Raising Outdoor Readers: Picture Books in the Wild

While mindlessly scrolling social media I came across an Instagram post by @puddleparenting: 

I love how the trees in the book and the trees in the park match!

I love this idea and concept! Why haven’t we been taking picture books on more outdoor adventures with us in the past? They are a great addition to any outdoor learning.

Our town also recently acquired a little free library in the park thanks to a high school senior’s ambition to help a well-deserving community! This made it even easier for us to have a book to read while we were out and about at the park last week. 

The idea of reading a book outside at the park was so novel to my kids that they were more enthralled with reading than they were with playing. 

I can see many outdoor adventures that include picture books in our future. 

Do you take picture books outside with you on your outdoor adventures?

We Failed At Achieving 1,000 Hours Outside This Year. But in the End, We Still Won

In December of 2021, I came across an Instagram page called @1000hoursoutside. A mom started the account while living in a townhome without a yard and was set on making a better attempt to focus her time and energy on spending time outside with her family. The whole idea behind the 1,000 hours spent outside came from a study done on screen time in children saying the average child spends about 1,000 hours on screens a year, she was trying to flip the narrative and spend this many hours outside instead. While I dislike blaming screens or writing them off completely, I too have found immense value in spending time outside for myself and my children. 

I started tracking our outside hours come January 1st. My youngest son was born at the beginning of January, so during the first week or so of the year we were not able to clock many hours. But once we were home from the hospital, even he got in on the action at only a few days old! 

One of the benefits of tracking our hours for us was the motivation behind it. If we knew we could add more hours to our tracker app to earn badges and see how far we’ve come, it made it more motivating (especially in the colder months!) to get out a little more. Even spending 20 minutes outside adds up eventually! 

Tracking hours may seem arbitrary, and to some, it may be. To us, it gave us motivation and a starting point to see how far we had come. For example, in the month of January, we spent 22 hours outside, but in February we were able to jump to 24 hours outside for the month! It may have only been a 2-hour difference, but it felt like such a big win to us. By March we were up to 36 hours and in April we spent 82 hours outside!! 

In the end, we didn’t end up getting a full 1,000 hours outside. We finished off the year with around 890 hours. But did we fail? 

If we’re only talking numbers, then yes. 

But did we also win? 

We won more family time. 

We won the development of gross-motor skills. 

We won the time spent being curious over snow hills left over in the spring. 

We won more fresh air. 

We won afternoons with friends at the park. And evenings gathered around a fire roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. 

We won a balmy spring day by the river, and a hot summer’s day lounging out by our camper. 

We may have lost the number game, but in the end, I think we ultimately won. And next year, we’ll shoot for higher. Not to meet a number from a random statistic in a study, but because time spent outside is never wasted. 

You don’t have to read a blog post or Pinterest quote to see the benefits of spending time outside. You just have to get outside and the benefits will show themselves tenfold. 

Secrets of the Apple Tree

girl climbing apple tree picks fruit

I’ve been on this Earth for many years now,
Long enough to witness the different stages of life, multiple times.

The one I’m perpetually drawn to is childhood. 
The innocence of a child is unlike any other
Because they pick and climb and run and scream
All without a single worry about what tomorrow brings.

Always running.
Always climbing.
Always wondering.
Always growing. 

It doesn’t matter the time, the decade, or the season,
I’ve discovered one constant truth-
That children need movement and play and risk. 
They are drawn to me for that exact reason.

The constant I am in their lives, 
And have been in the past for others,
And will continue to be in the future 
To those that wander in. 

For I am the apple tree
That has nourished bellies
And held strong for endless climbing. 
My leaves provide them with shade 
And my branches hold them sublimely. 

As the years go on, 
As children grow,
I know they will lose interest with time.
But I worry not. 

The next generation will come
And pick and climb and run and scream.
All without a single worry about what tomorrow brings.
For there is a gravitational pull that an apple tree yields.

Risk and reward.  
Peace and tranquility. 
Havoc and uncertainty. 

