BABIES' INTEREST IN THE OUTER WORLD DEVELOPS very slowly. During the first half year or so, babies are strongly tuned in to themselves. They feel hunger pangs when they need to be fed. Their skin is fragile, and they need help maintaining their body temperature in cold weather.

From Inside to Out

Young infants tuned in to their own body signals feel the pain caused by gas bubbles that comes when they have not been burped enough. But through loving care, babies begin to tune in to the world outside their bodies. At first, they learn to turn to the voice of a beloved parent or teacher. By about 4 months, they light up with a big smile when they see that person smiling and cooing about 12 to 18 inches from their eyes.

Outside Interests

At about 6 months, babies begin to tune in to signals and events from the outside world. Perched in a nurturing teacher's arms, babies will be willing to flash a smile at a stranger. They may also scan their environment with a look of genuine interest to learn about the room, and the toys and people present.

Safe Exploration

Babies have little understanding of causality. They may see leaves fluttering on a tree on a windy day and believe the leaves are alive and moving because "they want to." Older toddlers may get very distraught if an adult starts trimming the hedges. They worry that the adult is cutting living creatures! When babies show intense curiosity about the outside world, teachers need to protect them from danger without squashing their enthusiastic spirit of investigation.

Animal Encounters

Babies are learning to make lots of new sounds by die time they're a year old. Use outdoor excursions to view plants and animals. Encourage babies to make sounds like tweet-tweet for birds or arf-arf for dogs. If you can arrange visits to the zoo, toddlers will understand lots more about animals after seeing them firsthand.

Valuable Assistance

Try to recruit parents to assist on outdoor excursions. Venture out to parks, playgrounds, local botanical gardens, and zoos. Even a school's play yard can provide many special experiences. Watch the awe in the eyes of a toddler digging in earth and finding a wriggly worm! The digging teaches little ones about downward space, just as looking up at clouds or birds in the sky helps them learn about the space above their heads. Spatial understanding develops slowly. Many toddlers still think the moon is very near and will exclaim "the moon is following me" while riding in a stroller. Your outdoor excursions provide wonderful opportunities for extending language and for stimulating their budding senses and awareness of the wider world.

Click here to view and download A Letter to Families (PDF)