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Many practitioners are unsure how to entertain babies outside, but actually it is quite simple. Give them a chance to just be... allow them time to explore their surroundings, feel different textures and have the freedom of no walls.
Babies spend a huge amount of time watching and the outdoors ignites senses so naturally. Trees, grasses, flowers and clouds all have movement and all provide experiences that are so good for wellbeing and calmness. Fresh air as we know, is great to help us sleep and the physical development gained whilst playing outside enables the body to grow strong using both fine motor and gross motor skills.
At Kamelia Kids our babies have their own garden space, the wooden fence allows them to pull themselves up and watch the older toddlers zoom around on bikes. The beautiful buddleia bush (pictured), full of purple flowers attracts both butterflies and bees and the soft tarmac is a good surface to practice walking. We are fortunate to have shaded canopies and we use tuff trays to promote invitations to play in sand and water. Guttering is great at providing "ready, steady, go" games with balls and cars. A firm favourite is the musical instruments, which many babies love, especially when we sing together.
All of the rooms took part in the Wildlife Trusts annual challenge, 30 days wild, and as part of a few of the days during the challenge, the babies enjoyed a snack outside. Tables were brought outside, decorated with cups of wildflowers from our Sensory/Well Being garden and a healthy snack was enjoyed. A lovely experience for everyone involved. National Childbirth Trust (NCT) says "Children who gain knowledge and appreciation of nature are more likely to become environmentally aware adults" and as the seasons change, babies get used to feeling hot and cold, get wind and rain on their cheeks and are seeing first hand leaves falling and ice forming.
During my time working in Lincolnshire at a Forest School, we took the 3- and 4-year-olds to a yurt and spent the morning outside, even in December! Children wore gloves and warm jackets and as they got wet were given dry ones. I remember one child got upset because they refused to wear gloves and her hands got cold. We sat her by the log burner and gave her a warm water bottle and soon cold hands were forgotten. When we spoke to her mother later, we explained that she had got very cold hands because of her refusal to wear gloves and her mother replied that she had probably never experienced cold before.
This made me think about the importance of just being outside and what effects it has on our bodies which is quite eye opening. So, there is never wrong weather, only wrong clothing, so give it a go. You may see a completely different side to a child when they are given the freedom of the great outdoors.
Below are some top tips on how you can make the most of outdoor areas in your setting and how you can engage the children in your care outdoors:
- Use a tuff tray on the ground to invite baby over to explore. If the baby wants to sit within the resources thats just perfect. Change the contents daily.
- Use plastic dog baskets as reading nooks or just an enclosed space to observe from.
- Paint with water. Buy cheap paint brushes and decorator pots from pound shops and let children paint anything.
- Use natural products to enable schemas like transporting and enveloping e.g large shells, pinecones, bamboo pieces, wooden blocks.
- Use small pieces of guttering to create car ramps, ball runs and water channels.
- Most importantly have fun!