365Outside

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Happy Birthday, 365Outside.org!

September 2015

September 2015

Although the original 365Outside Challenge started for our family nearly two years ago, this week marks a year since I started the 365Outside blog. It also marks my seventh wedding anniversary with The Captain, the beginning of our first extended sailing trip with the kids (heading out for 10 days on Friday, more on that coming soon), the first time I’ve ventured camping with the boys on my own, and the last week before the boys head back to school. It’s a week of many milestones and as such, I’ve been reflecting on the past year quite a bit.

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” – Zora Neale Hurston

October 2015

October 2015

We know all the cliches about how fast kids grow up. Looking back at some of our first posts on the blog, I can hardly believe that less than 365 short days have passed since my boys were that little. They are growing stronger, smarter and feistier by the minute.

And as our kids grow, so do we. 

A lot has changed for me this year. Our first year of the 365Outside Challenge cleansed my mental health. This second time, I’ve recommitted to a healthier physical lifestyle – eating more nutritiously, drinking less alcohol and exercising more regularly. In doing so, I’m regaining some of the energy and strength I lost after having 2 kids in a year and a half. I can do pull ups again and my endurance is finally back. There are little shadows of abs and biceps that were hidden for years. My body will never be the same as it was before babies, but I’m proud of it and confident in its abilities. The softness in my belly was my babies’ first home. These saggy boobs provided their first meals. The streaks of white rubbery stretch marks outline sacrifices to create new life.

November 2015

November 2015

I’ve recommitted to my writing career this year as well and achieved my goal of getting published offsite at least once a month. Since the launch of my writing website I’m finding work as a content writer too, producing pieces I’m proud of for companies I believe in and getting paid along the way.

I’m proud of my kids all the time. But it feels good to be proud of me for once, too. 

December 2015

December 2015

And of course, with all our growth and change comes more independence all around. The boys play for extended periods in the yard on their own. They climb trees. They build ramps and jumps for their bikes. They know how to dig clams and paddle a surfboard. This summer I’ve started taking them out on the boat by myself. Knowing I can trust them on the boat has allowed us to explore the river on quiet days when The Captain is working. And now we are camping without the Captain for the first time. We are with good friends, so there is plenty of support. But the packing and parenting are all on me.

January 2016

January 2016

The first time we were preparing to go for a boat ride without The Captain, Junior asked sweetly, “But who will drive the boat?” I froze. I thought I was raising feminists and here was my four-year-old thinking that I can’t even drive a boat on my own. After an uneventful trip to the beach and back he turned to me and said, “Good job, Mama. Good job driving that boat.” I smirked back, kind of grateful and kind of indignant, and told him “Good job to you too, honey. Good job riding in that boat.”

February 2016

February 2016

It was kind of sarcastic but kind of true. If it weren’t for each other and the ways we’ve grown this year, we wouldn’t be able to do it on our own. But here we are, just one short year later, and somehow one long year stronger, one year smarter, one year feistier.

Happy anniversary to us. 

There’s another big year ahead. Look out, world.         

March 2016

March 2016

April 2016

April 2016

May 2016

May 2016

June 2016

June 2016

July 2016

July 2016

August 2016

August 2016

Considering an Adventure Abroad with Young Children? Don’t Think, Just Go!

The 365Outside Family on a hike in Todos Santos, Mexico

The 365Outside Family on a hike in Todos Santos, Mexico

You know those robo-calls that gleefully announce that you’ve won a free cruise? Or those drawings at the Trader Joe’s checkout to win a gift card if you bring your own bag? How about a virtual drawing to win a family vacation to Mexico? Sigh . . . . ever wonder if anyone actually wins those things?

Well, the most amazing thing happened to us. Through Outdoor Families Magazine, we entered a drawing for a weeklong family vacation to Baja offered by Thomson Family Adventures. And we won! Can you even believe it?

Of course we couldn’t and we kept waiting for the catch. We figured there would be some hidden costs or extremely limited dates or absurd amount of red tape to claim such an unbelievable prize. In fact this was perhaps the most perfect, serendipitous prize for our family to win. Though we love adventure and travel, we haven’t had the chance to travel abroad since the boys were born. And our most recent adventures tend to involve sleeping in tents or winter cabin camping. A luxurious but adventurous trip to a new country was basically our dream come true. And there was no catch.

Of course because the trip was potentially so awesome, I immediately began to sweat the logistics. The advertised itinerary recommended that participating kids be age 6 or older. Junior comes kind of close at 4.5 but Little Bear is still not even 3. And Baja is not only located in another country, but the opposite coast of another country, so it would require a full day of traveling to get there. And then of course there were the usual mom concerns about traveling to less developed regions with small kids who still run amuck, lick windows and stick their fingers in unidentified holes in the ground. The whole thing could have been a disaster.

A glimpse of the packing.

A glimpse of the packing.

But it turns out I had nothing to worry about. The awesome people at Thomson Family Adventures collaborated with us to create a slightly modified itinerary to accommodate the boys, we packed lots of entertainment for the long travel days and planned to arrive the night before the official start of the trip, and I packed an entire medicine cabinet along with a “just-in-case” prescription for children’s Z-pack to ease my fears. Before we knew it, we were off.

Though I’d love to write a day-by-day exhaustive description of each and every moment, I fear it would run over into novel length rather than blog post so here below, I list eight wonderful experiences that made this crazy trip so unforgettably worth it.

Junior practices snorkeling in the casita pool.

Junior practices snorkeling in the casita pool.

Junior spots a sea lion while snorkeling through a cave with the Captain

Junior spots a sea lion while snorkeling through a cave with the Captain

  1. Watching Junior go snorkeling for the first time. Junior loves the water and is infatuated by sea life. He can name more varieties of whales and sharks than I can. One morning he woke up and asked me, “Mom, what are those things in the Mariana Trench?” and when I stared at him blankly and said, “huh?” he just added, “You know, hydrothermal vents!” Seriously. So when we told him he’d have the opportunity to snorkel in the ocean with sea lions he was pretty excited. We bought him a tiny little mask and snorkel and sent them with him to swimming lessons before we left. He even insisted on “practicing” in the tub. When he got in the ocean and finally put his face in (after many dramatics about the cooooooooooold water which was actually a balmy 74 degrees,) he was totally wowed. I could hear him squealing through his snorkel. Later, back home, he was proud to report that he’d seen a parrotfish, an angel fish and a sergeant major, correctly pointing to each on our fish ID card. And he did see a sea lion too – click here for the full experience!

