Infants & Toddlers: Activities That Support Outdoor Explorations
In mild weather, be sure to push strollers to places where babies can see, touch, and smell flowering plants. They want to feel the rough bark of a tree, the soft brush of wild grasses, grains of sand, and explore the many textures of large stones and rocks. You can guide this sensory journey as you help them take note of their natural surroundings, such as the gently swaying leaves on a summery day.
If possible, consider landscaping your outdoor area with a flowering hedge of perfumed jasmine to delight babies' sense of smell. And on a warm summer day, babies able to sit stably will relish the experience of a shallow wading pool, where they can splash in just a few inches of water while you cheer on their discovery of wet versus dry. Be sure babies wear hats and have sunscreen on their exposed skin.
If you can arrange to wheel strollers to a pond, be sure to bring bread crumbs for the ducks. Babies love to take part in the ritual of feeding the ducks (and fish, too). One 10-month-old, whose visits to the duck pond were such a pleasurable part of daily outdoor excursions, said duck as her first word! If flocks of birds visit a grassy space near your center, babies will delight in watching them.
Set babies down on their stomachs on lawns and other safe outdoor spaces so they can observe from close range busy, crawling ants, moving grass, leaping grasshoppers, and dainty, yellow buttercups. This arrangement will also give babies opportunities to push up from their bellies, which strengthens their arm muscles. Be sure to bring along wet wipes, as babies love to squeeze dirt in their fingers. At the same time, you can help them understand that they may squeeze, touch, and sniff but not eat many of the earthy elements.
Point out interesting events during strolls outdoors. "See the doggy sniffing near that fire hydrant?" "See the light turn green at the corner? Now all the cars know they can go zoom, zoom along the street." "Hear the siren wailing as the fire truck rushes to put out a fire?" The sights and sounds of an urban landscape provide so many opportunities for using new words with the little ones.
Outdoor play provides excellent opportunities for children to learn to take turns and share in activities. A seesaw is more fun when a peer joins in. Going up and down a slide is more exciting when friends run, run, run to climb to the top and share their exhilaration.
Outdoors, toddlers learn to trust their bodies as they try different movements. A well-equipped playground not only enhances this physical well-being but also gives children new appreciation for how their bodies move in space. Outdoor play helps toddlers gain confidence as their competence and agility grow.
Playground space should offer places where they can dig holes and fill pails. If you set aside an area for planting, toddlers will be very willing helpers-making holes, pouring water in each one-enjoying giving each baby plant a better chance to grow.
While walking outside, be sure to point out real-life examples of buses, trucks, cars, honking horns, people crossing at the green light, stores selling vegetables, and people walking their pets. Whenever you arrange outdoor experiences for your little ones, know that you are helping them experience another dimension of living. So give them windows on new worlds: Visit a park, or take a stroll to the corner store.