Family Challenges That Promote Time in Nature

Family Challenges That Promote Time in Nature

We are fast approaching that time of year when we reflect on the successes (and failures) of the past 12 months and look ahead to new goals for the future. While our goals may change from year to year (especially now that our kiddos are getting older), my family always includes some sort of outdoor goal to work towards throughout the year. Some years we succeed in making it happen. In other years, your goals get sidelined for various reasons (I’m looking at you 2020!).

Regardless, one thing that always helps to keep us motivated toward reaching a goal is a challenge. In this post, we go over the benefits of choosing an outdoor challenge for the new year, tips for staying motivated, and some popular family-friendly challenges to choose from.

Benefits of Outdoor Challenges

We know that getting outside is good for us. It reduces the risk and effects of anxiety and depression, improves immune function and sleep, boosts creativity and focus, etc (you can read more about the health benefits here (https://www.webmd.com/balance/ss/slideshow-health-benefits-nature). However, choosing an outdoor family challenge provides other benefits as well.

Working towards any challenge as a family has the added bonus of built-in motivation and accountability. With the whole family working towards a common goal, you’re less likely to flake out or skip days. In addition, family challenges can bring families closer together, build stronger relationships, and produce fun memories to look back on. It also teaches kids how to make, track, and work hard toward reaching goals, which will serve them well as they get older.

Tips for Staying Motivated Throughout the Year

Right around February is when people start to fizzle out with those New Year resolutions and goals. On the other hand, specific challenges take out some of the guesswork on how you will attain your goal of “getting outside more”. Here are some tips for choosing a challenge and staying motivated throughout the year.

Create a SMART Goal Around the Challenge

While a challenge can be tailored to fit the needs and interests of your family, they generally have specific parameters to reach to complete the challenge. Using the SMART goal framework (see chart below), you can ensure the challenge makes sense for your family and tweak it as needed to make it attainable. For example, if you want to try the 1000 Hours Outside Challenge but know that 1000 hours is a bit of a stretch, tweak the goal to make it 500 or 750 hours outside instead. Check out this post for more information and examples for creating your own SMART goals.

Infographic about making SMART Goals

Tracking Your Progress

Find a way to track your progress that works for you and your family. Here are three options I have used in the past to easily keep track of progress and keep my family motivated:

  1. Visual Charts – Who doesn’t love a good visual? This is especially effective if you have young kids since it helps them feel involved in the process of tracking progress. Many popular challenges come with visual trackers to mark off hours outside or miles on the trail. You can also make your own and personalize it for your family. Once you have the tracker, keep it in a place that is visited often by the whole family, such as the fridge or a prominent wall in your home.
  2. Use an App – In the age of ever-increasing technology, apps can make tracking goal progress a cinch. Some challenges even come with their own apps to help you keep track along the way. Other apps (such as Strava or Map My Run) help you keep track of mileage or the number of activities done.
  3. Use a Journal – Journaling is a wonderful way to not only keep track of your progress, but also note down memories, insert photos, or include more info on the activity completed. Journals also make for great keepsakes to look back on as your children get older. In fact, I recently caught my older son looking through our journal from the 52 Hike Challenge we completed years ago and telling his little brother his favorite parts of the challenge. They have decided that they want to complete the challenge again so that little bro can be a part of it this time around.
A Hiking Journal decorated with stickers from the 52 Hike Challenge, Hike Like a Woman, and others

Celebrate Small Victories

Longer challenges can get tedious when you don’t have a lot to celebrate along the way. Celebrating milestones is a great way to keep your family motivated throughout the year. This could be an ice cream outing after completing the first 10 hikes, a trip to the zoo after reaching a certain number of outdoor hours, or anything that will keep your family invested. You can amp up the enthusiasm by sitting down as a family to choose the milestones and mini-celebrations ahead of time. Ask your kiddos for suggestions and jot down the decided-upon choices in a visible spot.