    Little Bear sneaks in a nap on the boat ride after snorkeling and lunch on the beach.

    Little Bear sneaks in a nap on the boat ride after snorkeling and lunch on the beach.

  2. The kids being troopers on the long and bumpy boat ride. It took about two hours to get out to the sea lions, partly due to lumpy seas and partly because we took the scenic route to get the full experience. We swung by crystal clear bays, a frigate bird colony and visited with some dolphins. We were sharing the boat with another dad and his ten-year-old daughter, and I was pretty proud when he remarked on how well-adjusted the boys are on a boat. We spend a lot of time on boats and had brought their own lifejackets (thank goodness for Puddle Jumpers!) to make sure they were comfortable. Since we plan to spend a year living on our boat, I was really relieved to see how easily the boys adapted to the long ride. They even both took naps on the way back!
  3. Junior and Little Bear pose with some of the kids at the Palapa Society in Todos Santos. They all looked much happier before we asked them to pose for a picture, I promise!

    Junior and Little Bear pose with some of the kids at the Palapa Society in Todos Santos. They all looked much happier before we asked them to pose for a picture, I promise!

    Visiting the Palapa Society. The Palapa Society in Todos Santos is a volunteer-run English language program that aims to open opportunities for the children of Todos Santos by teaching them to speak English. This was supposed to be a volunteer opportunity for us, but because we tend to have our hands full with the boys everywhere we go, I’m afraid we weren’t as much help as many travelers may be. Instead what it ended up being for us primarily was a cultural experience for the kids. The class we sat in on was with Mexican children mostly around age 7. The English skills they were learning were the same things that Junior is currently learning in preschool so it was a great experience for him to participate right alongside them. He sang the alphabet with them, named his colors and shapes, and did a coloring worksheet. Though he was pretty shy, it was still an eye opening experience I think. And donating books and a soccer ball to them at the end of the lesson was a great way to expose him to the importance of generosity and giving.

    My daily breakfast of huevos rancheros thanks to Chef Iker!

    My daily breakfast of huevos rancheros thanks to Chef Iker!

    Junior chows down on some raw octopus ceviche. He loved it!

    Junior chows down on some raw octopus ceviche. He loved it!

    Watching our tortillas being made at lunch.

    Watching our tortillas being made at lunch.

  4. Amazing meals that defied expectations. We knew we’d be eating a lot of Mexican food. I mean, it’s Mexico. We even made sure before we left that the boys each had a preferred staple of Mexican cuisine to fall back on when needed (Little Bear: cheese quesadillas, Junior: fish tacos). What we didn’t expect was the huge range of delicious options we actually found in Todos Santos. Okay fine, we didn’t find anything on our own; it was all thanks to our guide Mauricio, but the point is, the food was amazing. Our first night even included a tasting menu served in a private room by the chef himself at Santo Vino in the iconic Hotel California. There was sashimi, ribs, flank steak and salad. Stuffed peppers, dessert platters and wine pairings. The list goes on. Of course we also really enjoyed our fill of local cuisine and I think my favorite meals were really at the hole-in-the-wall places that Mauricio chose for lunch. One day it was a tiny outdoor courtyard serving all varieties of ceviches (and the only other person eating there was the chef from our dinner the first night, so you know it must be good!) Another day it was the most delicious taco place where we watched our tortillas being made before we ate them. Top everything off with some gourmet popsicles and all was right in the world.
    The boys on the last summit of our hike.

    The boys on the last summit of our hike.

    Junior in the midst of our hiking standoff.

    Junior in the midst of our hiking standoff.

    Our hero Mauricio gets Junior engaged with animal tracking and the hike begins again.

    Our hero Mauricio gets Junior engaged with animal tracking and the hike begins again.

  5. Conquering a big kid hike with Junior. We knew before we left that there would be a morning of hiking in the desert. And because I am such a control freak, I began mentally preparing Junior for this several weeks in advance. We talked a lot about hiking, and how sometimes we get tired and it’s okay to rest and then get going again. We talked about how sometimes, when our muscles are working hard, they might start to ache a little and that’s okay because it’s just how they grow stronger. We talked about how Little Bear would likely ride in the carrier (oh how I love our Ergo) but that big kids can do big hikes. Of course it was only about five minutes into the hike that Junior announced how tired he was and said he didn’t “feel like” hiking anymore. A standoff ensued and finally Mauricio stepped in (have I mentioned how wonderful our guide was?) and engaged Junior with looking at tracks in the sand. Off we all went again, happy as could be. We even had to chase Junior up the final rocky slope to the last scenic lookout.
    Little Bear rides with Mama!

    Little Bear rides with Mama!

    Junior rides his pony along the beach

    Junior rides his pony along the beach

    Junior feeds Chappo after a long ride on the beach

    Junior feeds Chappo after a long ride on the beach

  6. Horseback riding for both boys. When Sam from Thomson Family Adventures emailed me several days before our trip to confirm a few details about the itinerary, she asked if we wanted to try horseback riding or if we’d prefer something else since the boys are so young. I was really uncertain what to do. Obviously if horseback riding was a bust, we’d prefer something else, but the boys absolutely love horses and selfishly, I was really looking forward to horseback riding on the beach. I even considered telling her that I would go riding while the boys stayed behind with the Captain. But instead we left things kind of loose and said we’d give it a shot. Even when we arrived at the ranch, I wasn’t sure we’d do anything besides feed the horses a few carrots and lead the boys around the paddock a few times. Instead, Junior got comfortable on his pony Chappo right away, and one of the great riders at the ranch led his pony from her horse for the entire ride. Little Bear also fit right in, nestled on my western saddle, wedged with an extra saddle pad. We set off and I could hardly believe it when the boys lasted for an entire two-hour ride. The closest thing I even heard to a single complaint was, “Mama, I wish I was a horse so I could eat some of those leaves. I’m hungry.”
  7. The 365Outside Family enjoys a beautiful beach and time to reconnect.

