Ginny Yurich, author of “1,000 Hours Outside” and “Until the Streetlights Come On” challenges parents to help their children choose “green time” over “screen time.” And considering how much time all of us spend on screens, this is a challenge indeed. Today, Ginny offers suggestions for how to make the great outdoors more enticing for our children. She talks about the changes that unstructured play, outside, has made for her children and her own life.
She covers the benefits of outdoor time for children’s physical and mental health and the development of their social skills. And she gives specific ideas for overcoming their reluctance (and our own) to get outside in the first place.
Visit Ginny’s website: 1,000 Hours Outside
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Within the below transcript the bolded text is Hilda Labrada Gore and the regular text is Ginny Yurich
Did you know that on average, people spend only 4 to 7 minutes outside each day but 4 to 7 hours on screens? This is Episode 458, and our guest is Ginny Yurich. Ginny is a homeschooling mother of five and founder of 1,000 Hours Outside, a global movement designed to reclaim childhood. Ginny covers the many developmental benefits of getting our children outdoors and engaging in physical activity, not only for their physical well-being but also for improved cognition and emotional break, creativity, and the development of social skills. Ginny covers the harmful effects of habitual sitting and screen time for our children and offers specific ideas for modeling the importance of outdoor time and for enticing our children to get outside too.
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Visit Ginny’s website: 1,000 Hours Outside
Check out our raw milk website: Real Milk
Find more resources at our website: Weston A. Price
Welcome to the show, Ginny.
Thank you so much for having me. I am thrilled to be here. I’m such a huge fan.
We’re a fan of what you’re doing. Let’s get right to it. How can we help our children choose green time over screen time? Maybe start with one story of a child who fell in love with nature because of the shift your family made, for example.
It’s a big problem. This is a tricky situation. The way that we help our kids is by doing it ourselves. The tricky part is that kids are not outside anymore. They’re not naturally in the neighborhood. There’s a fantastic book by a man named Mike Lanza named Playborhood where he talks about how your neighborhood is dull and boring. When generations past looked out their window, there were other kids playing, and that would entice them out. That does not exist anymore. The whole shift in society has moved inside.
When a kid is trying to decide what to do, he says there’s a 100% chance that something is going to be on TV. There’s a 100% chance that something new is going to be on their social media app but there’s sometimes a 0% chance that there’s going to be another kid outside. What we are doing is being intentional about getting our kids outside, and often that looks like making plans with other families because the most enticing thing for a child is to have someone else to play with. It’s a little bit of extra work. It’s different than how it used to be but it’s very worth it for the family unit as a whole. As parents, we need that outside time and that green time as much as our kids do because we’re immersed in this technological world too.
I often say, “More is caught than taught.” First of all, we need to model it. It’s good for us as well but tell me this. Is it true that on average, we spend 4 to 7 minutes outside each day and 4 to 7 hours on our screens?
It’s a huge imbalance. That’s the issue. We are not anti-screen. We are about bringing back balance because kids need this. That is a fact. It is well-researched that kids and adults but especially kids for this developmental period need it for their cognition, the way their brains are wired, and their emotional respite. They need it for their social skills to practice coming up with something out of nothing, being creative, negotiating rules for pickup sports, and all that stuff.
They need it for their physical bodies. We’re talking about their bone structure, exposure to sunlight, vitamin D, and their body rhythms. I love seeing that you’re up in the morning in your tank top, and it’s twenty degrees outside. This is important for our children’s development. What we’re seeing is a mess. Kids are struggling, and this is one of the main reasons why.
I didn’t realize this until you started talking. I remember when my husband and I were youth group leaders, and we took the kids on a retreat. This young man was running through a field. He got his feet somehow stuck in a little pothole in the field and broke both of his legs. I was puzzled as to why until now. I’m realizing he spent most of his time inside. He probably didn’t have the bone density, not to mention that his diet was probably nutrient-poor. I didn’t think of it until now that he wasn’t used to moving around.
Kids need load-bearing exercises, and so do adults. One of the things that I’ve learned about in the past couple of years is carrying weight. If you’re a parent, and you’re going to go on a hike with your kid, put extra weight on your back because that’s going to help with your bone density. Here’s one of the things that Katy Bowman talks about. She’s one of my favorites from Nutritious Movement, and she’s got great books. She says, “Osteoporosis is a childhood disease that shows up in adulthood.”
