When Miss H was a baby, I was what you might call an “indoorsy” mom. We rarely ventured outside together, unless it was for a quick spin around the neighborhood to get some exercise. My husband was concerned. He thought a child, even a very small baby, should be rescued from artificial lighting and recycled air. Thankfully, a lot has changed in the years since then, including my attitude towards nature. After becoming an Ambleside teacher, my views on getting outside gradually shifted. Then about a year ago, I made the commitment to get my children outdoors (almost!) every day. Getting outside regularly has been a beautiful change in our family!
Our outside adventures are less challenging than they used to be. E only naps once a day now; Miss H has become more independent outside; and for me, getting outside seems more like a pleasure rather than a chore. But I know it isn’t that way for everyone. I have some ideas to share that I think will help make time spent outdoors a little more pleasant and practical. Some of these ideas are tried and true by our family, and some of these are wise insights from other Charlotte Mason moms.
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When Getting Outside Sounds Horrible to You…
Sometimes we hear Charlotte Mason’s advice to get children outside 4-6 hours a day, and we think we have to hit that benchmark immediately. We want to move from 0 hours to 4 hours immediately- so overwhelming! But as with any other big change involving children, slow is good! Make a goal to be outside an hour a day for a month, and once that becomes a habit, move it up to two hours. Keep increasing until you meet your goal.
Of course, grace is a must. I mentioned that we get outside almost everyday. When the weather is bad, I don’t worry too much about getting outside. Being cold and damp is a terrible combination. I’ve learned to set myself free from my outdoor expectations on those days. Also, we don’t get outside for four hours every single day. We do our best, but we also have to honor nap time and other responsibilities to our family and community. In this post, I mentioned that we try to follow this idea from Home Education:
Never be indoors when you can rightly be without.”
Beyond scheduling, you can also start small with other areas. If certain aspects of nature make you uncomfortable, build up to them instead of instantly trying to overcome them.
Make Plans with Others
Accountability is a beautiful thing, even with seemingly small issues like getting outside more regularly. Schedule play dates with friends, go on group hikes, or take a class at a nature center or rec center.
Hike it Baby
Hike it Baby is a group that encourages parents to get their young children outdoors by going on group hikes. There are groups in 48 states. There is a fee to join, and if you have “school age” children, you’ll have to check with your local chapter on whether or not they can attend.
I always use an abundance of caution with Meetup, but you can check your local site to see if there are any nature meetups in your area. Or, you can always start your own!
Our area has nature classes available for families, children, and grown-ups. Sometimes they have a very small fee, but then you’re really committed!
Schedule play dates at local parks, gardens, trails, etc. Having a friend or two go with you makes it more enjoyable!
Pack a Basket or Backpack
If you have a good-sized backyard to explore, put a basket packed with essentials at the backdoor. Backpacks are great for keeping in the trunk of your car for nature road trips. Some things to keep in a nature basket or backpack:
- snacks (seriously, this keeps us outside the longest!)
- bug spray
- a blanket
- a nature journal and art supplies
- tools for exploring nature
- baby wipes for a quick clean up
- water bottles
- anything that will make you more comfortable
Plan to Eat Outside
I’ve realized that it’s much easier to pack a picnic lunch than to come home or inside from explorations and scramble to put food on the table before nap time. Now, I make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pack some sides, and bring lunch with us almost everywhere we go. Instead of rushing home, we stay outside and enjoy a picnic. This adds almost an hour to our outside time!
On nice days at home, we eat outside every chance we get. My little ones love having picnics on the grass, or just eating at our patio table.
Buy the Right Gear
While I was brainstorming for this post, someone mentioned this Alfred Wainwright quote:
There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”
Each year we buy a good snowsuit and snow boots for our children. We haven’t quite ventured to rain gear, but I know that investing in high quality gear would reduce the “damp and cold” feeling that I mentioned above!
