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  • Rebecca P. Cohen

The Only New Year's Resolution I Made

Once, I made a New Year’s resolution and kept it.

I had convinced my two young boys, Harmond and Warner, to drop their electronics and join me for a walk near our home. All three of us were bundled up against the bitter cold and there was a muffled quiet all around us. As we approached a cluster of bare trees, the boys and I discussed how far we could see now that the leaves had fallen. And suddenly, it felt as though the spare landscape and dreary gray sky had come alive with sound and color. Up above, a squirrel was scampering from branch to branch. We flipped a rock over and found squirmy creatures beneath it, and then we continued our walk, crunching along on a fragrant bed of dead leaves. All three of us were enjoying ourselves tremendously. It was exciting to be outside while everyone else was hibernating indoors. Puffs of steam left our mouths whenever we spoke, but we no longer minded the cold. In fact, as we cracked jokes and ran to look at each other’s discoveries, we soon became warm enough to peel off a layer or two. Reflecting on how naturally happy we were whenever we spent time outside, how much we enjoyed each other’s company, and how time seemed to slow down in a magical way, I thought, “What if?”

What if I got outside every single day, and what if I could get my kids to come along? It would be easier to pull this off in the middle of summer, but what if we did it all year round, no matter what the weather was like? At the time, the idea zapped me like a lightning bolt. But really I had been building up to this challenge for a long time.

When my older son was four years old, I took him to a classmate’s birthday party at a local park. Gazing up at the huge trees, Harmond asked, “Are we in the forest, Mommy?” I was intrigued but also dismayed by the difference in our perspectives. To me, a forest was an expanse of trees in the wilderness. To my son, this park had the densest concentration of trees that he had ever seen. My husband and I had demanding corporate jobs, and spending time outside with the kids was limited to precious weekends and rare vacations. Back then, I was always rushing to spend time inside—rushing to work, racing down office corridors, eating lunch at my desk between meetings, and then dashing out to pick up my boys so they wouldn’t be the last ones at school.

On weekdays, it felt as though we were racing through our home rituals—breakfast, dinner, bath, and bedtime routines—and then my husband and I would collapse in front of the TV, exhausted. Our time outside was limited to getting in and out of the car. Family meals out on the patio were our only chance for some fresh air, except for Saturday mornings when I’d tinker in the garden and the kids would play in the sandbox, after which scheduled activities like birthday parties and soccer practice would take over.

Harmond’s question about the forest triggered a slow realization for me—I wasn’t living my life the way I wanted, and I wasn’t giving my family the rich experience of enjoying the outdoors, which was something I had grown up with. We lived in a suburban area known more for its retail shopping mall than green spaces and sidewalks. But that’s no excuse—the park we went to for that birthday party was only a mile away.

Time outside means sunshine and fresh air. It means laughter, learning, and unstructured playtime. It means activity and exercise, reflection and conversation, and making time stand still. I began to spend more time outside with my children, having them help me in the garden. Even on weekdays I encouraged my sons to play outside for a few minutes before we headed to school. We also biked or walked to school whenever possible, rather than driving and waiting in the long drop-off line for cars. The more I made time for these activities, the closer my family grew, the more fun we had, and the more I learned about myself. Being outside with my kids reduced my stress and allowed me to engage in their sense of curiosity and wonder. It made me realize why I had almost left the financial services industry three years before to pursue landscape design: I wanted to be outside.

On that cold, dreary New Year’s Day, making a silent commitment to get outside with the kids every single day—even for a few minutes—felt like a huge challenge. I wasn’t sure how I would pull it off in the middle of winter. But when I thought about the incredible benefits of outdoor time, I just knew that I was determined to try.

Years later, the one New Year’s resolution I kept still resonates with my family and others through the book Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids (Sourcebooks). More than any other resolution I could have made then or today, fifteen minutes outside daily has given us memories and well being that will last a lifetime. Now, my children are a tween and teen and more independent. I am grateful to see the role time outside still plays in their choices, health, and fun every day. Our outdoor time as a family is a treasure. And for me, daily time outside remains my lifeline to let go of stress and uncover answers to any problem in the beauty of nature.

May you embrace the gift of daily time outside for you and your family no matter the weather. With each experience, you’ll either have a wonderful time or a great story to tell around the dinner table for years to come. Not only is the outdoors free, it requires little to no cash, planning or expertise. Simply make a commitment to go beyond your doorstep. Memorable moments await you every day.

Rebecca P. Cohen is author of the new early reader series PJ’s Backyard Adventures and Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids. She is also the creator of Rebecca Plants Curiosity Cards, a set of 50 open-ended questions to ignite conversation. Her website is

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