    The 365Outside Family enjoys a beautiful beach and time to reconnect.

    Late afternoon quiet time in the hot tub with the kids.

    Late afternoon quiet time in the hot tub with the kids.

    The cheesy falling in love again part. Oh I know, it’s so cliche to say that you went on vacation and fell in love all over again. Of course you did – you had all your meals prepared for you, you had zero responsibilities as far as home and work, and you woke every morning to a beautiful view in a tropical setting. I mean, come on! But, even more so for me and the Captain, being someplace tropical, beautiful and warm, with long days spent moving from one adventure to the next really brought us back to the lives we were living when we first met. We met in the British Virgin Islands where we were both living and working full-time on sailboats. He was leading study abroad programs and I was a live aboard skipper and instructor for a charter company. On our days off together, we’d grab a boat and head out for a sail, anchoring to free dive before lunch or take the dinghy around to a favorite snorkel spot. The days were long and hot and busy but they were so, so beautiful. And the same could be said for Baja. Experiencing that lifestyle again, even briefly, with the boys made it so special and made me even more excited for our year afloat.

  8. The view from our balcony and bed at Casita Colibris

    The view from our balcony and bed at Casita Colibris

    The nightly sunsets at Casita Colibris. When we first checked in to our room at Casita Colibris, I was worried it would feel cramped with all four of us sleeping in such close quarters. I worried we’d be tiptoeing around the boys while they slept, or they’d be waking us with their tossing and turning. I didn’t realize we’d be so tired each night that we’d all go to bed at the same time and sleep soundly through until morning. And I didn’t realize that the nightly bedtime rituals would become my favorite part of each day, despite all the rest of the excitement. Each day, we’d take a late afternoon dip in the pool and hot tub, then shower off and dress for dinner. We’d arrive back to the room just in time for the sun to start its evening show and we had front row seats. After the boys got into their pjs, we’d all snuggle up together and watch the sun sink lower and lower as the sky turned from pink to orange to red. When the last glimmer of sun disappeared below the horizon, we’d steal a page from our friends over at Windtraveler and whisper, “Goodbye sun, thanks for a great day!” Then we’d read our final bedtime stories and sing our final lullabies by the fading lavender glow on the horizon. These special evenings together, with nothing to think about except family and the beauty around us, were my favorite moments on a favorite trip.

Little Bear and the Captain snuggle at sunset.

Little Bear and the Captain snuggle at sunset.

The choice to bring the boys abroad was an easy one for me, but there was plenty of worrying beforehand nonetheless. Of course traveling was easier before they came along. Of course adventures were simpler. I fall under the category of “control freak” when it comes to planning and preparing for adventures with the kids, and this was no different with the exception that on this trip, everything for the week had to fit into two duffel bags under 50 lbs. I packed and repacked, made list after list, and stressed myself out to the point of wondering if maybe we’d have been better off driving to Florida instead. But in the end I can honestly say that this adventure, for us, was even more than we could have hoped for. It refreshed our appetite for travel, affirmed our passion for adventure and introduced the boys to what we hope will be a lifetime of pushing beyond their comfort zone to experience all the wonder the world holds. The experience of travel is one of the greatest gifts we can share with our children and though it may not come easily and will hardly ever come without bumps along the way, doing something that makes you a little nervous in exchange for experiencing a new culture, a new environment and a new adventure is always worth it.

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Junior asked to take his picture with his favorite truck.

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Junior reaches the final summit on our hike!

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Thank you again, Thomson Family Adventures and Outdoor Families Magazine for making this trip possible for us.

 

**Though we won this experience in an online drawing, we were not compensated for this review and the opinions expressed here are solely our own.**

5 Reasons to Rethink Your Playground Playdate

Nature's playground!

Nature’s playground!

Playgrounds are a great thing. They encourage active, outdoor play in a comfortable setting and provide hours upon hours of entertainment to millions of kids. We have had countless fun playdates at tons of playgrounds and have actively sought out new ones through frantic Googling on long road trips. Playgrounds definitely have a place in our outdoor-loving hearts, so it might surprise you a little bit to hear that it’s a place of love-hate conflict.

You see, my kids love playgrounds. But me, I just don’t. I think we can do better.

In fact, when a friend in my mom group suggested that in lieu of our usual summer Sunday playground meet-ups, we explore some new green spaces together, my heart swelled about three sizes. (Solidarity, you-know-who!) I have facilitated a few of these green space meet ups in the past, and I have to say I find them so much more fun than the playground. Why not move your next playdate away from the playground too? 

Here are five reasons to give it a try.

1.  The awkward playground social dynamics. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not entirely antisocial. I’m happy to bring my kids to swimming lessons and the gym and to school and play dates. We have done tons of mommy-and-me type activities, but they usually have some kind of official facilitator or at least pre-agreed-upon rules. The playground tends to be a complete free-for-all of conflicting parenting approaches. There will be a mommy there who will follow my two-year-old with an outstretched hand, nervously spotting him from behind as he agilely scales the rope ladder. She will glance around pointedly, trying to determine who is responsible for this blatantly risky behavior and I will look at the clouds and pretend I don’t know. Don’t worry though, he’s been climbing that ladder since he was 17 months old. That mommy is just so used to helicoptering that her helicoptering cup runneth over and she feels responsible for helicoptering over other children too.

My favorite kind of playground: an empty one. No awkward social dynamics here!

My favorite kind of playground: an empty one. No awkward social dynamics here!

On the other end of the spectrum there will be a child who is a complete jerk and seems to be completely unattended. She will probably push someone’s little brother down the slide just as he’s getting settled at the top. She will shove past another kid on the stairs. She will elbow her way between my son and the monkey bars, his fingers two centimeters from wrapping around the first rung, and announce, “I was just about to use these.” And as my son helplessly looks at me with pleading eyes, I will be scanning for the one other mommy on the bench whose head is craned down towards her phone but who is peaking up from behind her long bangs, eyes squinted at us to see how we’re going to play this.