Don’t Stress About What’s What
When you first start getting outside, don’t worry about identifying plants. This is something that will eventually become a joy to do, but for now, it might seem overwhelming. I laugh at myself because it took me a few years to figure out that the tree in our front yard is a Colorado Blue Spruce: Colorado’s state tree! Start by just observing. Try to classify different types of trees by their buds, leaves, or what their bare branches look like in the winter. When you are ready to start learning about specific plants and trees, all that classifying you did will make it easier to identify them. There is a helpful Facebook group called Plant Identification, filled with helpful people who are eager to help you determine the type of plant you see.
If you have a good backyard space to explore, these ideas will help you make the most of it.
Set Up a Tent
This has been wonderful for our backyard outdoor time. A tent gives some shade when it gets hot, offers a place to keep water bottles, and just makes getting outside a little more FUN! My little ones don’t stick around in it for too long: it mostly serves as a home base. That keeps us outside longer!
When we’re on the go, a good picnic blanket serves as our home base. I’m not sure why, but having an established spot makes getting outside more pleasant for everyone! Someday, I’ll invest in a fancy little sunshade that I can pop up at the park.
Grow Your Own Vegetables
Even if you don’t consider yourself to have a green thumb, outdoor gardening can be a great way to get outside on a daily basis. Watering a garden gives us a great reason for getting outside first thing in the morning- often in pajamas and without shoes on. Sprouting seeds and growing plants also offer great opportunities for children to learn and observe. We’ve had a garden for about four years, and it gets better each year! (Although, this is what our garden looked like in the middle of May!) Here are practical tips for starting your garden from Simplify Live Love.
Spruce up Your Space
Last year, we dug out a weed infested area of our backyard, added planters, and built a fire pit. This formerly unused space suddenly has a wonderful, bond-building purpose. While we normally would have headed inside for the night, now we sit by the fire pit until well after dark. Because of this, we’ve seen some beautiful, night-specific things to observe, like the moon and stars, and bats (ok, I’m probably not going to convince an indoorsy mom to get outside to see bats!)
Getting Outside With Infants
Work Around Schedules
If you are a my-child-must-nap Mom like I am, an infant’s schedule might be your biggest hurdle in getting outside. This was our problem last summer. Baby E slept from 8:30-1o:00 in the morning, and then again from 1:00-3:00. To get outside for hours during the day, I’d have to blow off one of his nap times. But Charlotte Mason also said that we should keep children on regular schedules, and that includes sleep schedules. She said that the habit of regularity (concerning schedules) should be taught to children during infancy. So do we have to decide which child gets what’s best for them? Who gets their fair share of sleep, and who gets their fair share of outdoor time?
Some compromise has to come into play here.
Last summer, Miss H and I often headed out to the backyard during Baby E’s nap time. This had a double benefit, because it meant the house was nice and quiet. Then, after Baby E got up, we headed to a park or garden nearby, coming home around noon to eat. This didn’t give Miss H four to six hours outside every day, but she had plenty of time outside. Baby E didn’t get as much time outside as he was “supposed” to, but he got a chance to play outside AND to nap.
Sometimes, if we had a place we wanted to visit that was a little bit of a drive, I planned the drive right around nap time. That allowed E to get at least a little nap.
Buy a Good Baby Carrier
We have two baby carriers: one is great for everyday use, and one is good for actual hikes. For everyday use, I love my Ergobaby Carrier. (Miss H even has a matching one- it’s just too cute!) When we went to local gardens and parks last summer, wearing Baby E made it easier to stay longer. He enjoyed being close to me, and sometimes he even took a little snooze.
For hiking, we have (an older model of) this Osprey pack. Miss H used it until she was about three, and it has allowed us to go on hikes that we wouldn’t have been able to without it.
If you’re feeling like you’re the hurdle to your child’s outdoor education, first of all, give yourself some grace. This is just one area out of many! But any step you take towards increasing your child’s time outdoors will benefit them- and maybe even you.
If you’re an indoorsy mom, what’s the hardest part about getting outside?