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.
Tinkergarten is a nationwide program designed to get kids playing and exploring outside. After taking Tinkergarten classes, 85% of families reported that they spend more time outdoors. 93% of parents said that their children were more curious about the natural world. I will be leading Tinkergarten class in Colordado this spring! You can learn more about them here, or sign up for a free trial class near you!
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:
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 quickly moves us indoors!
Set Up A Washing Station
If you don’t love the grime that comes along with a day spent outdoors, set up a washing station. Bring a gallon jug of soapy water and a gallon jug of clean water. Poor the soapy water on your little ones’ hands and rinse it off with clean water. When you’re at home, try using buckets instead of gallon jugs.
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. Buying a field guide, like Handbook of Nature Study is a good investment when you’re ready to learn more about nature!
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 8:30-10:00 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 the 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.
Charlotte Mason said that babies can sleep outside on blankets. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?! This has not worked for my children. Maybe our third little guy will be different 🙂
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. 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?
Alisha Portugal says
The pandemic has made me and my children so lazy and house bound. I have four of them and know that I NEED to change up our whole schedule. This literally seems mission impossible to me. But I know that where there’s a will there’s a way. My kids are ages 1 1/2, 3, 5, 10. Since the 10 and 5 year old are still doing distance learning, some of that time spent at home is due to their homework and schooling. There’s really no telling when they’ll be finished with their assignments sometimes. And then a lot of the times, by the time they’re both finished my one and a half year old is asleep and they really don’t have much time for outside. Plus I stressed out because every time we get outside most of them are claiming they’re hungry and I literally just fed them before we left. Bringing snacks for everyone, and they’re all such picky eaters is so stressful for me. It really just seems to never work out and it really does feel like such a chore when dealing with all four of them is already so stressful for me and I don’t want that extra chore. But I’m itching inside to change up our whole schedule and become this outdoor mom that I know that they need.
Yes! This article was written for me! My kids are 1 and 1 month and it’s tough to get out the door with both needy babies all bundled up, diapers changed, and ready to go. But this will be easier in a few months when the younger one can go in a stroller and the older one can walk more reliably.
Bugs 🙁 That’s one thing that keeps me inside. Thinking about wasps, bees, ticks, etc. that are genuinely hazardous. I know outdoor time is worth the risk but it still stops me from getting out more.
Thanks for your informative blog!
Oh yes, that sounds like a lot! I know when my littlest was a baby, I just felt so exhausted every time we got home from an outdoor adventure! We are so spoiled in Colorado- the dry climate means we don’t have a ton of pesky insects (mainly mosquitoes!)
Alisha Portugal says
Oh yes, and I forgot to mention that we live in an apartment building that is not in a good area and honestly the people who live here are not great company.
I just found your blog and have stayed up super late to soak up all this information! I have a 3 1/2 year old and a 13 month old. My 3 1/2 year old independent plays inside with different toys but struggles outside. Now I have to admit that I am a “indoorsy mom”. Will the independent play come naturally the more we play outside? Did you suggest ideas when you first started out? For example, “Wow! There are so many leaves! What should we do with them?” Then maybe come up with some ideas or let her come up with some ideas.
Just found your blog yesterday and I love it!!! I’ve been reading so much helpful information, as I have a 19 mo old and a 3.5 yr old, and I’m just getting into researching what to do for preschool. I’m an indoorsy mom for sure, and this is the motivation I need! Thank you thank you!
Thank you so much, Heidi! I’m so glad this post helped 🙂 I’m excited for you as you get started on your preschool at home journey!
I have struggled with knowing they need more outside time while simultaneously despising the outdoors. And what do they do for hours outside, especially in the ‘burbs? And how do they complete school work and chores? Are swings, soccer balls, and sandboxes “acceptable”? These are genuine questions from a mom of seven children twelve years and under who LOVES CM but really struggles with practical ways to implement the principles.
I notice our outdoor time is more meaningful when we can get somewhere worth exploring, rather than our suburban backyard. But this doesn’t happen more than a couple of times a week. So for backyard exploring, my little ones love to play imaginative games, build things with natural materials, jump in leaf piles, etc. Even though these things aren’t exactly what Charlotte Mason described, my kids are using their senses, learning about nature, and breathing fresh air! In the summer, sometimes we just sit on the patio and paint in our nature journals, or play with water 🙂
Charlotte Mason suggested an hour of rigorous play each day- so swings, soccer balls, etc., definitely fit! And I’ll tell you that we probably do those things for more than an hour 🙂 For younger children this outdoor time is the bulk of what they do. For older children, it can come after lessons (usually in the afternoon). During nice weather, you could also move older children’s lessons outside while the little ones play!
I hope that helps!
The link for the starting garden tips by simplify live love kept going to your facebook page!
Thank you for letting me know, Kate! I fixed it (at least I think I did- I’ve been having some link issues lately!)
Ashley Antkowiak says
So good! I’m saving this to refer back to later!
Thank you, Ashley!