One of the most precious things in a parent’s life is to have the opportunity to re-live the joy and wonder of childhood. Did you know you’d be given this gift when you had your first child? I didn’t know how much I would appreciate and enjoy this second chance. Also, I didn’t know how easily I would forget and let this opportunity go to waste.
Slowing down and exploring nature with children is an easy way to grab hold of these experiences.
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Have you heard the saying “the days go slow, but the years go fast”? You may not have fully appreciated the meaning of these words until your first child turns 2. At first parenting is amazingly hard. The range of emotions, the physical demands, and the sacrifices you make every day really do make those early days go by slowly. But then, one day they turn 2 and it seems like the years just flew by!
So, when my second child arrived I promised myself I would slow down and appreciate those slow days. Sure, two kids just made those days seem even harder! But I had the awareness now that one day I’d miss this precious baby time.
While I can’t make parenting easier for you I can assure you that one day it will all be easier. One day, and who knows when that day will arrive, you’ll think to yourself ‘wow, they don’t really need me that much anymore’. So, make sure you have some precious memories to think back on… like that time your little came running up to you, glowing eyes, wide-smiled to hand you the half-wilted dandelion they so lovingly chose just for you.
Don’t let this time slip you by. Slow down. Connect. Take them outside and explore nature with your children.
In this 3 post series, you’ll read about the why’s and how’s of exploring nature with children at different ages. The first post will discuss getting your infants and babies outside, the second post will discuss preschool and early elementary aged children, and the last post of the series will be aimed at older children.
Exploring nature with children: Part 1
The why and how of exploring nature with babies and infants:
It’s easy to explore nature with infants. Get them into some appropriate clothing for the weather, and head out the door. Nature is a perfectly balanced sensory experience for children. They’ll be able to take in the muted colours and natural sounds without feeling overwhelmed. If you’re holding them against you for these experiences, then all the better as they are also being comforted and connected to you at the same time.
Some tips for exploring nature with infants
Really, this stage is most about your comfort levels with bringing baby outdoors. My first child was born in January. The cold Canadian winter gave me reason to stay indoors and cuddle with him for the first few weeks, but then it was time to get out of the house!
Below you can read all about infant carriers and stollers, but know that you don’t need either of these things to bring your infants outside. If you have a porch or balcony take advantage of that and head outside for nursing and cuddle time throughout the day. It will give you both a change of scenery and a healthy dose of fresh air.
Using Carriers to bring infants outside:
Get yourself a comfortable baby carrier appropriate for infants. Many new moms like to snuggle their babies up in a wrap like this one. I, however, could never get it to work properly and I always felt uncomfortable with baby on. But, I loved wearing my babies in the Ergobaby. There is a special insert to use with infants in this carrier.
If you plan to wear your baby in cool weather think about what you’ll wear to keep both of you warm. You can put baby into a warm bunting prior to getting into the carrier. There are special jackets to be worn over baby carriers. You can use blankets or a stylish shawl to wrap around you both for extra warmth. I found that my maternity jacket or my husband’s jacket could wrap us both up quite nicely. You may need to do some experimenting here.
You’ll also want to take precautions if it is hot out. Some carriers are designed with mesh for cooling in hot climates. Consider too how you’ll keep the sun off baby. A large wide-brimmed hat worn by you will help, or a shade umbrella, baby wearing long light clothing, and a sun hat as well. But, it can be a challenge to get a hat on a tiny baby in a carrier.
Another tip for hot weather is to try timing your outings for early in the morning or later in the evening if it is very sunny where you are.
Using Strollers to bring infants outside:
If you’d rather use a stroller to get outside then make sure it maneuvers well on unpaved trails and snowy paths (if you get snow). Usually this means you’ll want a stroller with larger wheels. We absolutely love our chariot! I can’t say enough good things about these. And I’m not the only one… sometimes it’s a little humorous to arrive at baby activities in Jasper and see a whole row of chariots lined up!
