On a hike in November of 2015, my husband and I decided to challenge our family to get outdoors every weekend for one year. We named our challenge 52 Weeks of Nature. The goal wasn’t to become an outdoor family, although we did, or to become experts on the outdoors, although we learned a lot. Our goal was simple, we wanted to ditch the electronics and focus on our kids in the very environment that fostered our relationship as husband and wife. The implementation and the rules were as simple as the name – just get outside!

Basic Guidelines 

Being successful on our challenge meant that on the weekend we could do anything from spending time gardening or playing Frisbee in the backyard to something bigger like venturing on a hike. It made it easier and more attainable to have those simpler outdoor activities count as part of our challenge. Getting outdoors, after all, is about the act of stepping outside each day with the intention of interacting with the natural world. Let’s be honest, when you have a full-time job, a home and two young kids sometimes there isn’t a whole lot of energy left over for an extravagant outdoor adventure.

 We now call weekends in the backyard a wildcard weekend, because in a deck of 52 cards wildcards are infrequent and usually are extremely helpful during a card game. Similar to our project it was nice to have a wildcard weekend where we still got outside but with minimal pressure.

 Although wildcard weekends were nice, we found out that hiking was our activity of choice and we wanted to get into the mountains, amongst the pines and on the trails. The outdoor lifestyle is addicting and the backyard, while a great option didn’t rejuvenate us the way hiking did.

Lessons Learned 

Our path to becoming an outdoor family included a lot of stories and lessons learned:

 Money

We always thought that hiking would be free but sometimes there is a fee to hike on a trail. There were many times we had no cash.

 Unprepared

There were many times we arrived unprepared for the weather like the time our 21-month-old was screaming bloody murder because we didn’t dress him warm enough for the conditions.

In Colorado, you always need a raincoat and during the winter and spring, you may also need a windproof jacket. We have a box in the trunk of our car designated for outdoor gear. It includes Yak Tracks (yes, we bought new ones), hats, gloves, extra socks, carriers for the kids, hiking boots, a first aid kit, flashlight, map, phone charger, trail mix, diapers, wipes, antibacterial hand soap, rain gear.

 Unpredictable Weather

We learnt that you need to be prepared for unpredictable weather. Weather can change in an instance like the hailstorm we encountered at the end of one of our hikes. Ouch, hail hurts!

 Gear can be very important!

We accidentally gave our yak tracks to Goodwill on the way out of town before we embarked on an icy unsafe trail! While we intentionally gave many items away that day, we did not intend to include our $140 worth of yak tracks. As fate would have it, during our hike on that icy, unsafe trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, I slipped on ice and fell like a ton of bricks. I was carrying a then 13-month-old MJ in a front carrier. Luckily, we were both unharmed although my butt, head, and ego were slightly bruised.

Family Bonding

My kids also learned about my phobia of bees. While camping in July, a bumble bee landed in MJ’s hair. I screamed something incoherent and froze up like a statue. Joe, my husband, reacted swiftly and whacked the bee out of MJ’s hair. Thank goodness for his precision as had he missed he could have knocked my son over! The commotion peaked AJ’s (who was 3) curiosity as he began to ask questions like: “mama why did you scream?” “mama is the bee okay”? “mama why are you afraid of bees”? Lots of questions that I attempted to answer.

 Food preparation

Early on in 52 Weeks of Nature, we under packed food and quickly learned that hungry children and their parents in the woods are not a good mix. Preparing enough food is also important for the budget. There were many times when we stopped for food and spent money unnecessarily (because we hadn’t prepared enough for our outdoor adventure). We are so much better at food preparation now. For hikes, we usually make four peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, toss in fruit, cliff bars and or crackers of some sort along with some water. In addition to food prep, we learned about clothing.

Clothing

 We have learned a lot this year including the fact that we aren’t the only outdoor family in existence. There are hundreds if not thousands of outdoor families who we have connected with via Instagram and Twitter. We are a community of families who are cultivating the next generation of environmental stewards. What began as a yearlong challenge quickly turned into a lifestyle. 52 Weeks of Nature is a family motto, it’s a way of life now.

52 Weeks of Nature 2017

The first year of 52 Weeks of Nature has been mostly about how to get outdoors as a family. Moving into 2017 we are going to change things up a bit by creating outdoors themes for each month. So far we have “Sledding and Hot Chocolate” for January and “Snowshoeing and Cider” in February. The remainder of the themes will reveal themselves to us as we continue to respond to nature’s call for us to raise our kids outdoors.

A Passion

Along with creating outdoor themes for 2017, I am starting to experience my passion for the outdoors as an activist. My children get outdoors because their parents love it. What about kids whose parents don’t love the outdoors or kids who live in urban city centers with sparse access to green spaces? I have also experienced a deeper connection with nature as a mother. I find myself wanting to teach my kids about fragile ecosystems and our responsibility to preserve them. Through 52 Weeks of Nature, I have learned that I’m a budding environmentalist and would love nothing more than to raise children who love and respect nature and the planet.

As we continue our outdoor lifestyle into the New Year we fully anticipate more growing pains and hilarious stories. We also look forward to developing new skills through new outdoor activities and perhaps most importantly plenty of quality time as a family. 52 Weeks of Nature changed the way we spend time together on the weekends. It has enhanced my life and the relationships that I have with my kids and Joe. There isn’t an environment more soothing, nurturing or healing then nature. In the words of my father’s favorite fictional character, Bilbo Baggins “It’s a dangerous business, going out of your door, you step onto the road and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to”.

 

Kaitlin and Her Family:

We are Joe and Kaitlin; parents of two boys – AJ and MJ, owners of full time careers, and CEO’s of our household (i.e.,  doing endless loads of laundry, dishes, and paying bills like money grows on trees). We first became parents 2 1/2 years ago, and as you can imagine our new addition changed our lives! You can follow their adventures on their blog and on their Instagram account.

 

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