Kids need load-bearing exercises and so do adults.
In childhood, kids are meant to jump and land, and that’s what they do naturally. My kids even my teens are constantly jumping up onto things. Can they get up higher? They call it box jump. They’re trying to jump off, and then they jump off. Every time they land, that impact strengthens their skeletal system. They say kids are sitting six hours a day. Most of their childhood has become sitting for schoolwork, sitting to drive to this curricular extracurricular activity, and sitting for screens. Kids are not getting that impact from those load-bearing activities.
Here we are in the winter, same with you. It’s in the twenties. Each season offers new activities for load-bearing work. For example, if you’re in the winter, it’s snowing, and your kid is dragging a sled up a hill, that’s heavy work. They’re moving up through the snow, using their quadriceps, or shoveling. It’s the middle of the summer, and you have them carry a log for the campfire or something like that. Nature provides these opportunities for kids. They’re fun, and they want to do them. While they’re doing them, it’s helping them develop.
I live in a city. What if someone is not a homesteader or a homeschooler, and being outside doesn’t seem very safe? I can see why a parent would choose to have their kid play a video game or something indoors. How can we get them out when we’re not in that scenario?
We’re back to the same thing. We have to go with them or send them with friends, and that depends on their age. People ask this question a lot, “What if I live here? What if I live there?” The answer is that each place offers its unique advantages and disadvantages. There’s a man named Dan Buettner who is with National Geographic, and he talks about people who live into their hundreds or centenarians. He says, “Your ideal is to live in a walkable city so that you can walk to get your groceries, this, or that.”
He would recommend a city. You’re going to go out, walk to the restaurant, or walk to the library. You can do that if you live in a city but maybe you don’t have as much green space, or maybe you can’t send your kid by themselves because there are all sorts of people out there, and it doesn’t feel safe. You have this advantage but a disadvantage. If you live in a suburb, maybe you’ve got a lot of neighborhood kids. Your kid can bike the neighborhood, and there are going to be some other kids. They can knock on the doors but you don’t have the library that you can walk to. You have to drive to that. You’re not close enough. There are advantages and disadvantages.
If you live in the country and you’re in a rural spot, you may have no neighbors. There are no other kids. Maybe you have animals but there’s not that piece of other children to entice your kids out. You’ve got space to roam but you don’t have this neighborhood or this hubbub. My father-in-law grew up in a neighborhood where there were 72 kids on either side of the street within 6 houses or something. There’s always something going on. There’s always someone to play with. If you live out in the country, you may not have that but you have more space. In each situation, there’s something to be celebrated and a challenge. We look at what is it that we can do and try and focus on that.
I want to go back to what you were saying at first. There is this chasm now between virtual life and real life. I’ve never seen a child throw a tantrum because he couldn’t go outside but I have seen toddlers get upset when their parents take the device away from them.
They’re dysregulated. There’s a good book about it. It’s one of my favorite books about it. She talks about how screen time dysregulates you. Kids’ whole systems are off. That flashing screen is meant to lull you into this zombie-like state. It is hard to come in and out of that. I’ve noticed it even with myself. Let’s say we go to the par. I’m there with my kids, and I bring a book a good book. It’s a good story. It’s so easy to pop in and out of that when kids are like, “Mom, look at me. I want to show you this.”
They come over to have a conversation but it is extremely difficult to pop in and out of a screen even for an adult. You’re sucked in a different way. Kids are experiencing that too with a brain that’s less developed, the frontal cortex, and all of that stuff that’s going on. Transitions are hard for kids no matter what. That’s a big transition when it’s messed up a little bit with their nervous system and their eyes. There’s a lot going on there.
Transitions are hard for kids. No matter what.
This author said, “It’s better for a kid to watch an old movie, one that’s a little slower paced, than to have this interactive screen time.” It’s almost like a misnomer. I would think it’s better for my kid to be creating on this app, or it seems like it’s less lazy. She talks about doing a reset. During this reset, they don’t do any interactive screens but she does allow a movie now and then because it’s not quite so jarring to the nervous system.
