As a parent of a 16-month-old, I’m often trying to come up with activities that will get us out of the house and fuel her curiosity.
We’re lucky to live just outside of Philadelphia, so we have a lot of museum options, an aquarium and a few zoos within a short drive, but going to them is more of a special occasion or every-so-often thing for us. Annual memberships are still pretty expensive and one trip to the aquarium would cost us close to $70.
What I’m looking for when it comes to activities for Mae is something a bit simpler, easier and yet also educational. And that’s why just getting outside in a natural setting has become my favorite activity, along with reading and the imaginary and sometimes not imaginary cooking we do.
Instilling an appreciation of our earth and the environment and the wonders of nature is important to us as parents, and simply going outside among the trees and flowers and stones and plants and animals is something that Mae enjoys. I know she won’t remember our recent trips to Black Run, Bartram’s Garden, Crows Woods or Saddlers Woods, but my hope is that she’ll enjoy herself in the moment and maybe, just maybe, those experiences are planting a seed.
In “Beyond Ecophobia,” David Sobel suggests that we cannot expect our children to care about our earth ? and issues like climate change and environmental sustainability ? if we don’t teach them to love nature. “If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered,” he says, “then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, ‘the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.’?
When we take walks, there isn’t much teaching going on. Sure, sometimes I’ll have her count acorns or leaves, but really I just want her to explore. I point out squirrels or other things, because I hope she’ll understand that we’re surrounded by interesting and beautiful things when we’re out in nature. I want her to learn to quietly observe, and to see just how beautiful our natural world is.
?Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.? ? Rachel Carson
No, I’m not able to get it together enough to be taking her to magnificent places every few days. We go to small nature preserves and parks, which suit her just fine for now. She’s small and I’m letting her walk as much as she wants to, which makes for some very slow walks and pitiful distances (for an adult).
When we first pulled up to Crows Woods in Haddonfield a few weeks ago, I was surprised that Mae was reluctant to actually enter the wooded area. Maybe she was expecting a playground or a trip to my parents, and that initial view didn’t meet that expectation. But I actually think she found it a little scary. I didn’t push her, but I picked her up and walked toward a tree to show her its leaves. “Down!” she said after that, and off we went down the path.
Mae ended up plopping down and just moving some dirt around for a while, which is fine. She enjoyed seeing the squirrels and hearing a bird here or there. She found some excellent rocks and even yelled out, “Buddy!” recognizing this as a place her dog brother might like. It was nice just to be out in the fresh air, going slowly.
So if you’re looking for activities to do with your toddler (or child of any age), try this:? Forget about memberships and baby gyms and obstacle courses and trampolines or whatever else, and just get outside. I think more of us adults could use a few moments just to slow down, breathe in some fresh air, not worry about distance walked or hiked, and just enjoy the natural areas we still have available to us.