What does outdoor play look like for babies?
I’m totally inspired by www.365Outside.org and www.simplefamilies.com to incorporate outdoor play every day. If you’re not familiar with these two great blogs, let me tell you about them. 365Outside began August 2015 with a “part-challenge, part-way-of-life, all-mindset” to get their family outside every day of the year regardless of weather, knowing that it would make them happier and healthier. They’ve been outside every day and blogging about it, although less-so lately, come rain or shine, in sickness and in health. Similarly, Denaye at Simple Families says she is sending her kids outside every day “because sometimes they just need time to breathe,” and pledges that her family will spend time outdoors for the next 100 days. Both blog moms invite others to join them.
Did you know that 71% of today’s mothers said they recalled playing outdoors every day, but only 26% of them said their kids spend time outdoors every day? Young children learn so much from unstructured play, and we know that they truly benefit from being in nature. Exposure to nature may reduce symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and it improves cognitive abilities and resistance to negative stressors. So as an educator, nature enthusiast, and new mom, I’m all about unstructured outdoor play every day!
For older children, I’m at no loss of ideas for what this time could look like! It could be completely unstructured and imaginative, or it could involve magnifying glasses and cameras. It could be climbing trees, sports-based, or the time could be spent building forts out of sticks! We could do experiments together or art projects. The possibilities are endless.
One problem: my child is just a baby! At 5 months old and unable to sit by herself, how can I provide outdoor play (not just wiking!) for my daughter every day, come rain or shine? I don’t think it will be easy, but I’m up for the challenge. Starting today, we will be outside to play every day!
I’ve thought quite a bit about this, and I see a few barriers…
First: weather. I’m not sure how we will play outside when if it pours all day or is wicked hot, as we say up here. Bringing a young baby outside in the rain or heat to play is definitely questionable!
Another barrier: undeveloped motor skills. My little wike baby doesn’t even sit by herself yet! What can we do outside that would count as play?
Luckily, I’ve also thought of some solutions!
Regarding the weather, I think mild rain could be an interesting experience for my daughter. I will have to invest in some rain gear and think about how we can explore in the rain. When it’s super hot outside, like today, I will have to plan our outdoor play in the shade in the early morning. This is easy, because “we” like to wake up at the crack of dawn!
I’ve brainstormed some ideas for outdoor play with my babe, and I’ll continue to do so. I also truly welcome your ideas! Please! Send them my way. Here’s what I’ve got so far:
Blanket- We can bring out toys outside and simply play on a blanket! Staring at the sky with
moving clouds and the breeze on our faces, little insects that wander over to us, the scents of the flowers… I think that definitely counts as being in nature for a baby!
Swing- Today I purchased this swing from Amazon, which I will hang from our beautiful maple tree. I think she will love it! Our neighbors just gave us a great slide climbing structure that she slide down with mother’s assistance. It’ll be really great when she can walk!
Sandbox- We have a sandbox, and I’m in the process of changing the old sand out and purchasing a cover for it. I’ll have to have her sit between my legs for now, but I think she will enjoy exploring the textures of the sandbox. I’ll just have to make sure that sand stays out of her mouth! She loves exploring with her mouth right now…
Bubbles- Today I brought out bubbles for her to watch. It’s simple, but watching the bubbles and reaching out for them entertained her for a good 30 minutes. And I’d argue it wasn’t just entertainment, it was a completely new visual experience for her and she engaged her motor skills by reaching out to touch them. This is learning through play…for babies!
Baby Pool- For hot days, nothing beats time in a pool! I’m sure we will get to a real pool a few times this summer, but as we don’t currently own or belong to one, I think she will enjoy a baby pool! Again, without sitting skills, I’ll have to climb in there with her and hold her as she splashes around, but honestly I can’t think of anything better to do on a hot day!
Water “table” with bath toys- For warm days when I don’t feel like filling up the enormous (haha) baby pool or dipping in myself, I can take a pan or tray of water outside with some bath toys or natural items like sticks, flowers, and leaves. We’ll put it between our legs and splash around.
This is all I have for now, but I would love to hear your ideas! Besides wiking, we are going to try our best to get outside every day for some playtime. 100 days should take us to September 20th. I’ll photograph each day on Instagram @wikebaby for accountability with #100daysofoutdoorplay. Will you follow us? Will you join us??
A lot of the research I reference about children in nature comes from the research shared in Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. I highly recommend it!!