Most of my favourite childhood memories come from being outdoors, experiences which I’m sure helped build my character, and I want the same for my children. Nature stimulates so many of our senses, providing infinite learning opportunities for curious minds. By helping your toddler learn about nature, they’ll hopefully grow up to care for their world. But the first step to protecting our environment is understanding it.
Babies and toddlers can begin learning about the world around them through daily activities and experiences. These tips are to help encourage them to get out in nature and have fun in the playground that Earth offers.
Importance of Nature in Child Development
One of our absolute favourite things to do as a family is to head out into nature. We love to go on hikes, explore the beach, find new trails, or even just go to a forested area in our neighbourhood.
Getting outside has so many benefits for kids and adults alike. It’s a great way to burn energy and breathe fresh air into your lungs. Little ones love the opportunity to run, climb, jump, and get their hands on new objects at any given chance. (Plus it’s a great way to avoid boredom as a stay-at-home mom!)
Nature offers children the opportunity to question how the world works through a wide variety of sensory stimulation. Curiosity helps develop their budding brains as they explore their surroundings.
You don’t need to overcomplicate these adventures. You don’t need expensive gear or even prepare for an entire day trip. Stick to short and simple routes until you really understand how much your child can handle (fresh air can exhaust them!).
If getting out and about with small kids is new for you, check out my tips on how to safely manage a baby and toddler.
Be mindful (and realistic) of how far you can go. Try to not push them beyond their comfort zone and of course, ALWAYS, safety first.
When hiking, keep low expectations on the distance you’ll go the first number of times. Going out is the easy part – it’s getting all the way back with a tired little one that can be tricky!
It’s not necessary to venture out on hardcore hikes or trailblazing with little ones in tow. The point is to head outdoors and find some nature.
There’s really nothing I love more than watching my girls explore and learn about the world around them. And good ol’ Mother Nature really can be the best teacher there is. This leads me to my next tip.
Let Toddlers explore their Environment
If you want them to get excited about nature then you’re going to have to let them explore it. Kids are curious creatures themselves who just love diving into whatever peaks their interest.
An important way for your toddler to learn about nature by themselves is to let kids be kids outside (while supervising closely of course). Getting mucky or touching things that aren’t always super appealing can be hard to watch but it’s how they learn. Kids learn by digging, touching worms, and making mud soup – these amazing new discoveries that they never get to do at home.
Set boundaries that you feel comfortable with. But if it’s not harmful, try to let them experiment and learn new skills outdoors …even when it means an extra load of laundry when you get home.
Messy Play with your Toddler
Speaking of laundry… Why not join in the fun? Yes, let your inner child OUT and get mucky with them. What a fantastic way to show your toddler how fascinating nature is!
This is especially important for those little ones who are hesitant to get dirty or touch something new. Show them by example. If mom’s making a mud pie then that must be a super fun and interesting thing to do!
If the terrain allows, try taking your shoes off! Stimulate those senses and learn from the ground up, literally! Let your child’s bare feet discover the texture of grass or the sliding effect of sand between their tiny toes.
These simple activities are actually building memorable moments and experiences for them.
Easy Nature Scavenger hunts for Toddlers
There are plenty of activities you could do outdoors, but one of my favourites is to do a scavenger hunt. You don’t even need to prepare anything beforehand, just come up with exciting challenges for whatever area you are in.
Not only does this pass the time in a fun way, but it’ll also teach your little ones to really see what neat treasures are hidden in their surroundings.
Some easy examples on a forested walk are:
- Colours of leaves
- Moss on trees or rocks
- Slugs (or other critters you’d find in your area)
- Types of birds
- Foot or paw prints
Or at a beach it could be:
- Types of shells
- Colours of rocks
- Variety of seaweed
- Something you find at the beach for every letter of the alphabet (A – anchor, B – barnacle, C – crab, etc)
- Shapes of driftwood
If you’re not feeling very creative yourself, before heading out you can quickly find a printable scavenger hunt online for the type of area you’ll be visiting.
Outdoor Play in all weather
Now this one is sometimes easier said than done, but worth mentioning nonetheless. I’m a summer and sunshine kind of mom myself, so I really have to hype myself up to adventure out with the kiddos when the weather is dreary or cold.
But we can’t just wait for ideal weather to go out and explore. There are lessons to be learned in all types of weather. (Ok, if it’s extreme weather perhaps you can take a “rain check”, but try to get out whenever you can!)
Fresh air does wonders for the kids as well as us stay at home moms! Get your gumboots on and jump in puddles. Prepare an old towel by the backdoor and head to the backyard to play with mud. Pop on the snow gear and dig tunnels in the snow.
If there are days that you really don’t feel like getting outside, that’s ok too! There are still plenty of nature-based activities you can do on those days.
Some examples include nature crafts at home. Or even driving to a lookout to talk about the weather. You can go by a farm or pond to watch the animals for a bit. The library is full of fantastic nature books for kids. Even the TV has a wide variety of nature programs for kids as well.
It’s about taking baby steps to show your child all the beauty that exists in the natural world around us and encourage them to care for it as they grow.
For more tips on other ways you can help your toddler learn, check out this post.