Then there’s the kid who sits planted at the bottom of the slide. It’s hard to tell whether he’s trying to piss people off or he’s just completely oblivious. There’s an older kid lurking around the bushes with a Spiderman mask on, popping up to startle toddlers and then disappearing again like a demonic jack-in-the-box. The list goes on and on. Sometimes I think that playgrounds are just where parents go to pretend that they don’t know their own kids.

There's no doubt they love the swings, but the playground bliss never lasts very long for these two.

There’s no doubt they love the swings, but the playground bliss never lasts very long for these two.

2. Playgrounds don’t encourage creativity. Yes you can maybe straddle the swing, or twist it up and then whirl in circles, but let’s be honest, there are far fewer ways to play with a swing on a playground than there are to play with a stick in the middle of the forest. Is it too much to ask that our kids use their imaginations today? Do we really have to go to the boat-shaped playground for them to act out their wild pirate games? When I was a kid I had to create the pirate playscape from scratch (you know, after I walked six miles through the snow to school, uphill both ways). I would far rather watch my kids turn a forest clearing into a “home” complete with kitchen, bed and bath, than see them serve up pretend ice cream over the pre-fab plastic counter of the molded playground ice cream stand. And lately, playgrounds seem to have become more and more involved. They used to consist of a climbing structure, a slide and some swings. How did we get from there to here?

We don't need a playground climbing apparatus to test our limits.

We don’t need a playground climbing apparatus to test our limits.

3. They are too safe. Let me go on record for a second here and say, I’m all for safety! I love safety. I’m a safety advocate. Safety, safety, safety! But as I’ve noted before, I want my kids to learn how to manage risks so that they will be safer outdoors long term, and if they play only in environments in which those risks are managed for them, they will never learn to gauge their own safety. Recently I sat on a bench next to a mother who drew sharp, pointed breaths every time our kids reached the top platform at our local playground.

“That open rail at the top of the ladder there just scares me,” she said to me, shaking her head.

I smiled. “Well look on the bright side. If he throws himself off that thing, he won’t make that mistake twice.”

“You’re right, I never thought of it that way!” she laughed.

I would rather they run wild here than inside the playground fence.

I would rather they run wild here than inside the playground fence.

4. The hyper contagion. Maybe it’s the sheer number of little people in a confined space. Maybe it’s their combined knowledge that they are here to have LOTS OF FUN. Maybe it’s a kiddy  conspiracy to make me lose my mind. Whatever the reason, kids go absolutely bonkers at the playground. Mine always seem to get caught right up in the chaos and run around in the middle of the sugar-rabid pack, screaming and bumping into one another. This on its own wouldn’t be so bad but the pack mentality usually results in what I would call VERY POOR CHOICES. The last time we were at the playground, the kiddy pack found a pile of sticks, only they were closer to logs than sticks. Each child grabbed (at least) one and proceeded to run as fast as he could while bashing the log into anything within log’s reach. They were taking full-strength baseball swings at playground equipment sending out an explosion of splinters with each hit. When we put an end to this game, they found one of those long metal gates that goes across a driveway  to keep vehicles out. You know the ones, the long metal boom that extends at exactly kid-height? They began to push it around and around until it gained its own momentum and they had to flee at low levels in real terror before they were knocked unconscious. See the problem here? Playgrounds on their own are too safe. My bored kids in a pack mentality at the playground are too reckless. Can’t a mom catch a break!

Our usual playground exit style.

Our usual playground exit style.

5. We always leave worse off than when we arrived. This follows from the above hyper contagion. No matter the amount of prep I do, talking in advance about how long we’ll stay, offering plenty of warnings before it’s time to go, bribes, threats, etc, I always leave with crying children. Always. Even if no one gets hurt, they always reach their breaking point one way or another. The hyper contagion boils over and they come crashing down.

 

A nature hike with friends this winter was an awesome way to connect while getting fresh air and exploring our environment.

A nature hike with friends this winter was an awesome way to connect while getting fresh air and exploring our environment.

Don’t get me wrong, we will continue to go to playgrounds. We will continue to participate full force in this insanity, but I do so halfheartedly. I sometimes want my kids to get the chance to choose our destinations, and that often means the playground. I sometimes want to meet friends on mutual territory, and that often means the playground. I sometimes want to be able to sit and talk with a friend while our kids run around in a confined space, and that often means the playground. But I also want my kids to explore freely, to experience wilderness, to stretch their imaginations and their physical limits, and I find that there are far better spaces for this than the playground.

Next time you’re planning to meet friends for some outdoor fun, consider a hike, a nature walk or a farm visit instead. You just may start a new tradition.        

 

How to Raise Nature-Loving Kids in a Media-Loving World

“It smells good out!” Junior declared, standing in the open doorway after dinner. It had been an unseasonably mild week, the first hints of spring revealing themselves in a warm southerly breeze and jackets left hanging inside. A day of rain had washed everything and now tonight, the sky was clearing again and bulbs were just beginning to push through the rich soil. The air felt extra oxygenated, smelling of dirt and grass and fresh clean nothingness. Junior stood in the open doorway after dinner, taking in big gulps of it as though he were still hungry. Little Bear, perched next to him, noticed the sound first and cocked his head slightly.

“What’s that mama?” he asked. “What’s that noise? Birdies?” I stood with them and heard the first peepers of the season.

“Those are frogs, sweetie. Little, tiny frogs who live in the swamp back there.” Junior’s eyes went big and his mouth dropped open. Little Bear mimicked him. I wish I had a picture of them in that moment. Their pure delight and awe of the natural world written all over their faces.

A late afternoon ice hike with daddy.

A late afternoon ice hike with daddy.

I once wrote about six ways that I convince my kids to go outside on a daily basis. But since I wrote that, I’ve reflected a lot on why these methods are successful and I have to admit that there’s a lot more to it than getting them out the door each day. My kids go outside daily because they want to go outside daily. In fact, they love being outside. It is easily their happy place.

