The Great Outdoors!

In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace. | Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods

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There’s a reason why it has coined the name ‘the GREAT outdoors’ and a reason why young children always seem to be happier when they are there. Outdoor play and exploring in nature are not only contributing to a child’s physical development. Playing outside supports all areas of development including fostering creativity and the imagination, strengthening problem solving skills, enhanced cognitive ability, and reduced stress and anxiety. Children also deserve more than just climbing, swinging and sliding on playground structures. They need unstructured and uncontrolled play in a safe, natural environment all year long – regardless of the season, weather or temperature. So let’s all ditch the excuses and do what is best for our children!

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This is why, at tlb, we request that our students come dressed prepared for the elements.  Its unfortunate that some schools do a disservice to children and do not take them outside because the weather is inclement. More often than not, when it is rainy (and sometimes it can feel like the rain doesn’t surpass for days) the children stay inside for what they call “indoor recess”.  If they do go out when it is damp, children are commanded and rewarded for staying out of puddles and staying dry. Where is the fun in that? Also, guess what?

Children never tire of playing in and with water.

They experiment with it, study it, attempt to control it, splash in it, and feel it soak their socks or pants or shoes. Perhaps one of the most beloved fashion accessories of a child is a pair of rubber rain boots. Jenn explains, “I love to send my girls outside in any season with rain boots and garden tools to dig in dirt. I just sent them out the other afternoon when they were going crazy inside. It’s honestly hard for me to watch them get dirty because I subconsciously start planning my cleanup strategy, but I make an effort to shake that off and get present with them in the moment and watch how cool their play and discovery is. Finding a worm is like finding gold. Finding a rock is like finding treasure. Then all of a sudden mud pies look delicious! The girls completely get lost in their play. If you don’t have a backyard, a big tub of dirt outside works too.” We see it as our special mission as early childhood educators to spend as much time in the sun, rain and snow as we can. We know how important it is for ALL OF US. As Ranulph Fiennes profoundly said, “There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

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The same goes for when it is cold or snowing. Even on the bleakest of days, if children are dressed appropriately they will happily stay outside for hours. Make it fun! Thinking back, Jenn remembered, “When Mia was 3 we had a lot of snow that winter. She and her dad would make little snowmen and she would dress them up in her dress up clothes. So she created pirate snowmen, princess snowmen and fire fighter snowmen. It was so creative!” Usually only adults are the ones who are bothered. Bundle up in layers so if your children get hot, it’s easy to take something off. The key is to make sure your child’s heads, hands and feet are warm because this will keep the rest of them warm too. hats that cover the ears, waterproof gloves or mittens and wool socks are great options. They also sell inexpensive hand warmers at many convenience stores. They work for hours in your pockets and your kids will think they are the coolest things ever once they get out to play!

Here are some tips for getting your family out of your apartment, to the park, or better yet, out of the city for the day!…

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Plant a Seed. If you already have a garden, this one is easy. All you need is a little piece of dirt or a container to get started. Simply allow your child to pick out a flower, fruit, or vegetable of their very own and plant it in a suitable location. Encourage children to do their own research about which plants will do the best in their region and at the specific time of year. Depending on your child’s age, try not to intervene too much—put your child in charge of planting, watering, marking, and watching their seed sprout and grow. Kids take great pride in knowing that they’ve succeeded in growing something and checking on their plants every day will give them a reason to get outside.

Plan a Camping Trip. Among all its benefits, camping encourages children to have an appreciation for the beauty of nature. Some campsites offer views that are breathtaking and inspiring. Without television, electronic devices and even electricity, we can learn to take in all the sights and sounds of nature. We appreciate its serenity and wonder. In turn, we care more about protecting it!

Start a Collection. A leaf, flower, or rock collection is a great way to encourage kids to forage in the yard. Press leaves and flowers between the pages of a book before pinning them in an album. Rocks can be painted or polished and featured in a shadow box or glass jar.

Take a Hike. On a trail, away from cars and other dangers, our children are free to roam. You may hear your child exclaim, “I did it!” joyfully and more than once as they trek up a hill or devise a strategy to cross a stream or a log in his or her own way. Children build self-confidence because they are free to make their own choices, test limits, and accomplish what they out to do.

Go on a Scavenger Hunt. Keep in mind, you don’t necessarily want your child destroying nature. Your child can pick up and collect items such as fallen leaves, fallen flower petals, sticks or pebbles. Growing plants and living creatures, however, need to stay put outdoors. Try using a piece of tape around the wrist or a baggie to collect the “treasures.” For example, wrap a piece of masking tape (sticky-side out) around your child’s hand, bracelet-style. When he finds thin slices of tree bark on the ground or a match to the pictures of fallen leaves you took, he can press the items against the tape to take home.