I can understand why a reset might be needed because many parents use the devices as babysitters. The episode I was talking about of the toddler throwing a tantrum was at a soccer game. One of the parents was on the field. The other parent was on the sidelines with his kid. The kid wanted to be entertained not by what the people were doing on the field and not by creative play but by a device. We’re using it as a babysitter, and then the kid gets accustomed to it and becomes dysregulated.
I found the book. It’s by Victoria Dunckley. She’s a doctor. It’s called Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills. It’s a phenomenal book because I was confused on the topic of what type of screens should we be doing. I saw the same thing. I was sitting at a basketball game. This little boy next to me who couldn’t have been more than five had the phone, and it was right up in his face. He was watching YouTube, and it was inappropriate. It was a situation where his dad was a coach and the grandma was watching the game. They did give it to him as a babysitter but I thought, “You could be talking about so many different things. I’m not going to interject myself. It’s a tricky situation.”
It’s not your business but you’re observing what’s happening. I’ve heard that it’s even bad for their vision because our ancestors were looking out at the horizon. It’s bad for all of our vision, not just the children. They were looking at the horizon, changing things, and scanning the environment. Instead, we’re all looking at devices within six inches of our face.
It’s two-dimensional. There’s a whole piece there too that’s also in that book by Victoria Dunckley. Katy Bowman talks about it too. She says, “When we’re inside, our eyes are always constricted.” There’s a ciliary ring that goes around the eye. It’s always constricted like if you’re lifting weights with your bicep or something like that. It’s even constricted when you sleep. This muscle around your eyes or the ciliary ring is flexed. The only time that it relaxes is when you have distance looking like our ancestors where you’re seeing far. There’s an opportunity to see far.
We’re seeing this major increase in nearsightedness. I read a book called Renegade Beauty by Nadine Artemis. She was saying it’s three hours. The ophthalmologists are saying it’s three hours. A lot of people are saying that kids need about three hours of time outside a day for optimal growth and development of their bodies. When we were kids, that was naturally woven into society. We were at my parents for Thanksgiving, and we walked to my elementary school during the afternoon for something to do with all the kids. It’s a mile walk to the elementary school and then a mile back. That’s an hour plus.
You’re talking to your friends. You’re up in the morning. You’re getting that morning sunlight. We’re doing it through the winter, the spring, and all these different seasons. We have three recesses in elementary school. There was morning, lunch, and afternoon, and they were all 45-ish minutes. This amount of outside time used to be woven into the fabric of society, and now it falls on the parents’ shoulders, which is a tall order but it’s also a good thing because it’s getting us out the door too.
Parents in generations past were not outside that much. They were shooing the kids out the door, and they were indoors but now we all need it. You’re out there. I’m out there. We need this exposure to nature and this exposure to full-spectrum light. It becomes this family thing, this family goal, or this family intention. It’s doing stuff for all of us, which is a huge gift.
Coming up, Ginny gets specific about the multifaceted developmental benefits of outdoor free play and mixed-age play for our children.
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I need to know. What was the spark for you that first got you thinking about 1,000 Hours Outside? How long does that take within the course of a year?
It takes us the whole year. It’s about three hours a day. Some people get done quickly but it’s cold. For us, it takes the whole year. It’s hard. It is. It’s a simple premise but it is hard to set aside the time to say no to other things that seem worthwhile, to get other families together, and to go. Crossing the threshold is often difficult. It’s too hot. There are too many bugs. It’s cold out there. We can’t find our gloves and all of these different things but it always is worth it.
We have not had one experience except for one where we came home. We have been doing this for twelve years. The kids were little. It was too windy and freezing, and everyone was crying. One time, we came home but other than that, we have spent thousands of hours outside as a family. We never regretted it. What happened was that I struggled as a young mom. When I had little kids, I was in a dark place. I did not enjoy being a mom. I was overwhelmed with the amount of needs from dawn to dusk and through the night. It never ended.
I was down about that because I was so excited to be a mom, and here I was in this place struggling so badly, trying to take my kids to these different programs, and expending so much energy. My blood pressure was through the roof. You’re trying to get your kids out the door, and you go for this 45-minute thing. You’re exhausted, and it’s only 11:00 in the morning. You come back, and you’ve got this expansive time ahead of you.
