripped through the air, my 1-year-old would turn her face toward it and belly laugh, every single time.
Watching my young girls outside has taught me a lot. It has helped me remember how to love the earth and be comfortable in it. It has reminded me that when my daughters see their mother outside, they will be more eager to be outside too. It has taught me to face the weather head on and belly laugh, just like my 1-year-old does.
Before this year, I had only spent “perfect days” outside. Our outdoor challenge has helped me and my girls learn to love the outdoors in all seasons and weather, not just on perfect days. Our memories outside together feel like perfect days.
Every day, my 1-year-old stands at the door and asks, “Outside?” My daughters are exercising their curiosity and making new discoveries about themselves and the world. I see them practicing bravery by holding worms, touching bugs, and petting garter snakes (with proper safety precautions!). Most importantly, I see them learning what it means to wonder at the earth.
*Learn more about this challenge, get loads of creative activity ideas, and download free printables at homeschooling mom Ginny Yurich’s website. You can gather more ideas from Ginny and the panel in our recent webinar about getting outside here.
**In fact, Linda Keson McGurk wrote a book about it! There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather (New York: Touchstone, 2017).