1000 Hours Outside: Get Kids off Their Screens and on Their Feet

My family is participating in the 1000 Hours Outside challenge, meaning we are going to be outside for what amounts to about 3 hours a day. Want to join us? It’s going to be so fun!

Or, at least, that’s what I keep telling my kids, who are admittedly kind of skeptical.

Here’s the deal: Teens in the US spend more than 7 hours a day on screens, not counting the time they use technology for school-related viewing and doing. Younger kids spend more than 4 hours a day on screens, not counting school, and this number increases every year, as more kids get smart phones at earlier ages. And if we factor virtual school into the mix? Well, let’s just say we are lucky all of our kids haven’t sprouted screens for faces.

My own kids are EASILY in front of screens for 3 hours or more a day, especially since my elementary schoolers got iPads for Christmas. I want to balance screen time with outside time, so the thousand-hour challenge seemed like the perfect fit.

According to the Alexa on my kitchen counter, to log 1000 hours of outdoor time, we need to be outside for about 83 hours a month, just under 20 hours a week, or about 3 hours a day. So far in 2021, my kids are falling under that mark. I am writing this on the 11th day of the year, and they have only tracked 14 hours, when they should be at like 30.

A couple of notes about that:

  1. My kids range in age from 14 to 4 months. For the purposes of this challenge, the baby does not count, although she and I walk about 90 minutes a day, regardless of the weather, so I think she’ll make it by the year’s end between walks and tagging along.
  2. My 14-year-old and 9-year-old are outside constantly from April-November, so I think they will have no problem hitting the mark.
  3. My 12-year-old is a harder sell, but he has endless patience for taking the younger 2 sledding, is a summer league-diver who practices for hours every day, and, of all my kids, he is the only one who will just lace up his tennis shoes and grab his headphones and head outside for a walk, so I have high hopes for him, too.
  4. My 7-year-old is the weak link. She HATES to play outside in any kind of extreme weather, meaning she is only outdoorsy in May and September.

For all of those reasons, we have decided to only track my 7-year-old’s hours, figuring that if Dorothy can log 1000 outside, then the rest of us will be there, too.

Also I say “us,” but I mean “them.” Reading the website, I suspect that this challenge is really about being a better parent and spending time in nature connecting with our kids and teaching them science-y things. But, um, I have a full-time job and 5 kids, so for me, this challenge is about finding fun ways to shove them outside to play. Don’t get me wrong–I love to take them on hikes, and I am happy to spend every summer day we can at the pool, but I am not concerned with my screen time here, just theirs, because mine pays the bills. As a child of the 1980s, I think the biggest gift parents of my generation gave us was lots of time to play by ourselves and with our friends without interference. That’s what I want for my kids—for them to run out the front door in the morning and spend all day in the yard/at the park/on their bikes, etc, without me directing their play.

I printed a really low-teach tracker from the 1000 Hours website, and so far, my daughter loves to color it in. This morning before virtual school, all three boys ice skated in the back yard (my husband is a HERO for building them an ice rink), and the baby and I logged 60 neighborhood minutes. As soon as my daughter’s nails dry, she’s all-in for a snowball fight, so we’re looking pretty good.

If you join the 1000 Hours Outside challenge, Madison Mom has tons of great resources, from sledding hills to tubing spots to hikes to ice skating to ski resorts to parks to beaches and more, so let us help you get outside in every season. Please comment below with your favorite activity to do with kids outside– 1K hours needs a LOT of great ideas.

Sarah Jedd
Sarah Jedd has a Ph.D. in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches and studies the rhetoric of Planned Parenthood. Sarah has 5 (F I V E) children: teens Harry and Jack, elementary schoolers Cooper and Dorothy, and sweet baby Minnie, born in August 2020. Sarah blogs about being a mom of many at harrytimes.com and overshares on IG as @sarahjedd. Sarah, her husband, and their kids live in Verona with the world's laziest dog.


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