Vail author of ‘15 Minutes Outside’ visits Bookworm of Edwards
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Who: Rebecca Cohen, author of “15 Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids” and a children’s book series called PJ’s Backyard Adventures.
Where: The Bookworm of Edwards.
When: 6 p.m. Thursday.
Cost: $10, includes appetizers.
One of Rebecca Cohen’s earliest memories is of sitting in her family’s garden, eating peas straight from pods she just picked. Decades later, and with two sons of her own, a simple question from her 4 year old sparked a realization. They were attending a birthday party in a local park when her older son asked “Are we in a forest, mommy?”
They were not. They were in Washington, D.C., where Cohen worked for many years in marketing and completed her MBA at American University. Her life lacked balance, and her son’s question made her yearn for the daily outdoor connection she wanted for herself and her family. When her kids were ages 4 and 6, she made a personal commitment to get outside every day with her children for at least 15 minutes, whether they wanted to or not. And they didn’t always want to. Like many children, sometimes they preferred the couch to the grass. She blogged about her outdoor family experiences and shared them on her website, now BeOutsideAndGrow.com.
Cohen’s journey and activities are compiled in her book, “Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids.” She visits The Bookworm of Edwards on Thursday to talk about her book.
“We first met Rebecca through a teacher friend,” said Nicole Magistro, the owner of The Bookworm of Edwards. “She has recently moved to the valley and is so passionate about getting kids connecting with their environments that she has started to take her work into the schools. She wants to help inspire parents, too.”
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Even families who live in the mountains sometimes struggle to maintain balance between indoor and outdoor life, Magistro said.
“The irony is that even in a community completely focused on outdoor recreation, many local families find themselves indoors too much,” Magistro said. “It’s sort of a dirty little secret in a resort community, but living here is like living anywhere else. Sometimes you literally forget to take a breath of fresh air. But building in time for intentional experiences outdoors with kids creates lifelong habits that are hard to kick.”
Published in 2011, “Fifteen Minutes Outside” was named a Best New Parenting Book by Scholastic. It’s organized by day and season, giving parents ideas on activities to do outside with their children.
“This is a great book to help you; it doesn’t make you feel bad if you’re not skiing 100 days a year,” Magistro said. “It’s just real.”
While staying true to her commitment, Cohen realized something else. Not only is time outside good for you, it’s also a helpful parenting tool.
“My children would get ready faster in the morning with the promise of 15 minutes outside before we left,” she said. “I just loved it. It made every day so much easier.”
When Cohen’s kids would get home from school, she’d have them run 10 laps around the house while she prepared a snack. They’d eat the snack outside on a blanket and then do their homework.
‘PEOPLE CHOOSE TO BE HERE’
Three years ago, Cohen and her husband, Bret, made their dream of living in the mountains come true when they moved their family from the East Coast to Steamboat Springs. In August, the couple moved to East Vail.
“Colorado mountain towns are such special places because people choose to be here,” Cohen said.
The boys are now in fifth and seventh grade at Vail Mountain School. The family selected a house close enough for the boys to walk to school.
“The great news is I don’t have to make them do 15 minutes every day,” Cohen said. “As they’ve grown older and more independent, they’re really outdoor kids. I believe their time outside when they were younger led them to make a connection between their well being and being outside.”
Sometimes Cohen and her husband will run errands and leave the kids at home. When they return, rather than finding the boys in front of the television, immersed in a show or video game, the kids will be outside.
“My 10 year old said the other day, ‘I think I need to get outside.’ He was feeling rundown and had a lot on his plate and I really appreciated that he said that. As they’ve gotten older, they’re learning to make better choices about balance and their well being,” Cohen said.
Right now, the windowsills and kitchen counter in Cohen’s home is a sea of clear plastic cups. Cohen is sprouting pea seeds inside newspaper, which will be a gift for people who attend her event at The Bookworm of Edwards. It’s an activity she’s taught to more than 5,000 children, she said.
“The first time I did it was with 1,000 middle schoolers in Illinois, in farming country, and most of them had never planted a seed before,” Cohen said. “Seeing their enthusiasm and seeing the teachers’ enthusiasm inspired me to continue doing it.
“It inspires people to say, ‘I can do this; let’s do more of this,’” Cohen said.
On Earth Day last week, Cohen visited the Children’s Garden of Learning, where she led the same activity.
“You take newspaper, place it in cup with less than a quarter cup of water and pea seeds,” she said. “You watch them sprout on the windowsill and then you can transfer them into the ground.”
To Cohen, sprouting seeds is a connection to her childhood and to that little girl who sat in the dirt eating peas.
“I didn’t realize the connection to that experience as a young child until later, but I think that’s why I’m so passionate about the concept of how can we fit the outdoors into our daily lives more,” she said.