The change for me happened through a friend. She told me at MOPS, which is Mothers of Preschoolers. They changed their name to MomCo. She came to MOPS one day and said, “Charlotte Mason says that kids should be outside for 4 to 6 hours a day, and there’s a caveat whenever the weather is tolerable.” I had no idea who Charlotte Mason was, and I also thought that idea was so ridiculous. Everything we do is a half hour. What are these kids going to do for 4 to 6 hours?
This friend asked me to try it. I remember thinking, “This is not going to work. What are the kids going to do? They’re little. They can’t even play Play-Doh for more than fifteen minutes. What are they going to do for four hours?” I agreed to go with this friend to a park that didn’t have a play structure. We’re talking about grass, a shallow creek bed, ducks, and some rocks. We go to this place. I thought, “This is going to be the worst day ever. It’s four hours. We’re meeting at 9:00 in the morning and staying until 1:00. All we’re bringing is a picnic.”
I’m thinking, “I should bring all our toy collection and all the things.” She said, “You go and don’t bring anything.” Those kids played for four hours. For the first time, I got to exhale and have a conversation with a friend. I felt mothered. I felt like Mother Nature mothered me. I tell people that it was my first good day as a mom. I had a 3-year-old, a 1-year-old, and a 6-month-old, and I had not yet had a good day as a mom. That changed my whole life. We can do childhood differently.
This happened in 2011. The past few years have been this path of reading the research that shows emphatically that when we allow our kids to play outside freely, we do not have to organize a scavenger hunt, insert ourselves, and put in so much energy. When we allow them to play freely, it helps them in every facet of their development down to their academics because complex movements make the brain more complex. It grows the structures of the brain and the neural wiring.
Kids innately engage in complex movements, grow, and they become masters at one thing. You look at your baby. They become master crawlers. They got it, and then they inch into something different. They’re pulling themselves up, using the couch or whatever it is, toddling, running, and then stepping up on things. They learn how to jump.
That happens through childhood and all the way through adulthood. My teens were going whitewater rafting and skateboarding. We’re in Michigan. We will go to the Upper Peninsula. They will jump off the rocks down into Lake Superior below. They’re doing these complex things with their bodies, and it has grown from when they were little. That is helping their brain structures grow as well.
This is so beautiful, and it makes me so happy because you didn’t need the science to know how it felt. You accepted your friend’s invitation to try the challenge, and it changed everything. I want to back up because you talked early on about this idea of inviting another family. In your first book, 1,000 Hours Outside, you offer many suggestions for activities or things to help the kids look forward to the green time because I imagine sometimes there’s resistance, “I can’t find my glove. It’s too hot. I don’t want to.” That might be the parent saying that. How do you overcome the resistance? Are there any other little tips or tricks that can help us incentivize our children to get outside?
I don’t think hardly anyone wants to go outside. We have five kids. They’re ages 15 down to 7. We’re in this sweet spot of parenting here. My kids don’t ever want to go outside, and truth be told, neither do I. I want to sit by the fire and read a book or be inside in the air conditioning. I want to clean and organize my house. You have all these things that you want to do. For us, having a goal is important. We have a goal for things that are difficult. We don’t have a goal for things that are easy and that come naturally.
We have a goal. I have this intention because I want our life to be balanced, and I also want to model to our kids that you have to fill your life with what you want to fill it with first and leave the leftover time for screens and not the other way around. Practically speaking, I do think that friends are one of the key components because my kids don’t ever want to go outside but if there are friends, they will say yes anytime. They want to go outside. We bring good food. That’s another thing. We’re going to bring healthy stuff. We can get it out of the cookbook from Wise Traditions and all these different things.
You bring something special. That’s going to make a difference too. You can make small shifts. Take your schoolwork outside. It depends on the time of year and where you live. Take your schoolwork, board games, and meals outside. I hear families that say this. This sounds fun. Their kid gets out of school, and there’s a group of 4 or 5 moms that say, “We’re going to stick around for 45 minutes.” The kid gets out of school, and as soon as school is over, that playground is available because it’s after school. It’s paid for by the tax dollars. It’s a public place you can go.
