Babies, Toddlers and Fun With Nature
It's never too early to help your child develop a closer relationship with nature. Even small babies love being outside in the fresh air, while toddlers can't wait to explore the world around them. Developing a love of and respect for nature is important, and it's never too early - or too late, for that matter - to learn.
Commune with a ColonyYoung children are fascinated by watching ants at work, and summer is a fantastic time to teach your kids about the ant world. Watching a real ant colony is fun and a great way to start explaining how the insect world really works, and you may find yourself having to buy an ant farm before too long!
If you live near a bee apiary or honey farm, take advantage of its proximity. Many beekeepers have glassed-in hives where children can watch bees going along their daily business. Some zoos nowadays also have live terrariums where you can even watch cockroach colonies at work. Better have a strong stomach for this one...
Explore the GardenToddlers find it easy to tune in to the world inside their gardens – especially in summer when they're full of nice, juicy bugs. Spend an afternoon exploring the bugs in your garden, and bring along a notebook so your toddler can make drawings of what he or she sees.
The best way for them to appreciate all the insects up close, of course, is to make a Bug Hotel (you can release the little critters later). Very young children find it easier to give their “pets” back, so hopefully that won't be too hard.
What you will need:
- A plastic container
- Metal fork
- Plastic spoon or shovel
- Sticks, leaves and grass
- Jam jar lid
Poke a hole in the container with the fork, explaining to your little one why insects need oxygen to live. Scoop up bugs with the plastic shovel or spoon, then put leaves, sticks and grass inside. Fill a small jam jar lid with water for the bugs to drink. Don't forget to explain first that the Hotel is for observation purposes only, and that the bugs will need to be put back before tea. You don't want tears before bedtime...
Nature WalkBabies love going outside, and if you put them in a front-facing sling they can enjoy trying to make sense of the world around them. Pointing out different things you see and encouraging them to explore textures and feel different surfaces can help get them interested in things outside their immediate surroundings.
Talk to them about what you see and explain what they are touching – you'd be surprised how much even small babies understand. For older toddlers, combine visual exploration with making rubbings with paper and crayons of interesting and unusual surfaces, such as special stones and bark.
Gardening for Little OnesMany children these days believe that carrots, onions and beans “grow” in the supermarket. Assist your child in understanding how vegetables grow by encouraging them to take part in a spot of gardening for themselves, seeing how nature really works – with a little help from us.
Kids can begin by helping to dig holes and placing seeds in the ground. They will also love watering plants, but don't let them go overboard and drown everything out! If you don't have a garden, you can try growing herbs on a pot in the windowsill. Alternatively, plan a trip to an allotment so they can be an eye-witness to veggies actually coming out of the ground.
Picking Your Own fruit is also a great summertime pursuit that will encourage your child's love and understanding of how we grow food. Look online to see where PYO farms are close to you, and choose one that grows fruit you know your children love. If you live in an urban area, see if there are any city farms to visit – your kids will benefit from being up-close to the animals, and many even get to milk a cow or two...
Understanding nature in all its many forms is something we never get tired of. Even babies can appreciate the Great Outdoors, and teaching toddlers about how we live is an important part of the learning process. Make it fun, and you can't go wrong. They won't even realise it's educational!