We truly were created for one another,
The child and the apple tree. 

Photo by Zen Chung

The Pure Bliss of Childhood

Their coats are washable. 

The shoes will dry, with time.

Pants can be washed and dried, as well as their bodies. 

Their socks will survive. 

Each and every worry that races in my mind

As they ride and splash and jump

Through every single tiny body of water,

It’s all such a minuscule anxiety

When you’re considering the bigger picture.

The picture that matters more than wet socks

Or muddy bikes

Or tiny cold toes. 

What matters more than all of those combined

Is the absolute bliss

Called childhood. 

Kids Need Outside Time, Even in the Dark.

I am a firm believer in spending time with kids outside in the winter. But one problem that comes up repeatedly is the daylight hours lessening as winter pushes on. During the summer months, the days are long and the sunlight is plentiful, we’re typically outside by 7 am and the dark doesn’t force us inside until 9 or 10 pm. In the winter where we are, typically the sun starts setting by 5 pm. With school in session as well, this only leaves us roughly an hour of outside time during daylight hours, which is the busiest hour of our day as well, so finding the capacity to get outside can be hard.

But. If we make some changes and get outside even after the sun has gone down, it opens up so much time! It also proves to have its benefits as well. Simply changing up the lighting in which kids play, changes the way they have to think and problem solve. While riding their bike in the daylight hours eventually becomes a mindless activity to them, riding it during the dark forces them to pay extra attention to their surroundings and their bike, and use their intuition and senses to help guide them. Something that was once a mundane, everyday sport turns into an elaborate thinking process for them. 

Our tips for getting outside during the dark hours:

A little bit of risky play while we set up our Christmas lights

Wear the right clothing. The warmer you are, the longer you’ll last. You can read more about clothing here. 

Bring the light with you! Flashlights, lanterns, and glow sticks all work wonderfully. We like to buy our glowsticks on Amazon in bulk, making them more affordable. We’ve invested in LED light beanies also found on Amazon. We keep a handful of Dollar Store flashlights around for use as well as a few bigger, nicer ones that put off more light when needed. Pro tip: attach a glowstick to your child’s coat so you can always spot them. Flashlights are great for them to use, but can be easily dropped. Having something more secure that doesn’t require being held can be immensely helpful. 

Bringing light to the night!

Get creative with the light. Add in Christmas lights, brighter LED porch lights, or bust open spotlights used for working on cars. Our set typically stays up close to the garage door in the winter so it’s easy to access for when we need them. 

Have a set activity when you head outside. I talked about this before in my post about getting outside in the cold, but it’s relevant for the dark, too. Since it’s harder and takes a more active choice to go outside in the dark, choosing your activity before going outside can help. 

Visit well-lit areas. Window shop downtown, take walks around college campuses if they’re available in your area, or visit well-lit parks. 

Do you try to get your kids outside when it’s dark out? What tips would you add? 

Photo by Tobi

Tips You Need For Getting Outside in the Cold With Kids

Winter is well on its way; each day it’s getting colder and colder outside! The other morning it was a chilly 15 degrees out when I drove my daughter to school! No doubt about it, it is cold! Spending time outside in the cold weather is still just as important as spending time outside in the warm weather, and sometimes is arguably more important. Here are our favorite tips for getting out in the cold months and helping the whole experience become more positive and less awful. 

Base layers for clothing! Having a base layer of thin cotton PJs, thermals, wool, or something similar can make or break your experience when you’re trying to keep warm. It makes such a difference. We like to do our base layer, sweats, and a sweatshirt over the base layer, then snow pants and a coat. Waterproof gloves and boots also are ideal. The majority of the snow clothes we own are hand-me-downs or purchased secondhand. It doesn’t have to be expensive! 

On a relevant note, make “using the bathroom” part of your prepping to go outside routine. Trust me on this one, you won’t want to spend time undressing for a potty break five minutes into your time outside. 

