Written by Narell Neville, September 2019
Outdoor experiences are an important part of children’s healthy development. Babies love being outdoors: a whole wide world of sensory discovery awaits! So much to see, hear, touch and experience. So much to learn. These experiences are enhanced when adults are on hand to ensure safe environments, communicate and interpret their experiences and scaffold their learning.
We particularly love playing with babies outside in wild nature. Infants have opportunities to move freely outdoors, to grasp objects, kick legs and crawl. Uneven surfaces mean children quickly gain benefits in their balance and proprioceptive development – their sense of self in space and foundations of learning to be a confident mover and thinker in the world.
Textures of grass, bark, crackly leaves and soft foliage can be explored along with building concepts of the wateriness of water, the difference between sunny places and shady places, a whole variety of natural sounds, and the directions they come from. Sticks and natural found objects become early familiar playmates, setting the groundwork for imaginative play in later years. Contact with microbes in soil and plant matter are known to help stimulate immune systems, and spending time in fresh air also encourages healthy sleep patterns for babies as they begin to understand the difference between night and day, and experience deeper and more peaceful rest.
How do we care for and educate babies at Little Birdwings Forest Kindy?
Nature provides a peaceful and settled space for babies to learn and play. When babies have the opportunity to explore the natural world with their caregivers, they begin to associate being outdoors with secure, joyful relationships, curiosity, exploration and appreciation. Such experiences create long-lasting sense of belonging to their world and their community.
In our Little Birdwings and our Babies WildPlay programs we have designed an approach and created a space to protect and celebrate childhood. Nobody likes to be hurried along, so we take our time, especially with babies. We slow down and make things gentle. We know it is important to take time and care in all that we do with our babies, to help them process all the information in the world around them. The world is a big place, and wild nature can be harsh. We experience it in little parts, together.
A slow and predictable daily rhythm, small groups and high adult/child ratio means babies and caregivers can both afford the time to watch, listen and respond, cultivating opportunities for social exchange, relationship building and language development. We are not in the business of entertainment or structured learning. As educators and playworkers with years of practice behind us, we know when to act (or not act) upon a child’s response, depending upon the context and what we know the child needs at the time. When educators engage in outdoor learning experiences alongside children, this time and space of experiencing together ensures that children feel safe, and feel heard.
Infants and toddlers are supported with a strong daily rhythm, flowing from one thing to another with repetition and ease. There should be no harsh adults bursting the play bubble, interrupting playful moments before they are finished, clapping their hands and calling out, “Come over here everybody, we need to do …………!” No, instead we allow play to come to a natural close and sing and tell stories to our babies all day: songs for play, work and transitions. Songs for sleepy times. Songs for joy and giggles. Nursery rhymes, made up rhymes, stories and conversation.
Communicating with babies
Communicating with babies is so important. In the absence of their caregiver, we need to be their number one and infants and toddlers must know we are there for them. If a new child sticks like glue to us for the first few weeks, that is absolutely fine, we’ve got time to wait until they are ready.
We build rapport with children through our body language. When our eyes are at the same level, we use them expressively to communicate, giving our full attention and matching their speed, volume and tone. We delight in their delights, we share the moments with them and they with us.
Playing with Babies
We are funny and joyful and silly and playful with babies. Yes we play! We model play but we really like to play too! Play is fun no matter what age you are. If a child plays in a space less than a metre from us, that is fine too. We can do so much playwork in a small amount of space! Play with children requires establishing a sense of safety first, and from this space children can feel secure to begin taking risks with their learning.
For babies, risk-taking might mean feeling the water for the first time or examining the texture of the objects around them. We can pick up something nearby and play with it. Or we can sit with them and dangle our fingers in the water. We can find a leaf boat or we can just leave them be.
An example of a simple play scenario is sitting near an infant with a stick on which I am threading leaves. I pass it to the baby and she mimics me, but the leaf won’t go on. I acknowledge this, verbalise what happened and encourage her to continue. She passes it back to me, so I return it for her to try again, and the leaf goes on. I acknowledge her achievement, she smiles and she keeps trying. She is enjoying herself. She is learning to associate outdoor play with safety, fun and autonomy.
Connection with Babies
We believe in babies and their abilities. Mostly we love the connection that comes by being with that child wholeheartedly. These babies and children are living their best life, the type of childhood you wish you had or in some cases the childhood you did have, one that you remember, the one you have such fond nostalgic memories of.
All children deserve the time and space to move freely, to play with abandon, to run and jump and laugh and sing. The younger they are in nature the better.
Birdwings offers a number of nature play programs for infants, toddlers and families. Babies WildPlay for infants from birth to 12 months, WildPlay Adventurers for toddlers from 12 months and Little Birdwings for children from 18 months.