So how did I get so lucky? Is it genetic? The fact is, I have worked with purpose to instill these values in my kids and it is not a coincidence that they have grown into who they are today. But it’s also not that hard. Here are six ways that you can raise kids who love nature too.

1. Create family traditions that include nature

A full-moon walk in the midst of a snowstorm.

A full-moon walk in the midst of a snowstorm.

We have a few family traditions that involve time spent outdoors, but my favorite is our full moon walks. Each month, regardless of the weather, we gear up after dinner and venture outside to enjoy the full moon. Even on stormy nights when it’s not visible, we go out. The kids think that being outside after dark is a great adventure and they are slowly picking up on the moon’s phases. I don’t force them to participate, but so far I have always had the company of at least one of them on my walks and usually both choose to come along. Create a new family tradition that involves being outside. It could be collecting shells or stones or acorns at a favorite place. It could be Sunday morning walks. It could be lighting candles along the walkway or reading a bedtime story outside. To increase your chance of successful follow through, choose something that’s easy to accomplish but still feels special. For more ideas, check out our list of 20 Family Traditions That Will Teach Your Kids To Love Nature!

2. Encourage a sense of wonder and curiosity.

Sheer awe and excitement of playing in fresh snow on a frozen lake.

The sheer awe and excitement of playing in fresh snow on a frozen lake!

It is easy to forget how magical our world is. On my own I would have easily missed that first chorus of frogs chiming in from beyond our back fence this week. Try to be mindful of the smallest signs of natural beauty and point them out to your kids often and with reverence. In summer, draw their attention to worms and butterflies, flowers that bloom anew all season long and those that die after just a week, stars and fireflies, puffy cumulus clouds and thunderstorms on the horizon. In fall, watch how the color changes on a single leaf over time, note the later sunrise and brisk mornings, the first frost if you have one and the unusual warm days sometimes still lingering. Winter may bring snow or sleet or hail or rain, the shortest day of the year and patterns of ice crystals on the windows. Spring brings tiny buds and bulbs, grass that turns green again, days growing longer and fresh mud for months. Point out small changes that you take for granted. Encourage questions and if you don’t know the answer, look it up together. Kids who notice nature are more likely to appreciate its subtleties.

3.  Share your previous adventures with your kids and use them to inspire new ones together.

Hearing all about daddy's surfing adventures and then going with him to check the waves make the boys excited to start surfing themselves.

Hearing all about daddy’s surfing adventures and then going with him to check the waves make the boys excited to start surfing themselves.

We love to pore over old photos with the kids, pointing out favorite hikes or sailing grounds that we explored before they came onto the scene. The kids love to hear about the amazing adventures that we’ve experienced and they long to come along on some of their own. Sharing ours inspires their own imagination and passion. We set new goals together and talk about how we’ll work to make them happen. When the kids understand that backcountry camping requires long hikes with packed gear, they are more likely to come along on shorter hikes that build endurance towards their goal.

4. Provide unstructured playtime outdoors, away from playgrounds

Sticks and a bit of imagination are some of the toys nature provides.

Sticks and a bit of imagination are some of the toys nature provides.

Give your kids time to explore nature on their own in an unstructured way. Playgrounds may be a great place to meet friends or burn off some excess energy before bedtime, but to really appreciate nature kids need to have time to immerse themselves in it and most playgrounds are not natural environments. Away from manmade play, kids use their own imaginations and are more likely to pay attention to their environment. Logs become balance beams, trees become climbing structures and bushes become hiding spots. As difficult as it seems at first, bite your tongue and allow your children to explore and discover their world independently. You’ll be amazed at how much they learn through their own experiences.

5. Surround yourself with like-minded friends

A walk in the rain is infinitely better with friends to share the adventure.

A walk in the rain is infinitely better with friends to share the adventure.

Use peer pressure to your advantage. Reach out to other families who share your values and coordinate some adventures together. If you aren’t sure who to invite on your weekend hike, ask your kids. When their friends buy in, they are more likely to buy in too. Some of our best friends and favorite memories were made on rainy days in the woods.

 

6. Create a nature-rich environment in your home

Field guides are a popular browsing choice in our house. The boys are particularly fascinated by the "scat" pages.

Field guides are a popular browsing choice in our house. The boys are particularly fascinated by the “scat” pages.

You don’t always have to go outside to create lasting connections with nature. Bringing plants into your home, filling your bookcases with field guides and reading nature rich stories together are great ways to encourage curiosity and spark passion for the natural world. We collect stones, shells, pine cones and acorns to decorate our home. We engage the kids to research with us in books or online to answer their many questions about the environment, everything ranging from cloud types and plant identification to bird calls and weather forecasts.

Our kids are surrounded on a daily basis by media that pushes technology, processed foods, medication and the importance of being faster and better at everything we do. By providing them with the opportunity to slow down and appreciate the natural world around them, we ground our children in the bigger picture and allow them to experience childhood more simply. They will have a lifetime to experience the priorities of adulthood. What’s the rush to start now?

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Giving them the confidence and the desire to experience nature on their own ensures that they’ll never be bored outside.

Week Two of the 365Outside Challenge: 2016

January is more than halfway over, which is significant for 365Outsiders because if you live someplace seasonal in the northern hemisphere, it’s likely that January and February will be the hardest months of your challenge. And one of them is already halfway over. See how quickly this has happened?

The first barefoot beach day of 2015 was on April 15th. When will it be this year?

The first barefoot beach day of 2015 was on April 15th. When will it be this year?

In just a few short weeks we’ll be staring down February, the last of the hard work. Come March, we’ll see the ground thawing and the occasional return of balmy days when our gloves and hats are left behind again. By April there will likely be a few barefoot beach days and then perhaps a last blast of frost before the cold clears for spring and boxes of winter gear are taped up and shoved into the attic. The flowers will begin to push aside mounds of muddy soil as they sprout. The air will smell earthy and moist. The ground will once again bubble and give beneath our feet. It really will not be long. The hard work is here now, but not for long.