Have a goal or activity set before you get outside, or as soon as you get outside. In the summer months when it’s warmer and doesn’t take as much thinking or prep to go outside, we can easily walk out the door and find entertainment fairly quickly. And even if we don’t find entertainment, it’s enjoyable to just spend time in the sun and nice weather, so it’s naturally easier to spend more time outside. When it’s cold, if there’s not a goal or activity waiting, it makes the time outside feel much, much longer and much, much colder. Have a game plan as you walk out the door on what you’ll be doing. 

A few fun outdoor activities we like to do when it’s cold outside- bike rides, walks around the block, soccer in snowsuits, shoveling snow, pushing each other around on sleds, and our personal favorite… ice excavating! To be honest, the majority of what we do in the summer, we can do in the winter too, but with a little adjusting. 

Enlist some friends for outdoor play. It’s much easier to stay outside and enjoy your time when friends are involved! 

Mind the time of the day when planning outdoor time. In the warmer months, we typically go out first thing in the morning and it becomes a big part of our routine. We obviously have to change this as it gets colder outside! Checking weather apps to know when the wind will die down or when the rain or snow will stop can be very beneficial in planning your outdoor time! Yes, it takes more work than just walking out the door and knowing it’ll be nice enough weather to stay out. But like I always say, the time spent outside is always worth it! 

Getting outside may take a little more time and effort, especially with little kids. However, you don’t need to read this blog post or some Pinterest quote on why time spent outside is beneficial. All you need to do is spend the time and you’ll see the benefits tenfold. 

Let’s Play Outdoors This Winter!

It’s 30 degrees outside and there is snow up to your kids’ knees. The recess bell rings and you glance towards the pile of coats hanging on the coat rack; you can already picture the line of students standing next to you to do up zippers, tie snowboots, or pull on a mitten. Do you: 

A. Declare today an inside recess day and pull out all of the fun board games in your closet? 

B. Take a deep breath and start zipping up coats. 

Obviously keeping inside during the winter is easiest, whether you’re a mom of three kids or a teacher of 32 students, winter clothes will always be a chore. But rest assured, your hard work is not going to waste, the benefit these kids have by playing outside is well worth the work in the end. 

Many schools are moving to a stance where recess is not an option, it just happens, given outside circumstances are not extreme. Teachers are no longer permitted to use less recess and outdoor time as a consequence in many schools across the nation, so choosing to stay indoors during the winter months is less common. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t teachers out there wishing they could choose option A and stay in sometimes. 

Sending kids outside to play in the cold can boost their immune systems. Yes, really! Winter gets a bad rap on sickness because many think the cold weather brings the sniffles. But in reality, it’s us hiding from the cold that creates sick kids by cooping everyone up indoors and sharing more germs. Giving them a chance to be outdoors and in fresh air is just what we need to fight off sickness. 

Kids that play outside are resilient kids that will continue to have outdoor winter hobbies throughout their lives. When they have experienced being outside often and how to deal with cold weather, wind, and snow, they have those tools for life and are more likely to continue to use them into adulthood. Providing opportunities for authentic outdoor play as a child pays off well into the adult years. 

With warmer weather, it’s common to see teachers out with their students for various lessons, whether they are doing an activity for P.E. or switching it up with a math lesson on the basketball courts, being outside is a great change of pace for restless students. How often are we as teachers bringing our class outdoors in cold weather for lessons? It does take more time and effort to bring kids out in the winter, but again, the rewards are worth it. 

Something that often holds us back from outdoor play is the lack of proper snow and cold gear. It can be difficult to spend too much time outside with cold toes and fingers, so making sure our mittens, boots, and coats are weather appropriate can have a great impact on the duration we and our students are willing to stay outside. 

In this video, a school in Canada talks about how important outdoor play is. They even give multiple examples of things kids can do outside, such as paint in the snow or observe nature. Trees and ponds and even animals are not the same year-round and observing these changes can be very insightful to watch. 

In what ways are you facilitating outdoor play and learning with your students?