The kids get out and run to the playground, and the parents bring the afterschool snack. They have 45 minutes to connect with their friends of different grades, which is incredibly important for development. It’s that mixed-age play. Dr. Peter Gray talks about that all the time in his book, Free to Learn. In general, kids are supposed to engage in mixed-age play. It’s one of the most important ways that they socialize and learn. It’s part of their actual learning.
You could have a group with all the members of the family. Maybe you have 2 or 3 kids, and everyone is there with the toddlers. Everyone goes to the playground for 45 minutes after school. That’s part of your routine and your rhythm. Everyone would have something to look forward to. You would build such a good community. There are so many ideas and options.
Short hikes are a great start. If you are a family where you’re like, “We haven’t been doing this,” can you find a hike that’s a half mile or a mile and give yourself a little bit of time for it? Once you’re out there, kids find things that interest them. You find things that interest you. You have conversations. It takes a little while, and it’s a beautiful time of connection together. There are a lot of ideas on how to get started.
One day, I was hooked. It took one day. That’s it because parents were overburdened. There’s so much going on in our minds and so many things. There are dishes in the sink, work that needs to be done, and laundry that needs to be folded. This kid needs that. It’s high-pressure and high-stress. We’re often alone. We don’t have family or friends to share that burden. When we step outside, it gives us a chance to step away from all of that yet not neglect our kids’ development. It’s quite the opposite. We are helping them with their development.
You can be confident that this time away from the indoors is benefiting your family in untold and also lasting ways. These neuro structure rewiring, the bone density, and your eyesight are all lasting benefits. When you’re gone, they’re going to still be receiving these benefits from that childhood time outside. It does a lot. Having some intention about it, celebrating it, meeting up with friends, bringing some good food, and finding some simple ways that you can start to incorporate nature time will make a difference for your family.
You’ve created this community where families are on board taking up the gauntlet that you’ve thrown down and the challenge of 1,000 hours outside. What anecdotes or stories have you heard from them about the changes they have noticed in their family dynamics, their children, or themselves?
I get stories every day. Every single day, people send and say, “This changed my life. This changed my relationship with my child. We’re laughing so much more. We’re enjoying life so much more. We tried so many things that we normally wouldn’t do.” One thing that people say regularly, which is probably my favorite, is they say, “I would have missed this moment if not for this challenge. If not for being intentional about getting outside, I would have missed this sunrise or this camping trip.”
It changes your perspective. You look at life and think, “How can I infuse these memories?” When your life is the same, your brain encodes that as one experience but when you add some variability to it, it encodes as a new experience. Nature always gives us a new experience even if we go to the same place because the weather is changing. There are different animals, and different things happen.
Our kids can remember, “The last time we were here, we talked about this conversation.” There’s something about that sensory input. It makes your life feel fuller and longer because you have all these new memories that you’re making together. We are infusing our lives even if it’s just a little bit. A walk to school or a walk to the park feels like it’s adding years to our lives. It’s a beautiful thing.
There’s something about that sensory input and so it makes your life feel fuller and longer.
The kids are never going to be like, “I remember that time I got to level five on that Mario Bros game.” That’s not a memory. It’s the same thing over and over. They’re disappointed when you take the device away because there’s this addiction factor. One thing we haven’t even talked about is how stress levels lower the benefits. I would love for you to explain a little bit of unstructured play. You are not saying, “Let’s make up this game.” You’re letting them explore. What’s the benefit of unstructured play? What’s the benefit of letting your kid get bored and do things without your guidance?
We live in a different world than it used to be. We used to live in a world where you would go to college, or maybe you wouldn’t. You would graduate from high school and enter a career path. Often people would stay with the same company for 30 years. They would move up but for the most part, they would stay with the same skillset, the same people, and the same work culture often for a lifetime, and then they would retire. That does not exist anymore for hardly anyone.
The current research shows that the average kid will have four job changes in the first decade of their adult life. That’s four sets of coworkers. That’s four sets of skills. Here, we sit doing a show. That didn’t exist when I graduated from high school. Who knew that this was going to be a career path or something that you would do? Peter Gray calls it self-structured. I do love that terminology. They’re structuring it. They’re coming up with something out of nothing. They’re being imaginative and risky. They’re learning how to negotiate and compromise because kids intrinsically want to play.