If you have not been following along on Facebook, here is what you missed this week:

Monday: Junior insisted that we go to the playground and I relented, only to pry two crying, tired children away from it when it was time to go home. This is pretty much how we always leave the playground and is one of several reasons why we do not often go there. I will write more about playgrounds another time. Suffice it to say, they are not my favorite. Also on Monday, I shared a photo from the Let’s Go Outside Revolution that summarized the scarcity of children playing outdoors by comparing them to an endangered species. Scary thought.

Image courtesy of the Let's Go Outside Revolution

Image courtesy of the Let’s Go Outside Revolution

Tuesday: I shared tips for layering up and dressing appropriately for the cold weather.

Picnics don't have to be reserved for sunny summer days.

Picnics don’t have to be reserved for sunny summer days.

Wednesday: We had a picnic! Since starting our first 365Outside Challenge in 2015, I’ve found my thinking around seasonal activities has dramatically shifted. Picnics used to be a fair weather activity for mild spring or summer days. More recently though, we’ve had them year round. We even sometimes have rainy day picnics in the backyard playhouse and eat to the sound of the rain drumming on our roof.

Thursday: I shared an important reminder that many campsites book up for the summer starting now. If you are interested in a summer camping trip (and you should be!) check Reserve America to find campsites near you. Some even offer sparse accommodations to choose from such as cabins and yurts.

Wild turkey tracks in the snow.

Wild turkey tracks in the snow.

Friday: We went for a nature walk. These also fall under the category of previously seasonal but now year round activity in our family. Though it’s certainly easier to find traces of wildlife in the warmer months, there is still plenty to see if you slow down and carefully observe. We look for prints in the snow, discarded shells or seeds from animals eating, and even holes in the ground in which critters might be sleeping. We recently learned that you can tell when a groundhog is hibernating in its hole by the frost around the opening, which forms when the rodent’s breath condenses.

Junior really loved these Strider Snow ski attachments for his balance  bike.

Junior really loved these Strider Snow ski attachments for his balance bike.

Saturday: It finally snowed here, a tiny bit. Junior got to try out the Strider Snow Ski attachments for his balance bike (verdict: two thumbs up) and I began to research cross country skiing adventures.

Sunday: For the second week in a row we were lucky enough to be joined by good friends for a hike. Junior did the whole two-mile circuit on his own, and Little Bear lasted most of the way before going in the carrier for a snuggle. This week we walked at the Coolidge Reservation, which is a great hike for little legs since it traverses a broad variety of terrain including a short bridge over a stream, and comes out on a beautiful rolling field down to the ocean, all in the span of a mile. After a scenic snack, it’s mostly downhill on the way back to the parking lot.

A great hike with friends today at the Coolidge Reservation in Manchester.

A great hike with friends today at the Coolidge Reservation in Manchester.

Now we look forward to a new week with snow in the forecast. Don’t hate me too much when I say I welcome it. Remember, adventure is all a frame of mind.

The 365Outside Challenge: 2016 will be open for new registrants through the end of the month. Many thanks to our friends over at Merrohawke Nature School who shared the challenge in their  newsletter this month.

Keep spreading the word, friends!

Week One of the 365Outside Challenge: 2016

Lighting our wish lanterns was a special way to welcome 2016.

Sending wish lanterns up into the sky was a special way to welcome 2016 with old friends.

Some weeks always seem longer than others and for me, the week back to reality after the holidays is always a long week. I can’t believe that it was just a week ago that we were celebrating the New Year, sending wish lanterns into the sky with good friends and waving goodbye to 2015 as their light faded smaller and smaller into the night.

There’s also something daunting about starting a new challenge that makes the first week seem even harder. I didn’t expect it to feel quite as big the second time around. By now, our daily adventures outside have become habit. We already have one challenge under our belts. But somehow it felt so much easier when I was thinking to myself, 335 days down, 30 to go. Today’s 10 days down, 356 to go sounds a lot harder! Especially on a day like today where the wind is howling and the rain is pounding down.

On days like today I am reminded how lucky we are to have wonderful, like-minded friends in our lives. Friends who don’t even blink when we invite them on a hike in weather that drives most people to the mall or the movies.

Enjoying a wet snack in the soggy woods.

Enjoying a wet snack in the soggy woods.

And so it was that we found ourselves stomping through the soggy woods all morning with a crew of muddy children, who relished the opportunity to run off some energy and search for signs of bears (which we don’t have around here, but a kid can dream, right?) It was a good reminder for me after a long week that it’s not so hard. We are surrounded by beautiful people and beautiful places. The hardest part is motivating to get out the door, and so we just take it one day at a time. It felt so, so good to come back to the warm house, hang our sopping gear by the woodstove, and heat up some hearty bean soup for lunch. And now, as I type this, I’m drinking my raspberry tea and listening to the steady downpour on our skylight while both boys nap upstairs. It’s the perfect Sunday afternoon, after the perfect Sunday morning.

In case you weren’t able to follow our last week on Facebook (you don’t need an account just to read the page) here’s a summary:

Monday meant work, school and all the other commitments of our busy lives were back in full force. Getting outside when you’re busy can seem hard and intimidating until it becomes an everyday habit.

Bedtime stories outside after a busy day.

Bedtime stories outside after a busy day.

Our favorite trick for getting outside on busy days is to get it done as early as possible, or wait for after dark and make a special night of it. If you weren’t able to get out this morning, try taking fifteen minutes tonight after the sun goes down.

When we aren’t in the mood for a walk or the kids are already in pajamas, we make hot drinks and set up some chairs on our back deck with plenty of warm blankets. We snuggle under the blankets and star gaze while enjoying some warm tea or hot chocolate. Sometimes we use our headlamps and read a favorite story outside. The kids love this routine because it feels special and exciting. We love the burst of fresh air to end our day on a positive note.

Tuesday brought a windchill of-2 degrees here. Brrrrrrr! Is that “too cold” to take my kids outside? I’m sure lots would say yes but Tuesday’s tip: LOW EXPECTATIONS.

Junior keeping cozy on a frigid day.

Junior keeping cozy on a frigid day.

While we aim to stay outside for at least 20 minutes every day, there is no rule about how long we should stay out. The only “rule” so to speak is that we get outside simply for the sake of getting outside. We’re not pursuing outdoor play at the expense of frostbite over here.

