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Go Outdoors with Your Toddler

November, 2009
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When the outdoors is accessible it is important to provide children with as many opportunities as possible to get outside and move around. This will help them grow not only physically but emotionally, intellectually, socially and spiritually. Any outdoor environment can be made more accessible with quite simple preparation.

There is never any such a thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. Rain, snow, wind and sun can all be prepared for with the right amount of layers and coverings from raincoats and rubber boots to hats and sunscreen.

ychild-3sWhether tending a garden or raking leaves, taking care of the outdoor environment and growing things promotes mental as well as physical development. The harvest of a garden’s vegetables, for example, becomes a living lesson about food and plants bringing a sense of personal satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. Living in a city makes this a different challenge that can be met by visiting local farms and greenhouses where fruit and vegetables can be picked and taken home.

Window boxes, flower pots or small outdoor plots offer another way to plant, care for, and harvest many types of vegetables, flowers and herbs. Opening a packet of seeds, making rows, sprinkling the seeds evenly, covering them up with just the right amount of soil, patting down the soil with a spade – each little step can be a special challenge to a young child. A child who helps grow a vegetable will enjoy eating it, or at least be more likely to taste it. A whole cycle of life can be experienced in a very real way. During the winter, planting plans for the spring can be made with your child’s help.

Parks or overgrown urban areas can also make excellent slices of green for an exploration of nature when woods are not available. Let children lead the way, and follow their pace. Learning to move with confidence off paths and sidewalks can be assisted with clear instructions about where and what to avoid stepping on. In most cases however, children simply need experience in being outdoors. Children are close to the ground and see much more detail at a sensory level: different kinds of bark, leaves, stones and soil come to their attention and into their small hands. “What’s this?” they ask. Even without the expertise of a naturalist, a parent can interact comfortably around natural objects by simply using their senses and getting the child to see, hear, smell and touch along with them.

ychild-1sInsects and spiders of all kinds may be discovered. They may be viewed from a distance or up close without harm to either human or non-human. Children quickly learn to respect these creatures as much as any other when given time to investigate. They also learn how to hurt them if the adults around them model this behavior.

An adult walks to get somewhere, whereas a child walks to develop his or her powers, to develop and create him or herself. Children move at a different pace without a goal when given the opportunity. It’s clear that in giving up the adult rhythm of walking and allowing a child to interact with whatever captures their interest, many more connections will occur. Steps and hills invite the repetition of going up and down, whilst sliding, rolling, running or playing tag develops strength, balance and confidence.

It is not always possible, or even suitable, to move at a young child’s pace. However, making time to slow down once in awhile will give both parent and child a wonderful chance to connect with each other and the natural world. There are many parks with both trees and grassy areas in big cities. Take a break from the man-made playground equipment and enjoy what else your local parks have to offer. Dress for the weather and enjoy the great outdoors with your little one.

By Laurie Robinson

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