Regular and extended time in nature is necessary for a truly balanced childhood. Outdoor experiences can provide an opportunity to explore, discover and appreciate the natural world, as well as be active, strengthen fine and gross motor movement skills, test physical limits and get messy.
When infants spend time outside, they are soaking in not only the fresh air, but the rich and diverse sensory experience that nature affords them.
When playing outside a child is:
- Seeing the colours of the leaves, watching the wind blow in the trees
- Smelling the fresh water, the dry earth and the grass
- Hearing the bird song, a running stream, children’s laughter
- Feeling the sun on their skin, the mud in between their toes
- Tasting the dusty air or water as you are splashed in the face
The outdoors awakens and rejuvenates the mind and engages all the senses at once. Time in nature helps establish a sense of exploration, curiosity, questioning, and an appreciation of nature. Making sense of new sights, smells, textures and sounds stimulates brain development and provides a foundation for learning by encouraging discovery.
As parents, interacting with your child in outdoor spaces provides further opportunities for social exchange, relationship building and language development.
Nature play is great for motor development too, as it offers opportunities to move freely, grasp objects, kick legs, crawl and observe others running and playing.
When it comes the benefits of spending time in nature, the list goes on and on. It doesn’t have to be hard though, you don’t need to drive to the bush or trek to the mountain side. Spending time at the park, or even in your backyard afford you and your child all these same benefits.
Learning in infancy shouldn’t be about flashcards, educational TV shows or the most high-tech toys. Listening to the birds singing to each other, watching wind rustle the trees, smelling the rain coming in over the hills, these are the experiences humans evolved with. This is all the learning your baby needs.
References: Hanscom 2016; Kaplan 1995