Tuesday we went through the hassle of putting on all that winter gear with very low expectations. We may only last five minutes and that’s ok. I’d rather spend only a sliver of time outside and have my kids ready and excited to go out again tomorrow than force them to stay outside longer than they’re comfortable and pay the price on another chilly day when they remember their discomfort and refuse to go out at all. In fact, Junior begged to go out again after dark on Tuesday!

If something is holding you back, go out with the knowledge that it’s totally ok to head right back inside once you’ve given it a solid try. And don’t forget to dress appropriately (more about that on the blog coming soon.) Good luck and stay warm!

Wednesday we fed the birds. Even if you don’t live someplace snowy and frozen, they’re sure to appreciate it. No birdseed in the house? No problem. The humane society recommends using raw nuts and seeds, or egg shells which provide healthy calcium for backyard birds.

Little Bear was so proud of himself when his patient, quiet waiting paid off and this chickadee landed on his hand to eat some sunflower seeds.

Little Bear was so proud of himself when his patient, quiet waiting paid off and this chickadee landed on his hand to eat some sunflower seeds.

Little Bear and I took our first class together on Wednesday at the Ipswich River Wildlife Mass Audubon where we learned that local chickadees there are so acclimated to budding ornithologists that they will land on your hand to feed. Little Bear was so proud of himself.

Even if a bird doesn’t land on your hand, it’s still fun to watch them. Get out a bird book or download an app like Sibley or Audubon to help with identifying your new feathered friends.

Little Bear takes a minute to lounge on the ground while we wait to pick up Junior from school

Little Bear takes a minute to lounge on the ground while we wait to pick up Junior from school

Thursday we were looking for an easy way to make it through the last of our busy days this week. We find it’s easiest to make time for outside play when you’re already coming or going. When I pick my oldest up from school, he’s already wearing most of his outdoor gear. I just slip his snow pants on (if needed) and give him some free time to run wild. We both need it after a long day. Other times the kids are so spent that they just want to lie down and cloud-gaze, and that’s fine too.

If you’re on a busy, time-pressed schedule by the time you are heading home, take a deep breath and ask yourself if it will really matter if dinner and bedtime are ten minutes later. Sometimes I get so caught up in our “schedule” that I lose sight of the bigger picture. Try going for a walk around the block before you even get in the car. Or park a block away and try not to rush your little one as you stroll back. Think of it as your moment of peace in an otherwise hectic week.

Waiting for our neighbors to come over so we can start our glow stick hunt (which ended in tears because everyone wanted everyone else's glow sticks, but hey - we tried!)

Waiting for our neighbors to come over so we can start our glow stick hunt (which ended in tears because everyone wanted everyone else’s glow sticks, but hey – we tried!)

Friday we celebrated the end of the school week in a fun way with the little people in our life.  Stop off at the store on the way to or from work today and pick up a pack of glow sticks. I found packs of 15 glow bracelets for a dollar at Target! Hide them around the yard after it gets dark and set the kids loose on a glow stick hunt. Just because the sun has set, it doesn’t mean your chance to play outside has been missed. Your kids will thank you.

Saturday’s tip was to visit your favorite summer spot in the depths of winter. Try it! We are lucky to live near the coast so we visit the beach year round. It’s a different experience in every season but the kids love it regardless of the temperature.

Little Bear ready to go tide pooling in 25 degree weather.

Little Bear ready to go tide pooling in 25 degree weather.

This week also saw our news story (which originally ran in the Gloucester Daily Times) republished in the Newburyport News. Yay for spreading the word! We’ve now had almost 90,000 days of outdoor time pledged for 2016 and the challenge will be open for new registrants until the end of the month. Do you know someone who might be interested? Send them over to sign up before it’s too late.

There’s Still Time to Join the 365Outside Challenge: 2016

 

Will you join us in our journey towards a happier, healthier lifestyle in 2016?

Will you join us in our journey towards a happier, healthier lifestyle in 2016?

365Outside has received over 60,000 days of outdoor play pledged for the year 2016 and we will continue to accept new pledges through the end of January. We are also featured in our local newspaper today! Have you joined us to lead a happier, healthier lifestyle in 2016?

If you haven’t already taken the pledge (it’s free!) head on over to the 365Outside Challenge: 2016 to get started. While you’re at it, tell a friend or two and spread the word.

If you are looking for some new ideas for outdoor activities to get you started, please sign up to follow our blog by entering your email in our subscription link located in the righthand sidebar. We promise not to send you any spam and you are free to unsubscribe at any time.

We will also be posting daily inspiration on our public Facebook page and compiling it weekly onto the blog from here on out. You can keep up with our daily activities too, by checking us out on Instagram.

If you’re on Facebook or Instagram please tag us @365Outside or document your own journey with #365outside. We love finding inspiration through our friends!

We wish you all a 2016 filled with sunshine, rain and snow, and the mindset to smile through it all. Happy New Year and welcome aboard!

~365Outside | Refresh Your Life~

PS – We promise not to clog your inbox with loads of junk because we hope you’re way too busy playing outside to read any of it. If you’d like to follow along, make sure to sign up for further information and inspiration by following our blog, Facebook, or Instagram accounts. Otherwise, you’re on your own from here and we wish you all our best.

Ride a Bike!

We have snow on the ground here, but the streets are mostly cleared and the boys are begging to get out on their bikes so we’re seizing the opportunity while we can.

 
If you have little ones too small to pedal, we recommend a balance bike to get them started. Our boys both started on balance bikes and we credit it for Junior learning to ride his two-wheeler when he was three, without ever using training wheels. At 2.5, Little Bear can cruise on his balance bike all the way down our hill without putting his feet down. We think he’ll be riding a two-wheeler before he turns 3.
 
Today we’re off for a family bike ride. We’ll bring the seat in case Little Bear needs a lift with us. Can’t wait to take advantage of this mild weather one more time before the frost settles in for a few days tomorrow.

Are You Ready For the 365Outside Challenge: 2016?