Why do I love the chariot? These cougar chariots are perfect for infants right up to 5 year old kids. They have an attached screen cover as well as a rain protector. You can purchase accessories to pull the chariot behind a bike or cross-country skis. You can attach a single wheel in front which is good for rocky and rooty trails or for jogging. Or, you can use the smaller front wheels when tooting around town. If you end up getting an all-terrain stroller (or the chariot), make sure you consider how your infant will use it and if it supports them appropriately. The chariot has a special infant sling attachment you can use for the wee-ones. I don’t know if other all-terrain strollers are appropriate for infants.
I do talk up the chariot (for good reason), but you don’t have to have one to get outside. When my first baby was born, all I had was a regular basic stroller. It did remarkably well on the snowy sidewalks and I could bundle him up nice and warm inside.
If you are using a stroller to get your babies outside you’ll want to make sure they are warm and dry. For whatever stroller you use, try getting a rain and net cover for it. You may also want to look into stroller sleeping bags or stroller inserts for extra warmth. But, if you don’t want to go all fancy, you can use a big warm blanket. Just make sure baby has room to breathe and move.
It can be tricky to keep a baby cool in a stroller. I really appreciated these lightweight muslin blankets in the warm summer months. You might also want to rig up extra shade for your stroller with an attachable umbrella or a blanket thrown over the canopy. I have heard of parents using cooling mats in the stroller, but I am unsure what these are as it doesn’t often get overly hot here.
Lastly, your infant is so small that you don’t really need a carrier or stroller at all. Just wrap them up and bring them outside in your arms onto the porch, into the backyard, or out for a little walk.
How to make sure you are comfortable when outside with your infant:
Having a baby is life-changing! They’re so tiny and helpless and you are so tired and overwhelmed! But, believe me, you need to get out of the house. You need to get some fresh air and away from the laundry and dishes and that smelly diaper genie. Go for a walk. Go read on a park bench. Buy yourself some flowers.
You might want to get yourself a new pair of comfortable walking shoes. And yes, your feet might have changed sizes after having that baby…. It happens! You may also want to reconsider lugging around that huge diaper bag and decide instead on a smaller shoulder mom bag instead. (Read more on downsizing to a mom purse in this article.)
However you decide to get out, remember your excursions into nature don’t need to be long or challenging or overly involved. Only do what you’re comfortable doing. Just make sure you do it!
As infants grow and start to explore the world a little more independently they should be encouraged to explore outdoors as well. And hopefully you’ve already started getting out for regular walks and excursions, so continuing these should be easy, right?
Getting outside with your older babies continues to be a great way for you to step away from the distracting household tasks and mindless escape of social media. Not only is getting outside good for your baby, it’s continues to be supremely healthy for you at this stage. Spending time in nature will let your body and mind relax, pump up those ‘feel-good’ chemicals (which might seem quite lacking at this point), and help you focus solely on appreciating the time you have with your quickly growing baby.
Exploring nature with older babies:
Babies don’t need planned activities or outdoor toys. Let them experience nature for what it is. Take them for walks outdoors. Let them touch the leaves as you walk by. Point out birds and animals. Encourage them to touch the flowers and feel sand, water, rocks, and grass on their feet.
Throw down a blanket if you like or let them sit on the bare ground. Let them pick up the leaves and lay in the grass. Sure, you need to keep choking hazards out of their hands and away from their mouths and you’ll probably want to make sure the puppy hasn’t left a present in the lawn. But, other than that, a little dirt and germs are totally fine (and in fact are beneficial ) to growing healthy immune systems.
A few tips for getting outside with your infants and babies more often:
- Have a stroller that is easy to maneuver and that you enjoy using. Keep an extra diaper, baby blanket, and some wet wipes in the pocket.
- Keep a picnic blanket in the stroller, car, or by the door to make you more likely to take a break at the park and have a seat on the ground.
- If you have a porch or balcony take advantage of that for cuddles and nursing, reading story books, and eating snacks outside.
