In the not-so-distant past, children spent the better part of their days outside, playing, digging, building, and exploring their way through the natural world. But according to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, today’s children have become increasingly alienated from the natural world, with disastrous implications, not only for their physical fitness, but also for their long-term mental and spiritual heath.
In today's technological age it is more important than ever to encourage children to play outdoors. And there’s no better time to start then when children are young. Get your baby outdoors and help her develop her own personal bond with the outdoor world.
Grow a garden
Gardening with your baby is a great way to introduce her to nature, and help her make the connection between the food in the ground and the food on her plate! A vegetable garden is an easy start. When your baby is young, carry her in a sling or let her rest on a blanket nearby while you plant and weed your garden. Talk to her about the types of flowers, herbs, and vegetables you are planting and why. As she gets older, she can help you dig holes, plant, seeds, and even pick the harvest. Be sure to point out any vegetables that she may find on the dinner table. If your yard is not big enough for a garden, trying growing a few potted plants near a sunny window in your home.
Take a hike
Even young children can enjoy the nature and wonder of the outdoors by going on a hike. Carry your baby in a sling or front-facing baby carrier and let him explore the world from the safety of your arms. As your baby gets older and begins taking his own steps, hold his hand as you take short walks through the woods. Your local park, a nearby playground, and even your backyard will open up a world of wonder, observations and questions when viewed through a baby’s eyes. Be sure to point out the sights, sounds, and smells of your trip as you walk.
Go on a treasure hunt
Even before your baby can say the words, she will be able to recognize the sights and sounds of her world. Take her on a treasure hunt and challenge her to point out the things that she sees and hears. Ask her to spot a tree, a bird, a squirrel, or a flower. When she gets a little older, see if she can spot a yellow flower, or a gray rock, or if she can hear a bird that’s way up in the trees.
Hit a playground
A safe, well-constructed play ground can be a wonderful place for young children to get exercise, fresh air, and unstructured play. But be aware that many outdoor playgrounds were constructed using treated lumber that often contains arsenic, and can be dangerous to children. The arsenic penetrates the wood, and runs off into the soil around it. If your neighborhood has a playground, talk with local park officials to make sure that it was not made from treated lumber.