They’re not going to offend their friend who’s going to run home crying and quit. They’re internally trying to make sure that they’re being assertive but not too assertive. This is helping them learn those nuances of social relationships. It’s doing so much for our kids when we don’t direct. They have this childhood of eighteen years, and then they’re stepping out into a world that is changing very rapidly where certain career paths become obsolete almost overnight. AI changes everything. We don’t know what’s coming.
We have to have kids who are quick and adaptable and can make decisions. If they spend eighteen years of their life where for the most part, adults are making every decision for them, “You do this homework. You do this after school. You’re in this activity that’s structured by adults,” the adults are telling you where to go on the basketball court, what music practice you should do, and all of that, then our kids enter adulthood, and they’re not ready for this type of world that we’re living in.
I talked to a woman named Dr. Jean Twenge who is a generational changes expert. She’s got some fascinating books. One of hers is called iGen, which stands for Internet Generation. It’s one of my favorite books. She as a college professor says she’s noticing that kids are now coming to college, and they can’t even make simple decisions without texting their parents. That’s the change. Child-directed or self-directed play, open time, boredom, and space are what help children learn what makes them tick and how to make their decisions to enhance their lives.
That gives me pause. The space you’re describing is important for us as adults as well. I’m so happy we have had you on the show. There’s so much more we would love to talk about but time is a factor. I do want to ask you the last question that I love to pose on the show. If the audience could do one thing to improve their health, what would you recommend that they do?
You know my answer. If I were to go outside the box of saying, “Go outside,” I would say that the thing that I’ve learned about the most over the past couple of years is to move when you’re outside and move with some weight on your back. That might be your baby. You’ve got that baby in the pouch. This is good, especially if you’re a mother. It’s going to help your skeletal system.
We have been trying to get outside in the morning, especially before noon. You want to get those certain rays of light. It’s an interesting thing to learn about the different colors of the light and the full spectrum. That morning light is very important for over 100 bodily systems that depend on that day and night cycle. If you could get out in the morning, get out with your children, move, take a walk around the block, walk to school, and put some weight on your back.
There’s a fantastic book called 52 Ways to Walk by Annabel Abbs, one of my absolute favorites, where she talks about thing after thing. Twelve minutes of walking changes all of these different things. She talks about getting out in the cold, the brown fat, and how important it is to have our bodies exposed to these different temperatures. That’s a favorite one of mine. If you’re going to get outside, add a little bit of movement to it and try and get outside often in the morning.
I’m going to do that. Thank you for all of these insights, Ginny. It has been a fantastic conversation.
Thank you for having me. What a thrill.
Our guest was Ginny Yurich. You can visit 1,000 Hours Outside to learn more. I am Hilda Labrada Gore, the host and producer of this show for the Weston A. Price Foundation. You can find me at HolisticHilda.com. For a recent review from Carly FCLW. She said, “This is by far my favorite show out there, a wealth of knowledge from everyone on the show. I have learned so much, and I appreciate the grace they have when voicing other opinions. Keep it up. I’m forever thankful.”
Carly, thank you for your review. We appreciate it. If you would like to leave us a review, go to Apple Podcasts, click on ratings and reviews, and give us as many stars as you would like, and maybe you will get a shout-out at the end of a show in 2024. Thank you so much for reading, my friend. Stay well, and remember to keep your feet on the ground and your face to the sun.
- 1,000 Hours Outside
- Real Milk
- One Earth Health
- Marithyme Seafood Company
- Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills
- Renegade Beauty
- 1,000 Hours Outside
- Free to Learn
- 52 Ways to Walk
- Apple Podcasts ‐ Wise Traditions
About Ginny Yurich
Ginny Yurich is a homeschooling mother of five and founder of 1000 Hours Outside, a global movement designed to reclaim childhood. Along with her husband, Josh, Ginny is a full-time creator and curator of the 1000 Hours Outside lifestyle brand, which includes a robust online store, an app, and books. She also hosts the 1000 Hours Outside weekly podcast. A thought leader in the world of nature-based play and its benefits for children, Ginny lives with her family in the Ann Arbor area of Michigan.
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