- Many new parents adopt a routine of taking a walk around the neighborhood in the evening as a way to reconnect as a couple, give baby some fresh air and cuddle time (if baby is being worn), and help rewind from a hard day of parenting.
Child carriers for the older baby:
There are many child carriers available and they all have different pros and cons associated with them. Do you want a carrier that brings baby directly against you or can the carrier be between your bodies? Do you want a hard frame or a soft carrier? Front or back? Baby facing you or away?
Also, who will be carrying the baby? My husband preferred to carry our babies in the hard frame. I did not. I felt off-balance wearing it. I preferred to carry the babies on my front in the Ergobaby. My husband’s back hurt when he used the Ergobaby, but his back didn’t hurt when he wore the babies in the Snugglie (which was uncomfortable for me)… so, you see what I mean… You might have to try a few different ones out before you and baby find the perfect fit.
If you do find that you are wanting to get out for longer excursions with baby in a carrier, the Deuter Kid Comfort is a very popular hard-framed carrier…. the Cadillac of carriers, if you will. Some of these baby backpacks will come with cushioned head supports, storage pockets, and sun and rain covers.
We, however, managed all our longer walks with an old hand-me-down carrier, a sun umbrella, and some baby blankets for a cushioning.
What about strollers, wagons, and sleds?
Sure, you can still use the all-terrain stroller for bringing your baby out for walks and exploring. But, you can also consider using a wagon once your baby can sit safely and comfortably. Our babies and toddlers absolutely loved going for wagon rides. In the winter you can take them out for rides on a sled.
Wagons can get pretty fancy too. We have a lovely red wagon friends lent to us and it’s perfect. I can throw it in the van and bring it to town or the park. In the winter we pull a cheap plastic sled. But, if it’s really cold you can get sleds with covers on them for the little babies.
You don’t actually need any gear to get babies outside!
You’ve heard all about carriers and strollers and wagons, but those items really aren’t necessary for exploring nature with your babies. They help, sure. But, you can just go outside. Go for little toddling walks. Sit on the grass. Watch the birds from your balcony.
How to encourage nature interaction between you, your babies and nature?
Because babies are still taking in the world, don’t overwhelm them with too much all at once. Let them explore slowly. They might want to crawl around or be happy sitting in one spot. And since they are just little babies they won’t be too bothered if you bring them to the same old park bench or backyard spot time and time again!
When you’re down on the ground with your baby pick up things and hand it to them to explore, like leaves, larger rocks, and pine cones. You can point out birds or describe how the breeze feels on their skin. Direct them to look at the dancing leaves or the bright flowers. You are simply a guide for them… connecting words and feelings to what their senses are discovering.
However, if you find visiting the same places boring, try sightseeing in new parts of town, check out farmer’s markets, take a walk at the botanical gardens or zoo, visit outdoor festivals, and start exploring your local nature trails if you haven’t already.
If you’re a person who needs a little more motivation and company to go out for walks you might want to look into Hike it Baby. This organization has hike coordinators all over the United States and Canada who arrange group walks for young families.
You can also include nature at home too. When you’re reading books to your babies, find books with plants and animals in them. Describe how they look. Make the sounds. Talk about whether you see these things outside or not. These are little ways to start bringing nature into the home and into your interactions with baby so when you head outside you will be more likely to also take note of these things.
The short of it:
When your children are just babies getting outside should be easy. Don’t overstress and plan. Remember, simply sitting in the grass and feeling the breeze ruffle their hair is exciting enough for them. Instead, use this time to get yourself comfortable with bringing them outside. Figure out how to go for walks and do it regularly.
Creating a routine helps set the standard for your child as they grow into the more adventuresome toddler years and you’ll be more likely to continue heading out with your littles if you’ve gotten comfortable with the process already.
You don’t need any fancy gear and you don’t need to organize nature activities. Instead, let your baby’s eyes, ears, hands, and feet do all the work.
Exploring nature with babies can be a simple as you make it. A walk around the block, a blanket on the grass, a visit to the neighbor’s garden. The important thing is to just get outside and start.
What should you do now:
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