Here is the perspective of Jill Oudman, teacher of young children, ages birth-5 years, at the Addison County Parent Child Center:
Ever try to bring an infant group outdoors to play, or to the woods for an “adventure”? Well what an adventure it can be!
Picture this: Six infants – some more mobile than others, three staff. We got this, right? NOT! One baby becomes unsettled and starts to cry, setting off a chain reaction. End Adventure!
Over the past two decades I have learned to take it slow and get a feel for the group, have an open mind and a full bag of tricks, and then, follow the children’s lead. Today, the following is how it may look when I am working with infants/young toddlers that are unsure or unsettled while initially exploring the outdoors:
Planning ahead, I would place a blanket or two outside for the child to be on. Adding a few familiar toys to the blankets to encourage engagement and possibly use for scaffolding further explorations. Starting with only one or two infants at a time, I would sit on the blanket with them, offering as much comfort as needed to engage in play. I place items such as grass, leaves, flowers, sticks, and pinecones on the blanket for them to explore.
They are infants, and so YES they will explore by putting these items in their mouths! Keeping this in mind, I will offer large items that I know are safe, such as edible plants/herbs, large or chunky pine cones, and sticks. As they become more comfortable, I move closer to the edge or even off the blanket to encourage their exploration of the surroundings, always being available to keep them feeling safe. Sometimes it takes the comfort of holding the child while introducing them to the environment in order to reduce stress and allow for a positive experience and engagement.
Gradually the children become more comfortable and expand on their sensory experiences by exploring further and further from the blanket. If it seems like the sensory experience of crawling on the grass is undesirable and prohibiting a child from moving off the blanket, it might help if you put them in long pants tucked into socks and a long sleeved shirt with mittens or socks on their hands.)
Routinely building in enriching outdoor experiences helps create more confident and curious children. Remember, you can start small. Nature is right outside your door.