by Kate Koch-Sundquist
My kids are like any kids, really. They have good days, and they have bad days. There are days when I feel like the best mom in the world and days when I think they’d be better off raised by the feral cats next door. Then there are days when I think they actually were raised by the feral cats next door. And on those days, convincing them to do just about anything feels very similar to calling our cable company (ahem, Comcast).
Yet still, somehow, I have managed to get them to play outside willingly for 315 days in a row.
Admittedly, some days are easier than others, but we have never had a fight about whether it’s going to happen. And that’s not because my kids love being outside every day in all kinds of weather (though I hope they do). It’s also not because they are supportive of the 365Outside Challenge. In fact, they don’t even know what 365Outside is. I don’t think they’ve ever even heard those words before. It’s not that I don’t want them to understand what we’re trying to do, or why I think it’s important. It’s that I want them to grow up with the outlandish idea that spending time outside daily is a natural thing to do. I want them to know why it’s important because they have lived it themselves. Hopefully by the time they’re old enough to understand 365Outside, they’ll think it’s completely unnecessary. Going outside every day will just be an indelible part of who they are, not a standalone family challenge devised by their mom.
So sometimes the hardest part of the battle is convincing myself that it’s time to get outside. As I started writing about the techniques I use for getting my kids outdoors, I realized how many of them I actually use on myself too!
Here are my top tips for getting the whole family out the door!
1. Make outside time their time, or your time. It’s hard to find the perfect balance, but it needs to work for everyone. My kids hate being told what to do, and they have to put up with it a lot. So when we go outside, I give them ultimate decision-making power. Sometimes I leave the prompt completely open. “What do you want to do outside today?” Sometimes, when I know we don’t have the time or resources for certain activities, or when I just can’t bear the thought of another day spent pushing tractors down our street, I give them some choices. “Would you like to go for a walk, or would you rather go to the playground today?” Either way, they know that going outside means doing something on their own terms, and that’s always a good thing in their book.
2. Don’t make a big deal out of the weather. There is no weather that keeps us inside unless it is dangerous, like a hurricane or a lightning storm. And because we play outside in most any weather, the specific weather doesn’t really matter except for its implications on what we wear. I make a point to never complain about rainy days, cold days, or humid days, especially in front of the kids. To us, weather is a discussion point for choosing appropriate activities and attire. If you don’t let the weather determine your mood, your kids won’t either. Today, it’s cold and rainy here. When we pulled into the parking lot at our favorite conservation and saw that it was empty, Junior asked “Why isn’t anyone else here?” When I told him that people probably didn’t want to go out in the rain, he asked, “Why don’t people like to go out in the rain?” Don’t give them a reason!
3. Be smart about timing. I know that sometimes we’re too busy and don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing when we get outside. But if you have a few different windows, even if they’re just 15 minute chunks, plan it out in the morning. For people who don’t make a big deal about the weather, we sure do check it A LOT. Junior is obsessed with the radar. He makes us check it every night before he goes to bed, and he actually gets upset if there aren’t any patches of green and yellow on it. If there’s red, he can hardly sleep. The kid loves a good thunderstorm. Checking the radar every night also means that we check the weather for the following day to get an idea of what we can expect. We also check the hourly forecast in the morning. If the driving sleet is expected to ease up and clear into partly sunny skies for the afternoon, there’s no rush to get outside while it’s still wet and nasty. We even check the wind direction to plan which walks or beaches might be best for the day. Of course it doesn’t always work out, but it sure is better than nothing.
4. Dress appropriately. As rough and tumble as they appear to be, my boys are pretty sensitive. And they don’t forget a grievance. If they get wet and cold while walking outside in the rain, you can bet they will remember how uncomfortable they felt and won’t be so willing to go for a walk the next time it rains. Layers are your friend. Take the time to layer up appropriately so that no one has any reason to complain about comfort. It’s the number one distractor when getting outside in all kinds of weather.
5. Don’t fight about it. Sometimes, when we have the perfect opportunity to spend the morning at the beach on the most beautiful day of the year, my kids decide that today is the day they finally want to play at home with the Legos that have gathered dust for five months. Fine. I don’t push it. I try again in an hour. Then I try again in another hour. Then I try again in another hour. My trick is to never seem desperate. It sounds horrible, but the more I want them to do something, the less likely they are to want to do it too. So my trick is to act like I don’t really care, all while making the beach sound amazingly appealing to them. Along the same lines, when we are outside, I don’t make them stay and do things for any longer than it’s comfortable. Yes, sometimes we get to the beach and get our things unpacked and finally sit down for a picnic just as someone announces that they want to go home. Of course. And of course, I don’t immediately pack everything back up, but I do validate whatever they’re feeling. Are they cold? Are they hot? Are they just bored? Whatever it is, we try to address it so that we can all go back to enjoying ourselves. And if we really can’t fix the issue, eventually we go home. I don’t want them to get it in their heads that this is my gig, and they’re powerless participants.
As they get older and smarter, I know I may have to up my game, but this list is pretty applicable to every age and stage, even my own. There are days when I wake up and want to stay in bed (mostly days when the baby monitor is lighting up before the sky). There are days when it’s so hot and humid that I wish I could crawl into a walk-in refrigerator rather than leave my air conditioned bedroom. On those days, I use the tricks above on myself too. I pamper myself and make sure that whatever choices the boys get for outdoor time are choices that I want to do too. I convince myself that the weather doesn’t matter, especially when I’m only going to be outside for 30 minutes out of the 24 hours in a day. I layer myself up so that even when I’m outside on the windiest, coldest day of the year, the frost only starts to creep up the back of my neck before we’re back inside. I don’t force it any longer than we’re comfortable.
Kate is an adventurer, sailor, writer and mom based in the Boston area. She holds a master’s degree in education, captain’s licenses in the US, the UK and Australia, and a school of life degree in toddler wrangling. Her work has been published by Bonbon Break, Parent.co and the Huffington Post, and she runs her own content writing service at www.ksundquist.com. Kate can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and her blog 365Outside.org, where she writes about her movement to get families outside everyday of the year, regardless of the weather.