2016 challengeWe are in the final stretch of our 365Outside Challenge. We have played outside for 352 consecutive days and counting. But it doesn’t feel like a challenge anymore. It’s just our life now; it’s what we do.

One of the most important parts of this challenge for us has been the way that it’s rooted us as a family. It provides a sense of self. We are a family who appreciates nature and loves to be outside. We are a family who plays outside every day regardless of the weather. It’s easy to get lost in vague blanket statements when trying to define what makes a family unique. But this is a very concrete way that we’ve come together around a cause that’s important to us all, both physically and mentally.

The boys giving me a lesson in risk management!

The boys giving me a lesson in risk management!

It’s hard to say how much of who my kids are has been born from this project and how much would have developed regardless. The age old nature vs nurture debate. Kids grow quickly, and mine are at an age where they seem to develop by leaps and bounds every day. Regardless of why, I can say confidently that over the past year I have watched both my boys turn into complete little rippers. They tear around on balance bikes, barrel through the woods on foot, scale anything in their way and have an absolute blast doing it. They paddle around on surfboards, jump into water over their heads and beg to go faster as we head out on our boat. They swim, ski, sled and ride. They barrel out our door in sunshine, rain, sleet, snow, wind and even complete darkness. I am so proud of them. I am so impressed by them. And I am sure that as they get older, I will so have my hands full with them.

A quiet moment listening for coyotes.

A quiet moment listening for coyotes.

But despite their no-fear, high-speed approach, there are moments of quiet too. They continue to be deeply interested by habitats so we are constantly pausing to look at bird nests, beehives and tide pools, nooks in a tree that could possibly provide a spot for a mouse to nest or deep crevices into the rocks that may be big enough for a bear’s cave or a wolf’s den. The boys watch the sky for clouds. They make acute observations about animal tracks and weather patterns. They admonish me a sharp “Shhhh Mama!! I’m listening for birds!” as we make our way through the forest. For every moment of wildness there has been a moment of peace. Sometimes they are even one and the same.

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We’re ready to take on 2016. Are you?

As we bid farewell to 2015, we look ahead to the new year. There is a lot in store for 2016, and I can’t wait to share it all. We already have three camping trips booked and there’s a much grander adventure that we’re looking forward to working on in 2016. But we’ll save that story for another time. There is so much ahead.

For right now, I am excited to announce that the 365Outside Challenge: 2016 will be open for pledges starting today and lasting through the end of January. Of course, there are actually 366 days in 2016, so you have a great chance to be a complete overachiever and hold the record for  the next 7 years to come.

Not sure you can hack a whole year outside? Check out some of my tips for making it out the door here. Or, simply pledge a number of days that makes more sense for you.

To read more, or to pledge some time outside in the new year, check out the 365Outside Challenge: 2016.

Why I Fenced the Kids In

The beauty of the backyard fence

The beauty of the backyard fence!

Our yard backs up to some overgrown woods that fade into a very muddy brackish creek tucked in behind the salt marsh. It’s neither particularly beautiful nor particularly ugly, but rather just a normal little patch of trees and undergrowth. Before kids, we blazed a trail through it complete with a fallen tree bridge over the creek. The path came out on the street behind ours which leads to the marina and a few open hay fields great for dog walks. But, the path was never maintained enough to juggle a baby while dancing through it, so eventually the low growing thorns prevailed. All that’s left of it now is a rotting log bobbing in the dirty water.

Junior frequently does a little "babysitting" in the backyard while Mama makes dinner.

Junior frequently does a little “babysitting” in the backyard while Mama makes dinner.

Last year we finally fenced the backyard in. It feels wrong to me. I want my kids to explore and adventure and feel unrestricted in the great outdoors. So I’m sure there will come a time when I don’t want the tall stockade fence that runs the perimeter of our small backyard. But that time isn’t now.

Before the fence, I dreamed that someday my kids would be the ones blazing trails through the woods, resurrecting the remains of the old treehouse perched behind the neighbor’s house and living out their fantasy world in shadowy hollows and hideaways. Once my oldest was on the move though, all I wanted was a fence to stop him. I know how hypocritical it sounds, when I really do want to raise my kids to be free range explorers. And I do realize how lucky we are to have this funny triangle of overgrown woods nestled between the back of our home and those of our neighbors’. Someday my kids will be the princes of this tiny kingdom, but not yet.

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The fence also gives us a little privacy for summertime sprinkler play.

Right now, I need the security of knowing that I can turn my back to them for just two minutes while I drain the pasta into the sink. I need to know that one is not chasing the other further and further into the mud before someone loses a boot and then lands with a splat, covered in thick sludge ten minutes before we need to leave for school. I need the firmness of physical boundaries that can’t be broken as easily as the verbal ones I set with with a sharp, “Not past that tree! Stop right there!” I want them to explore and play outside of my watchful gaze, but I can’t yet trust them to stay close on their own.

Holiday party mayhem after dark!

Holiday party mayhem after dark!

Last weekend Santa arrived to town by clam boat at the boat ramp down our street. There were carolers and little train rides and lots of sugar and hot drinks to go around. We invited some friends to mosey two minutes up the road to our house before and after they greeted the big man. With lights strung around the back fence, and a crowd of parents to patrol the gates, the kids were let loose to run rampant in the relative security of the backyard. It was well after dark and though lit, the yard seemed vast and dark and the kids went bonkers.  They rode bikes on the grass, hid in the playhouse, pushed each other around on the tractors, weaved their way in and out of the lilac bushes, and played some kind of catch-dodgeball hybrid, all while the parents chatted around the fire pit in the driveway. The backyard fence meant our two year old could run loose with the big kids. It meant the adults did not have to take shifts combing the woods for runaways. It meant that we could let the kids be kids without the overbearing gaze of parents. This is the time for a backyard fence.

There will come a day sometime soon when I won’t want the fence. There will be a day when the boys are ready to stake their flag in the wooded empire, claiming their kingdom. There will be plenty of days for tree climbing and stick swords and rope swings hung haphazardly over thin green branches. But today, I’ll drink my coffee in peace knowing that they can’t escape quite yet.  Today, they still live in my kingdom.

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