Summer is the time to take full advantage of the myriad wonders of nature, and all the outdoor play spaces, with infants and toddlers.
But as you set out on these new summer adventures, be sure to keep the following safety precautions in mind:
- Bring a hat to shade the eyes and prevent sunstroke.
- Remember to apply sunscreen if you're out in direct sun with babies; infant skin is delicate and burns easily.
- Make sure that toddlers using riding toys, such as trikes with big pedals, are not in danger of rolling or speeding down a slope and losing control.
- Watch toddlers very carefully around outdoor waterplay pools, even very shallow ones; some toddlers are not steady walkers and could topple into a play pool.
- When you take a group of young children out for a walk, be sure to use sturdy strollers that can carry several toddlers. As you roll the stroller along, point out all the new summer sights. Remember, though, not to overload little ones with too many sights, sounds, smells, and experiences that the great outdoors provides.
Here are some easy summer activities you can enjoy with young children:
A ride in a group stroller is a wonderful treat for very young babies. They can enjoy such sights as beautiful flower beds, people out walking, and squirrels and pets scurrying about.
Provide plastic pails and shovels to each toddler for digging in sand. Carefully hold a toddler's hand so that he does not pitch forward on entering a sandbox, which might be at a different level than the yard. There is something intensely absorbing and sensuous about water, mud, and sand for little ones.
Just be careful about protecting them from getting the gooey wet stuff in their mouths. (These activities are best for toddlers who already have some wrist control, who'll feel competent and happy scooping up sand and filling a pail with sand and sand pies.)
Reserve outdoor sand, mud, and even shaving-cream play for toddlers who understand that they shouldn't put these things in their mouths. A toddler who has sand on his fingers and then wipes his eyes may become frightened by the resulting irritation. This is an opportunity for many toddlers to learn about what's safe to put into their mouths (food, for example), and what's not (dirt, earth, sand). These are just a few of the new rules for summer outdoor play!
Older toddlers are ready for imaginative outdoor games. Lie down with toddlers on a blanket on a grassy spot. Look up at the puffy, white, cumulous clouds and talk about the shapes you see. Do you see a big cloud floating in the shape of a whale? Does one child see a "turtle cloud" sailing slowly across the blue sky? This outdoor activity sparks imagination and creativity, and fosters giggly togetherness.
If you can arrange excursions, take children to the zoo. What a feeling of pride for little ones who can recognize and even name animals they have just seen in picture books! Now they can see real mama bears and cubs, or monkeys swinging, not just Curious George on a page!
If a local park has toddler-size slides and baby swings with safety straps, introduce infants to park equipment. If a baby seems scared on a slide, even a low slide, crouch down at the foot of the slide with your arms out ready to encircle him safely as soon as he slides down even a little way.
If a nearby park has a small pond or tiny stream, fill a plastic bag with soft stale bread and head off for a delightful time "feeding the duckies."
Toddlers will get lots of large-muscle activity in a park as they chase pigeons, creatures they'll never catch; they'll get lots of fresh air and wonderful exercise, though, while trying.
Choose a tree with a fat trunk. Then play a game of tag around the tree. Toddlers enjoy running round and round the tree trying to tag one another. Let them catch you more than you catch them!
Teach little ones to be very gentle around flowers. Provide small plastic cans they can use to water plants outdoors. This lets them practice wrist control. Talk about the names and colors of flowers and point out how the stems of flowers sway in the breeze.
When you are walking in a park meadow, encourage children to pick as many dandelions as they wish. These will grow again right away. Many toddlers will want to gather a bouquet of dandelions for you as a special present. Smile and appreciate the clutched handfuls of drooping dandelions! This is a good way to teach children about flowers we can pick and those we need to enjoy and leave on their stems, and it provides a good lesson in categories!
If you have bird feeders in the yard, put some millet and sunflower seeds in a small plastic pitcher. Steady toddlers' hands as they help fill the feeder for the birds each day.
Be sure to hold babies up to smell the perfume of jasmine or lilac bushes in bloom. Let them bend down and sniff the heady perfume of hyacinths, and see them in all their glowing colors.
Provide a pail of water and a large brush for each toddler to paint the pavement outdoors.
On really warm days, you may feel comfortable enough to let toddlers take turns squirting water from a hose. Toddlers love water play but need attentive adult supervision during this activity.
A blanket in the shade on the grass is a wonderful way. to wind down after a busy day. Read poems to children. Let the beauty of the language pour through the air as little ones listen to the wonderful words you're reciting for their pleasure.
Be sure to talk about all the new outdoor activities children are experiencing. Ask about what they saw, sniffed, squished, and remember about their outdoor adventures. You will be building happy memories and sharing thoughts about lovely summertime outdoor experiences.