Challenges to Consider

There are a variety of outdoor challenges out there that can take the guesswork out of coming up with a goal for the new year. Many also come with a social media group, newsletter, or other motivational options to keep you going. Here are some of the most popular outdoor challenges to consider in the coming year:

1000 Hours Outside

The focus of the free 1000 Hours Outside Movement is to match screen time (the amount of time your kiddos get in front of a screen) with green time (time in nature). The average child gets about 1,200 hours of screen time each year. That’s a little over 3 hours a day. Rather than completely cutting out screens, this challenge aims to encourage parents to choose more time in nature whenever possible. There is a very active Facebook group filled with fun ideas for getting outside along with encouragement from others. There are also numerous printable trackers available to help you track your progress. Does 1000 hours sound like a crazy huge amount? Many participants choose smaller goals to start (such as 500 hours) and go from there. The whole point of the challenge is to make time in nature a habit and a higher priority for the whole family.

A tracking chart half filled in for the 1000 Hour Outside Challenge

52 Hike Challenge

This challenge started as a simple, singular challenge to hike 52 times in a year. It has blossomed to include 6 different challenge options with different objectives for each option. For example, the kid’s series challenge involves completing 52 outdoor activities (including camping!) with your kids throughout the year. The challenges are free to sign up for, but the add-ons really make the challenges more fun. They include things like medals, patches, activity books, journal downloads, etc.

365 Mile Challenge

As the title suggests, the objective of this challenge is to get 365 intentional miles throughout the year. This could be walking, hiking, swimming, etc. Adding in the “outdoor” aspect makes this a great challenge to complete as a family. They also offer mini-challenges throughout the year to boost motivation and add a little extra fun to the mix. The $35 registration fee includes access to the tracking app along with access to the motivational community of participants. You can also opt to add on packages that include a finisher medal, patches, etc.

Virtual Challenges

Does your family enjoy earning medals and other fun SWAG? You can find various distance-based virtual challenges where you can track distance and earn medals along the way. Personally, my family prefers the Conqueror Virtual Challenges. There are a ton of challenge options to choose from, and they are based on either real locations or worlds from literary fiction (such as Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones). You get access to their tracking app that shows your distance on a map powered by Google, so you can look around the surrounding location. You also get postcards along the way based on points of interest you have passed on the map. The online Facebook community is super supportive as well. Also, the medals are absolutely gorgeous!

Medals earned from the Conqueror virtual challenges including Ring Road, Ring of Kerry, and Lands End

Local Challenges

You may be surprised how many local outdoor challenges there are in your area. As a military family, we have moved around to various locations within the United States, and we have found a local outdoor challenge at each one of our locations (such as the Lake George 12ster in Upstate New York and the Paddle the Peake Challenge in Virginia). Check out this website for a list of some popular local challenges throughout the United States. You can also ask around in local outdoor social media groups to see if there are local challenges in your area.

Make it Your Own: Coming Up With Your Own Outdoor Family Challenge

If you’re looking for a more personal and specific outdoor challenge, consider creating your own! This is a great way to factor in the interests and needs of each member of your family along with the outdoor spaces available to you. Whether you want to hit every playground in your city, visit every state park in your state, camp in 10 new locations, or visit 5 National Parks throughout the year, you can create your own challenge and make it happen!

The SMART Goal chart above is a great place to start when creating your unique challenge. Just be sure to come up with a way to track your progress and stay motivated throughout the year (or however long you give yourself to complete your family challenge). Let your kiddos help by asking for their input on what they want the challenge to look like. You could even invite friends or family to join you along the way. There is no wrong way to do this, and you may find that creating your own family challenge becomes a tradition in the years to come!

A family with four children hiking together along a dirt trail

Challenge Your Family to Make the Outdoors a Priority This Year

Regardless of which challenge you choose, we hope that you’ll find yourself enjoying all that nature has to offer in the upcoming new year. With technological advances constantly bringing us new ways to enjoy screens, it’s important to make a conscious effort to get our families outdoors. The benefits of spending time outside are too numerous to ignore, and raising our kids to love and respect nature is becoming increasingly important. How will you get your family outside consistently in the new year?


The author and her family hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park

Rebecca is a transplant Coloradoan living in Virginia with her husband (Derek) and their two boys. She’s a teacher turned freelance writer/ homeschool mom working towards exploring as much of the east coast as possible before the next move takes her family elsewhere. You can follow her family hiking, kayaking, SUPing, geocaching, camping, and all things outdoor adventuring on Instagram @frazzlednaturemom .