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Nurturing Your Baby With Nature by Jacki Christopher

“Babies experience a very different world to us, dominated by bodily sensation and the present moment. The outdoors is a wonderfully sensorial place for a baby throughout this year, with lots of sensations for the body, things to notice, watch and reach for, objects and materials to touch, feel and handle, sounds both near and far to listen to and interesting places to be in with an attentive and responsive adult. Stimulation from both the natural world and the world of humans provides multi-layered information about what is in the world, what it does and how it all behaves, and helps the baby to find out about themselves as they develop and grow.” Jan White

How do I raise my baby to love nature?

We all have these ideals for the amazing children we want to mold and create, but the best way to help your children to love the good, healthy, beautiful things in life is to love and live them yourself. On this blog we’ve talked about kids and healthy eating, kids and exercise, kids and reading, arts, etc. I can’t ignore my basic philosophy that if you cultivate a love of things that are healthy and good in yourself, and then you bring your children along for the ride, they’re going to start loving and appreciating the same things.

The same is true with nature. Love the outdoors and your kids will too. And when you do, you help cultivate in them a love of lasting, substantive things that can’t be taken away or rendered obsolete. If you were never an outdoor girl or guy, don’t worry! Look into some community ed programs, or sign up to go on a nature hike with your local park district. (Stay tuned: on Thursday we’ll hear from a Three Rivers Park District naturalist). But you don’t need a professional nature lover to encourage this healthy interest in your little ones.

The greatest benefit of outdoor activity is the opportunity to explore and learn—and this goes for you too! A class or a naturalist-led hike is a valuable activity, but you can also just head outside and start paying attention. Notice what trees are flowering and which wildflowers are creeping up in scattered patches. Watch the progression of the perennials and learn to identify a few trees. You and your children can learn and explore together.

What is the appropriate age to start getting babies outside?

According to a study performed in the U.K. on babies and the outdoors, infants as young as six weeks can reap tangible benefits from time spent outside. However, it is important to remember that infants are easily over-stimulated. Bright sunlight or loud noises can be disturbing and have the opposite effect of the calm that being in the outdoors should provide. For this reason, it might be best to do your outdoor exploration early in the morning or at dusk, in areas free of car noises and other shrieking children.

Babies are easily tired from the stimulation that the outdoor world provides. While this stimulation is vital to their development, they’ll benefit most from smaller, more frequent bits of time. Babies are also relaxed by outdoor slumber. Allow baby to nap as needed under a big shade tree or gazebo.

A baby of any age can benefit from time in the outdoors. Age will determine what activities will be most beneficial and how much time outside is appropriate.

How do I integrate nature into my baby’s development?

An ‘everyday outside’ schedule is optimal. But getting outside everyday is a special challenge for those living in the northern climes. Between ‘too cold’ and ‘too hot’ there are a precious few perfect outdoor days. As a result we default to indoor activities, so much that when the pleasant weather comes, we are far more comfortable with inside than outside. Making daily outdoor excursions with your baby and young children takes intentionality and creativity.

On the coldest days of the year, it would not be advisable to explore the outdoors with a newborn, but there are options. You might consider a membership to an indoor botanical garden, or zoo that cultivates lush plant life indoors. On the days when it is simply too cold to get outside, spend the morning taking in the humid warmth of a greenhouse. Not only will it provide valuable stimulation for your baby, it’s also your own mini-vacation from the cold!

Don’t deprive yourself or your kids of this free, ever-available avenue for mental and physical development. Give them free reign in the yard (if they are old enough), but also make plans to go beyond the fence. Find your nearest nature trails and become frequent trekkers. Cultivate nature-based creativity and imagination.

How can you get your baby outside everyday?

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