Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Photos by Maggie Homer

My family is outside 3 hours a day, and we love it!

The outdoor challenge could be your pandemic sanity-saver!

Editor’s note: Late last year, we introduced you to Maggie Homer, who set the ambitious goal for her family to be outside 3 hours a day, every day. Here’s the original article, and here’s an update, published Nov. 23, 2020:

It’s now fall 2020, and our family is still prioritizing being outside 3 hours a day. This goal has helped us maintain some degree of normalcy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic because one thing is for sure: We cannot be quarantined from the great outdoors!

Here are a few new ideas we’ve added to our routine since last year:

Transition activity

This day’s “transition activity” was binoculars, so Duke checked out Mount Baker.

A simple way to encourage your child to move from indoor to outdoor is to prepare a transition activity to be done around the same time each day. A transition activity is something your child creates indoors, but with intention to bring the creation out. Examples of a transition activity might be paper-roll binoculars, a nature observation journal, a terrarium or a leaf-collecting bucket (we got ours at the dollar store). Even something as simple as handing your child a magnifying glass can have them running outside.

Whatever you choose, the activity should be something that sparks interest in your child to explore something further outdoors. Prompting questions such as, “What plants can you find for your terrarium today?” or “Will the trees look different when looking through your binoculars?” really help to excite and engage your child to go outside. Each week, we have a different transition activity we repeat daily.

Start a collection

Is there something your child is particularly drawn to in nature? Some children notice feathers. Others like to collect rocks or seashells. Collecting nature items is a wonderful way to extend time spent outdoors. Hunting for a specific rock or shell takes focus, time and energy. Searching for the perfect addition to their collection also breeds a wonderful connectivity between your child and the natural world around them.

Evie likes to collect beach glass.

Encourage your child to start collecting their object of interest, while remembering to respect the natural environment and to not disturb any living ecosystems. If your child has not found an object to collect yet, simply state, “I notice you really like beach glass (or whatever it is they like). Let’s see how many pieces we can find today!” Then, make a special box or jar for the items to stay in where your child can revisit their nature experiences at home. My daughter loves to keep her rocks in glass jars.

We also bring a treasure bag with us whenever we venture out to Juanita Beach Park or go on a hike through Edith Moulton Park so that the collecting feels more “official.” This also helps avoid any meltdowns over lost items and ensures that no treasures get lost in a coat pocket to be run through the washing machine.

Nature process art

What fun to make “tree faces” with homemade playdough!

We love to use natural objects in our process art, and what I love best is how the objects we use change as the seasons shift. We always try to do the process art outdoors, which gives us a first row seat to the natural world around us and keeps the mess outside! In fall, we create apple stamp paintings and leaf rubbings. As it transitions to winter, our art changes to pinecone paintings and watercolor ice painting. As spring blossoms, we are painting with flowers!

An important thing to note about process art is that there is no expectation for what the finished product looks like. It is art simply for the joy of the process. Process art allows your child to explore textures, colors, and artistic inclinations without restrictions.

I encourage you to notice and observe your child’s art (i.e. “I notice you’re using lots of red,” or “You are working really hard on your painting!”) without placing value or personal opinion on their work (i.e. “Wow! You’re doing a really good job,” or “I really love your painting.”).

The goal is for the child to be intrinsically motivated to create and explore, not motivated by parental praise or parental acceptance of their creation.

You’ve got this!

To wrap up, I want to encourage and uplift all parents and caretakers. It is my hope that getting outside and engaging with nature will be a way to refresh both you and your children in the midst of isolation and quarantine.

Start with small chunks of outdoor time and build up as you and your child adjust. You’ve got this!

More outdoor fun:

Outside 3 hours a day: How it all began

5 hands-on ways to play outside in the fall

About the Author

Maggie Homer

Maggie Homer is a cooperative preschool teacher and parent educator at Woodinville Family Preschool. She was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, loves all things outdoors, and is a mother of three children under 6 years old.