Fresh Air Does The Family Good

HGTV’s Nate Berkus & Jeremiah Brent Share Their Favorite Tips For Getting Kids Outside

The home designers and spouses talk mental health, outdoor activities, and yard designs with Scary Mommy.

Getty / Scary Mommy

If there's one thing parents are well-aware of these days, it's that our kids have some sort of world at their fingertips: cell phones, smart TVs, audio players, video games. There's so much for them to get distracted by inside that they can fight the request to explore the great outdoors.

And that's a problem. According to Claritin's The Outsideologist Project, children spend less than eight minutes playing outside each day yet over seven hours a day inside. That's why Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent — home designers, spouses, and parents to 7-year-old Poppy and 4-year-old Oskar — have teamed up with the allergy medicine brand to help foster a life-long love of the outdoors.

"For both of us, the outside is really the birthplace of not only creativity but connectivity, which has been interesting, especially with kids," Brent, 37, tells Scary Mommy of himself and Berkus, 50.

The pair was discouraged to hear that, despite most parents admitting that some of their best childhood memories are of playing outside, a new survey commissioned by Claritin found that 74% of them believe their child does not play outside as often.

"There's an innocence to spending time outside, not to mention the mental and physical health benefits of actually just being in fresh air. It's just different when you're in a less controlled environment. It's different for a family to just let everything happen when you're having your adventures outside," Berkus says, with Brent adding, "We always go chase beauty. There's always an activity; it's always about getting fresh air, even when it's cold."

Playing outside has many health benefits for kids, including vitamin D and sun exposure, exercise, and socialization. It also forces them to work on executive functioning skills that help us plan, prioritize, troubleshoot, negotiate, and multitask.

But in 2022, how do parents transition their screen- or toy-focused kids from the inside to the outside? "We just kind of throw them out the door," Brent jokes, saying that going outside is "non-negotiable" in the Brent-Berkus house.

Turns out, the couple has a few (other) tricks up their sleeve for getting their kids outside more.

Find a Fun Motivator

"The dog leash is a big motivator," Berkus suggests. "Like, let's take the dog out, and you can walk him. That's a big thing. Our son not so much, but our daughter's like, 'Can I do it by myself?' And she walks, like, you know, half a block ahead of us like she's 20."

"Or grab a bucket of chalk and take it out and play hopscotch or draw on the sidewalk," Berkus says. "There's a lot of picnics [in our family], there's a lot of walks. We'll pick a landmark or a building that's interesting and special and tell our kids the story about it, and then go explore it."

The Outsideologist Project shares more resources, as well as other family activities and ideas parents can offer their children.

Make It a Game

Berkus and Brent, who are currently filming Season 2 of their HGTV show The Nate & Jeremiah Home Project, get that it's hard to keep kids entertained, but, living in New York City, everything's an adventure. "Sometimes good, sometimes not," Brent jokes.

Something Brent's own mother used to do when he was young was ask him to find something beautiful and share it with her. He now does that with Poppy and Oskar, urging them to "go out and explore" the Big Apple.

"Jeremiah has been amazing as a dad, asking our kids to point out something that they think is beautiful on a family walk, whether it's a flower, or a sunset, or the color of the exterior of a house," Berkus says, pointing out that over the last few years, a short walk to the mailbox at their second home on Long Island was exciting.

"They'd be in some weird get-up like one mismatched boot, pajama bottoms, and a hoodie, and we'd see the flowers start to bloom; we'd see whatever animals ran across our path. If we saw deer, it was an exciting afternoon. So our kids remember that — they remember walking to the mailbox every day, up our long driveway," he says. "And there's a joy that comes from it."

Alternate Environments, If Possible

Berkus and Brent are fortunate enough to have multiple homes, so they make it a point to enjoy city life when they're in New York and open space when they're in Montauk.

"They kind of get the best of both worlds — they get the opportunity to connect through community and play around the city, and then they get the freedom to explore and figure out who they are through the house out east," Brent says of Poppy and Oskar. "The kids have really made the city their backyard. And living in Montauk gives us a whole different type of experience, which is freedom. The kids can just run free and wild. And that's really easy."

Create a Kid-Friendly Space

You may be wondering how the first couple of TV home makeovers — who have an elegant, clean, and traditional design style — made their yard enticing for their kids. Well, it's all about function.

"It's just like interiors when it comes to child-proofing and what you do," Brent explains. "We compartmentalize the spaces on the exterior that are the children's, so not like they can only play in a corner, but you know, if we have a swing set, it's in a designated area that's theirs. They're responsible for cleaning it up and taking care of it, just like they're responsible for cleaning up and taking care of their space inside. We try to utilize every square inch of the exterior and make everything something where it's a destination that you can move around throughout the space. And darker exterior fabrics, for us, have been a game-changer. Not only do they last better in the weather — with everything going on, and the animals and birds and you name it — but they also don't show us much, which is great for outside."

Celebrate Your Togetherness, No Matter How Small

"As a couple, as designers, as husbands, we're about helping people craft spaces where they can make memories," Berkus adds.

Berkus and Brent are savoring this stage in life, when their kids' personalities are blossoming and opportunities abound. They both take the time to fill their own, as well as their kids', cups up by practicing self-care. (Berkus enjoys a massage or a workout class; Brent wakes up early so he can meditate and have his morning coffee in peace.)

For them, prioritizing their family is what makes it all make sense.

"We cannot wait to just kind of move through the world, the four of us, and just see what we can craft and what doors we can open and what paths we can sort of show them are out there, and watch which ones they choose," Berkus says. "You know, our memories are the moments in between. It's not the grand vacations, which always are horrible and the monitor doesn't work and room service, no one answers the phone. It's not that. It's not the amusement parks. It's the small moments in between. And that is what we've just been really focused on."

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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