Introducing Your Tot to the Outdoors
Fresh air, sunshine on the face, grass between the toes—essentials of childhood. Some kids naturally love the outdoors. Others, you have to motivate, like my son. He prefers to sit inside all day and read books (which is great, don’t get me wrong) and play cars. And to him, all bugs, dirt, and most leaves are “Ew, ew, ew,” and playground equipment is seen as an unnecessary danger (What can I say, he is a cautious kid). And, while I, too, am a bookworm, I am also an outdoor enthusiast. I had to find creative ways to introduce my toddler the outdoors, and I hope some of you can benefit from my experience. Here are a few tips for getting your tot to love the outdoors (and if he already does, to love it more):
Take What They Love to Do Indoors Outdoors
Since my son loves to read, I bought a cheap, plastic, outdoor bench from Walmart, plopped in under a nice, big tree, and each day I bring out a big pile of books and read to him. Since he loves to play cars, I bring them outside, too, with a big bucket of water, and he has a carwash. I also bring other favorite (usually indoor) activities outdoors, such as coloring, finger painting other arts and crafts, and there is less mess to clean up this way, too! We even bring our food outside.
Go for Family Walks
Make it a habit. Not only is it good exercise, but the more it becomes a routine, the more comfortable your little one will be outdoors, thus the more likely he will begin to explore.
Bring a bag and tell your child you are going to collect sticks, rocks, leaves, or all three. Have him help you find “cool” things to put in your basket. Toddlers love to be given a mission, and a little nature scavenger hunt is the perfect way to them engaged and exercising outside. After you are done, do something with your collection. For example, throw rocks in a pond, build a nature collage, make nature prints, etc.
Find Excuses to Go Outside
Most toddlers I know love getting the mail. Make it a habit to get the mail together each day, then try to encourage your child to stay outside and play. You could also take the trash out together, or if your kid is crazy about cars, like mine, run outside to watch the garbage man every time he picks up the trash.
I took my son to Walmart and Home Depot and had him pick out some plants. We, then, planted them together. He had a blast with his little shovel, and he instantly became invested in the plants (he even “pets” them). Now, to get him outside, all I have to say is, “Let’s go water the plants,” and he is up in a flash. While watering, we talk about how they’ve grown, if there are new flowers, and how plants need water and sun to grow.
Respect Reluctance But Encourage Exploration
The key is to not push your child. For example, my son thinks bugs and dirt are “ew,” so I just say, “Mommy doesn’t think they are ew,” and play in the dirt or grab a caterpillar, but don’t I try to force him to do the same. If he freaks out because dirt is on his hands, I show him how to brush it off, and reassure him that it is okay. He hates the stroller, so I don’t make him ride in it. He likes to be carried, but I prefer him to walk, so we make a deal, and I carry him a certain distance, then he has to walk. He thinks slides and swings are scary, so I go down them and try to make them look fun. I, then, offer to let him go down on my lap or hold his hands as he goes down. He is starting to like going outside more and more, and he explores a little more each day, too. The biggest thing is that I don’t give up. We find reasons to go outside everyday.
Other Outdoor Activities and Toys Toddlers Love:
- Big balls to kick or throw. Make it a game by putting up a little soccer net and having your toddler try to kick it in.
- Water. Whether it be a swimming pool, a toddler pool, a bowl of water, a sprinkler, or just a hose, tots love water and will find many creative ways to entertain themselves with it.
- Sidewalk chalk
- Bubbles (Bubble guns are great for tots who haven’t mastered blowing them, yet.)
- Wheelbarrows, toy rakes, shovels, and pails. Plant a little garden.
- Sandboxes. Walmart sells covered sandboxes, or you can make your own!
- Sand and water tables (also found at Walmart)
- Ride on toys such as Cozy Coupes, push toys, wagons, and Powerwheels
- Fishing poles with a weight instead of a hook. Your tot will love learning how to cast and reel.
- A net for catching bugs
- Watching cars, planes, or clouds
- Jumping in mud puddles
- Feeding ducks
- Walking dogs