Ditch the Screen Time for Outside Play

Michigan mom promotes nature immersion as a way of life

1000 Hours Outside
Michigan mom Ginny Yurich says spending more time outdoors has yielded many benefits for her children and for her own mental health. Image courtesy of 1000 Hours Outside.

When her children were very young, Ginny Yurich tried all the usual activities that stay-at-home parents do to survive those long days: she took the kids to library storytimes, enrolled them in sports and swim lessons, and joined mom groups. 

She found it exhausting. The payoff simply did not match the amount of work involved in getting three small children out of the house for such short periods of time. 

Then one day a friend introduced her to the philosophy of Charlotte Mason, a turn-of-the-20th-century British educator. Mason recommended that children spend between four and six hours a day outside. Yurich remembers thinking it an odd notion, but she agreed to meet her friend at a park with open green space and a creek for an afternoon picnic.

To her amazement, the kids played happily for hours and it was a delightful day. “I had no idea that they would do that, that they were capable of doing that, that nature would hold their attention so well,” recalls Yurich. 

Making Time for Nature Play

That first foray into nature immersion as a way of life changed everything for Yurich, founder of 1000 Hours Outside. The online movement advocates matching nature time with screen time. 

Yurich began reading books about the importance of nature play for children and came across the statistic that the average child spends four to seven minutes a day outside and four to seven hours a day on screens

She decided to begin tracking the time her family spent outside. They aimed for four to six hours a day, at least three times a week — the goal being to roughly match the average number of hours kids spend on screens every year.  

Yurich began blogging about her family’s experience in 2013, and the 1000 Hours Outside challenge was born. “Since then it’s sort of gone around the globe and been featured all over the place,” says Yurich. “It’s really just the simplest concept, but has a profound impact.”

1000 Hours Outside Benefits for Kids and Parents

Yurich and her husband, Josh, are now parents to five children ranging in age from 5 to 13, and the homeschooling family continues to prioritize time outdoors. Yurich relates that their time in nature has not only benefited the children but has also improved her own mental health.

“This really has changed our life,” Yurich says. “When kids play outside, it helps them emotionally, it helps their social skills, it helps their physical bodies, it helps them academically — their brains function better. And then it helps the parent, too, to just be calmer and happier, and more present.” 

1000 Hours Outdoors
1000 Hours Outside is a movement to encourage families to match nature time with screen time. Image courtesy of 1000 Hours Outside.

Make Time for Downtime

Yurich recommends families that want to incorporate more outdoor time into their daily lives start by making space in their calendars. It’s a misnomer that downtime is frivolous, she adds. Research shows that kids who are bored are more creative and will find things to do. 

The family lives just north of Ann Arbor, and they love exploring parks in the metro Detroit area as well as around Toledo. “I find there are more things to do than we even have time for,” says Yurich. “I always say food, friends, and a first aid kit — that’s all you need.”

Getting Started in 1000 Hours Outside

Yurich recently published an outdoor activity book and her blog offers other ideas and printouts to track hours spent outside. How can your family meet the 1,000-hour challenge? Yurich offers a few simple ideas help start you out:

  • Take a hike 
  • Spend the day at a water park or beach
  • Pick berries, flowers, or pumpkins on a farm
  • Use Google maps to find the closest park within walking distance to your home
  • Visit the same park every season to see how it changes
  • Enjoy a family bike ride
  • Go playground hopping