31 Hours Outside in January / What We Learned and Did

Somewhat on a whim, our family decided to try a family challenge for the year. The goal? One thousand hours outside. After having learned the power of being outside this year (global pandemic will do that for you, thank you very much) and knowing that we’ll still be following COVID precautions for who know how long this year, it seemed like a good year to give it a try. One thousand hours outside in a year is a lot, but that’s why it’s a challenge, right? One thousand hours outside works out to 2.7 hours a day, every day. I don’t expect we’ll manage that. We may not even make it to the one thousand hours, but we started the journey with the expectation that every hour outside was worth it and that, even if we fall short, we’ll have had a great time on the journey. 

We’re one month in, and we logged 31 hours. Compared to the giant goal of 1,000 hours, 31 feels like spare change. That said, I’m hugely proud of our 31 hours. The beginning of the month was fairly warm (as far as Chicagoland winters go) and there was a small accumulation of snow. We ended the month with a lot more flair — lots of snow and much colder temperatures. 

Because of work and school schedules, the majority of our hours were logged on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, with a few hours sprinkled in on those other weekdays. I’m looking forward to warmer weather when we can picnic outside or go for quicker walks without bundling up. Going outside to play or hike in the winter is a bit of a chore. If we logged the amount of hours putting on and taking off snow pants, boots, gloves, hats, coats, etc., we would have logged a ton more. 

I don’t plan to write about the challenge every month, but I thought I’d share about some of our winter adventures and gear. There was too much to say for my weekly Treasure Box Tuesday email, and it’s nice to have it all in one place. 

The Basics: Bundle Up

One of the things I hear “outdoorsy” parents say is some variation on “there’s no bad weather, only improper dress and preparation.  (For the record, I do not consider myself in the “outdoorsy” category, actually, though I’ll let you know after this challenge!) It’s challenged me to think about what temperatures are too extreme for us, and what we can and can’t handle. I really appreciated THIS CHART in terms of extreme cold and knowing what happens to the body and at what temperatures.  We always stayed in the “low risk” category. Even within that category, though, we felt like we needed lots of gear to stay warm and dry. My youngest started saying “Warm and dry!” when came back inside from an adventure. Here are some of our bundle up learnings: 

  • Extra gloves/mittens — We each have a pair of good gloves/mittens (I prefer mittens!) and several pairs of the inexpensive stretchy kind. Often, even with the good ones, we’d have to change them mid playtime to stay warm and dry. 
  • Boots — My big splurge/need this winter was good boots for me. It was super handy to get a bunch of boots from PRIME WARDROBE and then return the ones I didn’t like or that didn’t fit. I actually had to go through two boxes to get the ones I ended up with, but they’re great. If you’ve never given Prime Wardrobe a try, I recommend it if you’re already a prime member. (Side note, Prime Wardrobe is how I ended up with a new favorite pair of pajama pants, too. Doesn’t everyone have a pair of COVID pajamas that are their favorites?!)
  • Hat with ear flaps — Most of our cold weather gear is a hodgepodge of things from secondhand shops or hand me downs and not really remarkable, but I do 100% recommend hats like THIS for keeping little ears and cheeks warm. My 4 year old daughter loves hers. The older boys only wear hats when it’s super duper cold, preferring their hoods instead. 

Fun Things to Do

We spent a lot of time doing the “basics” outside — playing in the backyard, going on nature walks, and romping around in the snow. We did some other noteworthy activities too. 

  • Snow Ice Cream — I don’t know the details on the pollution-factor of eating a lot of snow, so do this at your own risk, but we do make snow ice cream in small batches in our house. We just mix sweetened condensed milk with snow and add a splash of vanilla, LIKE THIS
  • Frozen Balloon Marbles — Put some food coloring in a balloon and then fill it as you normally would. Place outside to freeze. Interestingly, ours didn’t freeze for a couple of days, even when the temperature was right at (or below) freezing. I don’t know if they thawed a little and then didn’t refreeze, or what. They finally froze after a few days of below freezing temperatures. THIS post gives more detailed instructions and pictures. 
  • Rainbow Meditation — I’ve talked about this in my weekly emails before, but essentially you just go on a walk and look for all the colors of the rainbow, in order, and in nature. (The color has to be on something natural like a plant, animal, or mineral.) This is much harder in the gray winter! 
  • Play with beach toys in the snow — We dug out our beach toys for play in the snow. It worked reasonably well, but when the snow is heavy and icy, it can crack the toys. 
  • Look for animal tracks in the snow — We loved doing this on the trails. One of the trails we visited had a helpful guide to animal tracks from our area, and it was just a blast finding them. HERE’S  a much more extensive guide. 
  • Snow Painting — You could be really fancy about this with spray bottles and paintbrushes SEE HERE, but we were much more low tech with colored water in big jugs that we poured on the snow. 

Hot Chocolate!

Ok, so obviously hot chocolate is a huge part of winter fun (at least for my family, it is!) For us, having hot chocolate outside added to the overall hours outside during January. Many times we’d walk for an hour or an hour and fifteen minutes and then have some hot cocoa outside. All of those 15 minute hot chocolate moments added up to several hours towards our goal. Here’s my very simple routine, after a lot of trial and error. 

  1. Pack up very hot (and extra chocolaty) cocoa in a thermos, along with a container of cold water or milk, paper cups, and napkins. 
  2. On site, mix the hot chocolate with the milk or water to the desired temperature. 

Sounds simple enough, but when we packed the chocolate hot, it was too hot for children to drink. When we packed it lukewarm, grownups weren’t so excited about it. When we packed it hot and added water and milk to taste when we got there, everyone was happy. Sometimes we packed marshmallows for extra fun. When we were going on a walk nearby, I would make everything up and leave it outside the door at home so I didn’t have to lug it around. We also have a SMALLER thermos that I would sometimes pack with coffee for me. 

On the paper cups — one of my children absolutely can’t tolerate drinking from metal or ceramic, so these paper cups work really well for us. They’re not the most environmentally conscious, I realize. That said, they don’t leak, they’re the perfect size, and we get at least two uses out of them. (more for the lids.) THESE are the ones we use. As for hot chocolate mix — nothing fancy so far, just THIS stuff. I did have my eye on THIS super decadent looking recipe (from Disneyland), but we haven’t tried it yet. 

You Can Try it, Too!

There’s a lot to love about the 1000 Hours Outside Challenge. Whether you track it with a paper tracker or a tracking APP, or just pledge to spend more time outside as a family, I’m guessing you’ll find a lot of surprising benefits of getting outside. Every hour outside (and preparing for it and cleaning up from it) is an hour not on screens, an hour enjoying nature and exploring new things. Good luck, and enjoy! 

Share Our Content

Stay Connected

More Articles of Interest

Prayer Candle Craft and Activity

This simple prayer candle idea is one I got from my friend Laura Alary. She taught it to me when discussing her new book Breathe: A