There are some amazing places nearby to get outdoors and explore! The Brooklyn Botanical Garden, New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, Longwood Gardens, Ramapo Reservation, etc. Here are some more ideas:

15 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in New Jersey

The 10 Best Nature Places in New York State

For further reading check out Richard Louv’s book, The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder (you can also borrow it from our Lending Library!)

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Cure Cabin Fever! Fun Indoor Activities for Young Children

At three little birds we always encourage our families to bundle up and get out to play in the fresh air, regardless of the season, temperature or weather. However, we completely understand that some days, it may not possible for everyone. With the holidays over and the cold, bleak, New Jersey winter starting to really set in, we’ve come up with a list of super fun activities to help cure your family’s cabin fever and keep your children happy, engaged and inspired in their play at home.

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Make Art!

The trick to creating art in the winter is to keep it simple and use materials that you can easily find around the house. This way, you are not creating more clutter and adding to things you will need to throw out later. It’s also helpful to choose easy, age-appropriate activities that kids can manage by themselves. Then you can simultaneously get things done (or drink a hot cup of coffee!) while they are keeping busy. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Mess free “finger-painting”
  • Create sculptures out of everyday  or recyclable materials (try styrofoam, toothpicks, pipe cleaners, marshmallows, thin wire, cardboard, corks, thread spools, drinking straws, wooden chopsticks, etc.) Think outside the box!
  • Experiment with liquid watercolor paint and salt
  • Rip up old magazines, catalogues, newspapers, etc and let your kids collage them
  • Paint a wall with chalkboard paint and let your kids go to town creating a mural! They can erase and create a new one over and over again. If a chalkboard wall is not feasible, you can tape up some parchment paper or use an easel.

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Explore Your Senses!

Sensory bins are incredibly fun, easy to put together, simple to change up, and can entertain a wide variety of ages–all at once! Sensory activities are very important for young children as they facilitate exploration and naturally encourage kids to use scientific processes while they play, create, investigate and discover. Plain white rice is a great basic starting point. You can leave the rice as is, or get as fancy as you like, by coloring and scenting it. Beans, corn kernels and water beads are also interesting fillers to add. Then add some scoopers, spoons, small objects or toys, letters and numbers, pom poms, stones, sea shells, cookie cutters or anything else you’d like. Sensory bins can be thematically based on your child’s interests or just made for fun exploration. The options are truly endless! Here is a great resource for sensory bin ideas.

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Use Your Imagination!

Our very own Ms. Joyce suggests, “Staying indoors during the winter months can be a ton of fun and one of my favorite things to do is to use our imaginations and bring story books to life such as,  We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen.” There’s even a great song you can listen to together. Joyce explains, “Start by reading the story and then create your very own animal “hunt” at home. Let the children really take the reins and let them decide what animals to include, where to hide them, and see how far they’d like to go in the creation of the hunt. Don’t forget to tip toe, incorporate fun homemade props and sound effects, giggle a lot–make this as fun as possible!” Imaginative play includes role playing which allows children to experiment in creating scenarios, making decisions and problem solving in a safe and enjoyable way. Happy hunting!

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Build an Epic Fort!

C’mon, you know: Everything is better when it’s done inside a fort.

Have an older child who isn’t into reading or writing? Here’s the solution to your problems and you don’t even have to go out and buy a teepee, pop-up playhouse, or tent (though you totally can if you like!) All you need is some inspiration, a nice open space and some basic supplies you most definitely have around your house like sofa cushions, bed sheets, blankets, rope or twine, clothes pins, and a flash light for inside. Once it’s built, let the kids get creative decorating the inside or outside of their fort or filling it with fun things they’d like to do such as books, drawing or coloring materials, legos, blocks, etc. Have fun!

Young mother and son in kitchen making cookies.

Cook or Bake!

If you’re looking for the one activity that exposes your child to math, language and science, while helping them to develop concentration, motor skills and delayed gratification, look no further. I’m talking about cooking and baking. Children can begin to help in the kitchen as early as 18 months and not only are they building skills but you are creating memories as a family that will last a lifetime. The simple act of allowing children to cook helps them develop a core of confidence that is so instrumental to their formation of self. Remember to focus on the process and not the outcome–accept that things will most likely not go as planned and really live in the moment. No matter your child’s age or personality, it is important to empower them. Give them the equipment and skills so they can work independently and involve them in decision making as much as possible. Often they amaze us with what they are capable of! Here are some easy recipes to get you started.

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Create an Indoor Obstacle Course!

This one is pretty self-explanitory. All you need is a little creative spirit and maybe a fold-away tunnel if you happen to have one on hand. If you’re looking for a little DIY obstacle course inspiration, check out the one Lauren made on her blog, Crumb Buns!