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Help Toddlers Discover Nature

Sep 19, 2007

Anyone who wants to have an impact on keeping a healthy natural world can begin at home by introducing young children or grandchildren to the outdoors. This a gift that lasts a lifetime, but costs nothing except time shared outside in nature.

I was looking at our conservation nature center lists of events and noticed “Babes in the Woods,” a program for adults with children up to 2 years of age. The program was developed by one of our volunteer naturalists more than a decade ago. Lots of research has shown the importance of early experiences on our attitudes and interests as adults, so it makes sense that if we want our children to value the natural world, we need to start when they’re young. Our nature centers schedule programs mostly from spring through early autumn.

For those who aren’t near our nature centers, here are some of the key ideas you can put into action on your own short walks with a toddler, with trees as an example highlight.

  • Explore textures of bark and leaves.
  • Explore top, underside, shape and color of leaves.
  • Smell trunk, leaves, nuts.
  • Listen as branches and leaves creak and rustle in the wind.
  • Compare size of a tree/size of a child, veins on a leaf/lines on your hand.
  • Take child’s picture with a tree.
  • Match leaves according to shape.
  • Read stories, rest under a shade tree.
  • Talk about what animals live in a tree.

A few safety tips so the walk is a success:

  • Short walks (10 minutes) are better for a toddler’s attention span.
  • Consider safety of the area (traffic, dogs, insects, kinds of plants).
  • Be mindful of low thorn bushes accessible to babies and learn poison ivy (leaves of three, let it be) to avoid it.
  • Don’t bring sweet drinks or food along which may attract insects.
  • Don’t allow tasting of things but encourage, use of other senses.
  • Use sunscreen, hats, etc.
  • The key thing is to enjoy the outdoors together.

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