Highlight Reel Helps Set Goal for New Year

I have never been very good at New Year’s resolutions.

It’s not that I don’t keep them, it’s that Dec. 31 always sneaks up on me and I am unprepared. A friend of mine suggested that we try looking back instead of looking forward. I liked that idea. As January rolled around, my daughters and I started talking about our highlight reel from 2013. What stood out? What were the most salient memories of 2013?

I was not at all surprised that our vacation topped their lists. When my youngest said, “Michigan,” I requested that she elaborate. She insisted, “You know, when we went to Michigan.” I asked, “You loved that moment when we drove across the state line?” My sarcasm was poorly placed and lost on her 5-year-old brain. I clarified, “What did you like about Michigan?” As the answers rolled off her tongue, I appreciated that every memory was an interaction with nature playing spies on the beach, freezing in the lake, riding the scooter around the park, finding that hidden pool under the bridge.

Once we headed down that line of thinking, both girls acknowledged that their highlight reels took place outside for the most part, with the major exceptions being making pasta with Pap and the enviable Christmas morning. Even though both girls love to “play” on the iPad or the computer, and watch more television more than I would care to admit, no time spent with technology or a screen made the cut -it simply wasn’t on the list of highlights.

It got me thinking that parents used to respond to boredom by suggesting, “Go outside and play.” Do we do that any more? Do kids still take off on their bikes and have adventures at the edges? My fondest memories of childhood are almost all outside with the exception of holidays gathered around a dining room table.

As an educator, I know that time spent outside is critical. Students need at least one-half hour to an hour of outside play EVERY DAY. If you told me as a child that I had to go outside for an hour a day, I would have been upset that my time outside was being limited to only an hour. How did we get here? Have we scared ourselves and our children away from nature? Do I “play” outside enough? Do I send my daughters the message that I treasure nature as much in my actions as I do with my words?

I love Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods” for the ways it encourages us to get our children and ourselves back outside. In his work, Louv explains, “Parents, educators, other adults, institutions -the culture itself – may say one thing to children about nature’s gifts, but so many of our actions and messages – especially the ones we cannot hear ourselves deliver – are different. And children hear very well.”

We know a sedentary life is harmful to our children. We tell them as much. We know the best way for them to be active is to get them outside – now we have to put our actions where our minds are.

Turns out I made a New Year’s resolution after all: Get outside more and make sure my children do, too. Before I know it, they will be on their own. Childhood will pass too fast. I want their annual highlight reels to be full of rich experiences, and for them it is obviously the adventures we have at the water’s edge or under a group of pine trees.

If you are looking for us this year, we’ll be outside.

– Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini is head of school at Wheeling Country Day. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She and her husband have two daughters, ages 5 and 9.