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. 

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?