Outdoor Exploration and your Baby’s Growth
It’s exciting to watch your tiny baby grow into an energetic child who’s capable of running and jumping and approaching life with enthusiasm and joy. The sights, sounds, tastes and smells your child is exposed to during infancy influence their growth and development.
There’s a certain critical period when your child’s brain is developing rapidly. During this time, brain cells are forming thousands of new connections that will impact your infant’s learning skills, motor skills, dexterity and even their emotions later in life. That’s why play is so vital for your baby’s growth and development.
Unfortunately, fewer parents are choosing outdoor play for babies due to things like lack of time or safety concerns. That’s unfortunate, because outdoor play for babies offers a number of developmental benefits. As a parent, it’s important for you to be aware of these.
Nature provides an incredibly complex array of stimuli – the sound of birds singing in the distance, the warmth of the sun shining down on a baby’s skin, the first smells of spring and the texture of leaves and grass. It’s this fusion of sights, sounds and smells that help your baby’s brain form complex connections. As your baby reaches for a leaf to explore, he’s sharpening his motor skills so he’ll grow to become an active child who loves to play outdoors. The many sensory stimuli your child is exposed to in nature encourages exploration so your baby’s brain can reach its highest level of development.
Brain development isn’t the only reason a baby needs outdoor play. Some parents are concerned that playing outdoors will expose their baby to germs and increase their risk for illness. Research shows that babies raised in an overly sanitized environment are at greater risk for developing allergies and asthma later in life. Early exposure to dogs, cats and the outdoor environment “teaches” their immune system not to overreact later in life. That’s a good thing from a health standpoint.
Other Benefits of Outdoor Play
A baby’s preferences are formed early in life. When you expose a baby to nature early, they develop an appreciation for being outdoors that carries over into childhood. That means more time running and playing outside and less time in front of a television or computer screen. Early exposure to outdoor play means better health later on. Plus, being outdoors is good for a baby’s emotional health. Soaking up the sights, smells and sounds of nature eases stress by lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
How to Enhance the Benefits of Outdoor Play
Infants should have opportunities to explore the great outdoors not only to enhance their motor and sensory skills but to help them develop an early appreciation of nature. Of course, infants need constant supervision to protect them from danger and discourage them from putting sharp objects in their mouth. Never leave a baby unattended outdoors – but together the two of you can explore all that nature has to offer.
Do you have a garden? Why not let your infant explore the sights and textures of leaves, fruits and vegetables? As your baby grows, reserve a garden bed just for your child so he can plant his own seeds and watch them grow into plants. Take your baby to a park where he can see other children playing and touch the equipment. Hold your baby in your lap while sitting on a swing and let him feel the movement and the wind caressing his skin. Get a sandbox for your child in the backyard and help him build motor skills by learning to shovel. Take your baby on nature walks and point out insects, birds and other natural phenomenon. Let your infant touch stones, rocks and leaves of different textures. You’ll be bonding with your baby while helping him explore the outside world.