Gift Your Child with a Green Start03/03/2023 ● By Beth Stein
Giving children a green start can mean anything from taking outdoor walks with them to simply being okay with them getting wet and dirty. Children who are gifted with a green start learn early how enjoyable it is to spend time outside. As a result, they are more likely to make healthy outdoor activities a regular part of their lives as they grow older. Parents who give kids a green start also learn quickly how much better they feel when they spend time outside with their children. And according to many doctors, psychologists, and educators, kids who spend time outdoors are healthier, less stressed, more ready to learn, and have higher self-esteem. Adults who spend time outside are also healthier and less anxious. Everyone wins! So how can you give your child a green start (and yourself a green time-out)?
Walk in the Wild: It’s a fact of life, babies fuss. They’re tired. They’re hungry. They’re bored. So what do you do? Rather than going for a drive, try walking in the wild outside. Anywhere from a neighborhood park to a street with some trees will work. When your baby is snuggled next to your body in an infant carrier or nestled in a stroller, they will learn early that the rhythm of walking, the sounds of nature, and the feel of fresh air can be soothing. (Check out nurturely.org/lounge for tips on babywearing.)
Nap in Nature: If you have a spring or summer infant, take nature naps together. Grab a soft blanket, a good book, and your baby – and head outside. Cuddle up in your own yard or venture out to a welcoming public greenspace. Even if you only do this once a week, consider it time well spent. Birdsong, wind, water…all of these sounds are wonderful for helping your child learn to relax. And they’ll make you feel calmer as well. (See eugene-or.gov/327/Parks-and-Natural-Areas or willamalane.org/park_and_trails for info on local parks.)
Creep and Crawl: As your little one becomes mobile, don’t be afraid to let them get dirty and damp. Babies love to creep and crawl in soft grass and warm sand. Let your child feel the varied texture of the world in their hands, on their knees, and between their toes. And as they learn to walk, plan for barefoot time! Allow your child to touch and connect with the living earth.
Mess with Mud: Kids love to physically manipulate the stuff of nature. For some sensory fun, fill a shallow plastic tub with water, soil, or sand (or a combo) and let your young child experiment. To keep everyone happy, make sure your container is in a place where a little messy overflow is okay. No fancy toys are needed – simply provide some plastic containers from your recycling, an old spoon for digging, and some cones, shells, or other natural objects for pretend play.
Taste and Touch: Little kids are always putting things in their mouths, so once they’re eating solids, share fruits and veggies straight from the earth. If you have a garden, let your child “help” you harvest. If you don’t have a garden, find a friend who does, go to the Farmers Market, or visit a U-Pick farm. Introducing your child early to the origin of their peas and carrots will help them develop a sense of gratitude for and connection to the green, growing world that sustains us all. (The Lane County Farmers Market is now open 10 am-2pm in downtown Eugene!)
Song, Dance, and Story: You can also give little ones a green start through imaginative songs, movement activities, and stories that feature animals, plants, and adventures in nature. Local libraries are a great resource for books and storytimes. Connecting little ones to the wild world outside in their imaginations will inspire them to seek out healthy real life outdoor adventures as they grow older. (Nearby Nature sponsors Green Start Play Days—storytelling and outdoor play— for kids five and under with their caregivers on the 2nd Tuesday of the month, 10-11:30 am – see nearbynature.org/events to register.)