You may be surprised to learn that for someone who doesn’t consider herself “outdoorsy” my son T.Rex spends 50% of his waking hours, outside. This is a conscious decision I made before T.Rex was born, when I started researching the importance of outdoor play. I knew how important outdoor play was for toddlers, but I wanted to know if babies could benefit from it too.
I came across a startling study, claiming that, “Just one in five children feel connected to nature.” And immediately I knew I wanted T.Rex to be that one child. I also knew it would mean starting early, and first changing the attitudes and perception of nature that I myself had formed as an adult. I decided to tackle nature once again and try to appreciate it today as much as I did when I was a kid. Instead of thinking of grass and trees as dirty, unsafe and worse – uninteresting, I began to rediscover an incredible amount of beauty and wonder suitable for a baby, right outside our house. Study after study I read, came to the same conclusion: “Nature heals and improves the mind and body. Nature is necessary.”[i]
All of this led to trees becoming T.Rex’s first “friends”. Almost from birth, we placed him on his back in his stroller and parked it directly under a tree for him to look up at. As this was his first form of “entertainment” it enthralled him for up to an hour at a time. Twice a day now, he is promptly wheeled out for a walk to a nearby park or carried out into the yard. He’s hooked, just like I’d hoped. T.Rex is now happiest outside of the house, breathing in fresh air and surrounded by nature.
Here are a few tips you can use in your own quest to cultivate in your child a love for the great outdoors.
1. Help Him Discover All the Details
Let him touch the bark of the tree, point to flowers and express excitement at birds and bugs. Give your baby the pleasure of seeing, touching and smelling the landscape.
2. Do Outdoor Diaper Changes
Avoid going back into the house, with a waterproof mat (a yoga mat works fine) for your baby to get changed on, and also for tummy time on in the grass – as he may be too young for a mouthful of dirt. He’ll also be able to see ants and blades of grass up close.
3. Feed Your Baby Outside
Let your baby’s senses be stimulated by the sounds of nature as you sit in the shade, and not the background noise of the television.
4. Limit His Indoor Toys
This way the feel of freshly-cut grass and the sight of the wind blowing through tree leaves will captivate him.
5. Let Him Nap Outside
A morning nap, before the weather gets too hot, works wonders; all that fresh air will help your baby sleep better at night.
6. Soak it In Yourself
I honestly believe your baby can tell if you are enjoying something as simple as sitting outside after the rain. So get down on the grass with him, read a book, hang out and just enjoy the early morning or evening outside.
I know that not everyone has a backyard or park they can bring a baby to every day. It may not even be worth the effort for most parents who prefer staying in, but a healthy lifestyle full of physical activity and a passion for outdoor adventure starts from an early age. Of course you can choose to introduce lots of outdoor play when your child is a toddler, a time when experts say the benefits for physical development, emotional confidence and learning experiences are endless. As acclaimed author and co-creator of the Integrated Outdoor Program, Peter Hoffmeister advises, “Try going outside for fifteen minutes, then half an hour, then half a day. Let your kids get filthy, and get filthy yourself.” It really could turn out to be the best experience of their childhood!
As an adult I’ve spent almost all of my days indoors, spending time outside only when I’m on holiday or need to exercise. Having T.Rex and wanting to connect him to nature, has changed me completely. I now have plans to put his entire playpen outside, making sure that he’ll only go inside, only when he absolutely has to.
Michelle Lim-Chua is a banana born in New York City, who fell in love with a boy from Melaka and became a mama of one.
[i] Hoffemister, Peter. Let Them Be Eaten By Bears: A Fearless Guide to Taking Our Kids Into the Great Outdoors.