Room for another challenge? 1000 Hours Outside

Have you heard about the 1000 Hours Outside movement? It was created by Ginny Yurich to encourage people of all ages to spend time outside, embracing nature and setting aside screens. (For detailed information, visit the official site).

This movement has also been a game-changer for developing programming and partnerships at my library ever since a coworker (Thanks, Connie!) discovered 1000 Hours in 2020. By the first summer of the pandemic, families everywhere seemed exhausted by screen-time. 1000 Hours Outside offers the perfect framework for engaging families of all ages and adding a twist to outdoor programming that we were already doing—and you probably are, too.

From story time and story walks to tie dye parties and chalk the walk afternoons—during much of the pandemic, every in-person program we offered took place outdoors. Why not reinvigorate the classics with a challenge?

Wait, another challenge? Between Summer Reading, Winter Reading, 1000 Books Before Kindergarten, etc it seems like we are always planning, promoting, prepping, and running a challenge. But hear me out! The movement’s premise is simple: purposefully spend time outside every day, in every season. Reap the benefits of matching screen time (most kids average 1200 hours per year) with time spent in nature.

We reached out to the Wapsi River Environmental Education Center, a local conservation organization focused on educating the public about natural history, live animals, and so much more. After some plotting, we decided to offer a joint local 1000 Hours Outside challenge for Scott County, Iowa, with permission from Ginny Yurich. Participants can pick up a tracker log from the library or the Wapsi Center and the rest is simple: spend time outside! 

There are no milestone rewards for this program. Participants can start tracking anytime and return their tracker in late December/early January for a chance to win an overnight cabin stay at the Wapsi Center. There are no rules—you can even turn in your tracker with less than 1000 hours outside completed, as long as you make an effort. The challenge restarts every January. 

Besides the easy set-up of this challenge, another great aspect is the ability to scale tie-in programs to fit every age group, from toddlers to seniors. Nature play and time spent outdoors is important at every age and the ideas for library-based programs are endless. 

Here are some highlights from our 1000 Hours Outside-inspired programs:

  • Misunderstood Animals: Naturalists from the Wapsi Center used live animals (snakes!) and furs from coyotes, possums, skunks, and more to teach kids about commonly feared or disliked animals. We also read aloud I (Don’t) Like Snakes by Nicola Davies. 
  • All About Bats: Kids listened to a read aloud of Amara and the Bats by Emma Reynolds, a naturalist talked about bats with lots of props, we watched bats on a live cam via a bat sanctuary, and then decorated a bat house to install outside the library.
  • Adventure Kits: Monthly grab-and-go kits containing supplies and guidance for a nature-based craft or activity, such as dissecting owl pellets, creating ice ornaments, and more.
  • Explorer Kits: Circulating kits for all ages. Patrons can check out a backpack of books, tools, and prompts for exploring a nature-themed topic, such as bird watching and animal tracking.
  • Snowshoeing: The Wapsi Center provided snowshoes in child and adult sizes and led us on a journey through the snowy field outside the library.

*Photos were taken with permission by Emily Haage at the Scott County Library System in Eldridge, IA.

This winter I plan to offer a Snowy Story Walk event—bundle up, tromp through the snow, and read a story as you go! Head inside for cocoa and a craft. Events with live animals are always a favorite and will make a return soon, too.

Does your library promote 1000 Hours Outside? What nature-inspired programming do you offer your patrons? How can you adapt this global movement to fit your community? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Emily Haage is the Youth Services Coordinator for the Scott County Library System in rural Iowa. She is also a member of the Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee. You can reach her at emily.arnold@scottcountylibrary.org. The views reflected here are her own.

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