How much time does your infant or toddler spend outside? Otto (12 months) was recently out-of-sorts, he was unsettled and not sleeping well. I was looking for a reason and I realized that with the cooler weather coming in we were barely spending any time outdoors. The older boys are now doing so much sport we've stopped walking to school, and with the cooler mornings, the grass outside is all frosty, damp or completely wet.
So after doing a little research and thinking about what is the best that we could do I've now committed to spending a minimum of three hours a day outdoors with Otto. Three hours! Is it possible?? Could you do it?
The quality of our time outdoors counts too. I want for Otto to create connections with nature and for most of this time to have free movement, not spent on walks in the baby carrier or pram.
So how are we going to achieve three hours a day outside? First, we need to prepare.
We have a large tarpaulin which is waterproof but also easy to clean (easier and larger than a blanket). We keep it in a bag near our door. We put this down outside a least once a day for an hour or so. We can sit and read or do all sorts of activities on it.
Otto has a wool suit for playing on dry areas on extra cold days and an outdoor coverall for crawling on wet grass. We aim for warm and dry but I don't have any issue with getting dirty and of course often he gets wet. On really cold or wet days the outside play finishes up with a warm bath. I also try to make sure Otto has eaten before any outside play.
I don't want outside to be a gross motor area only however, I also don't want to be taking puzzles or toys with small parts outside. We love painting outside but due to the time setting it up it's not something we will do every day. I also haven't included outdoor water play, as I feel it's currently too cold for little hands to be in water, or to have really wet clothes outside. Here are a few ideas that we are currently using for outside play:
- Use walker wagon outside - this is a 30-40 minute activity.
- Take a nature crawl/free crawling outside - also a 30-40 minute activity.
- Watch horse riders in our neighborhood / walk to field using carrier and watch the sheep.
- Watch garbage and recycling trucks, on garbage and recycling days only.
- Talk to neighbors.
- Play in the sidewalk leaves, scrunch leaves.
- Take a nature walk using the baby carrier, walk to forest area (for forest bathing).
- Play with balls outside, rolling balls to each other, practice throwing, crawl to chase balls, using tennis, soccer and, other various balls.
- Take music basket outside and play instruments.
- Take books outside and read - honestly this lasts five seconds before it turns into free crawling.
- Take nature basket outside and play.
- Take playdough outside on a wooden board and use it playing with nature items.
- Set up an obstacle course including cushions and tunnel for crawling through.
- Play with large blocks - we have a set that is for outside play only - this can last 30-40 minutes.
- Have an outdoor picnic, eat lunch or snack outside. Clean up is always easier outside.
- Encourage cloud watching, listening to birds and lying down relaxing outside, this is a short-lived activity at the moment but something we are working on.
"Many adults have a hard time imagining how they can explore nature with a child under 18 months old. To this, I simply reply, "Just take them outside." Hold the infant in your arms, look at the moon, the clouds, up into the branches as the morning sun dapples through, watch the birds, listen to a running stream, feel the wind or a light drizzle, stroll around the garden, and just be outside. Touch, explore, lay on the grass, and offer them fruits and veggies to play with as toys. Talk to the child about the world to teach nature language. Tell them the basic names of natural items, explain to them how the weather feels, sit in the shade and let them touch the grass while explaining how soft it feels." Wonder and Wander: An Early Childhood Nature Connection Guide by Kelly Johnson (former Montessori teacher).
Some days we also spend 30-40 minutes outside during school pick up. Once Otto is comfortably walking I know that our time outside will change as we will be able to go on nature walks and explore more of our neighborhood by foot, at the child's pace!
And what has been the result? Otto has not only been more settled he has also been sleeping better! Time outdoors = fresh air = more physical activity. Nature works!!