Nature Play for Babies and Toddlers
In my previous blog I discussed the developmental importance of creating opportunities for young children to explore nature. Here are some practical ideas for putting babies and toddlers in contact with nature and natural objects to fully encourage free play, movement, and sensorial exploration in the early years.
New babies: Outdoor walks in the pram or sling, time on a blanket outdoors, natural mobiles, natural sounds and music, natural fabrics to wear, sheepskin to lie on.
The baby who can sit supported: Babies are most often placed on a mat with an array of brightly coloured plastic toys. The sensory feedback from plastic is very limited and therefore so are the learning opportunities! It was in response to this that the “Treasure
Basket”, was developed (Goldschmied and Jackson, 1994.) It has since been incorporated into many Montessori homes and infant programmes, as a wonderful way of bringing the natural world to the baby. The starting point is to find a sturdy willow basket of about 50 cm diameter, and without a handle. Sort through your cupboards at home to find the ‘treasures.’ These will be everyday objects made from natural materials or natural objects. The checks to employ are that the objects are not sharp, cannot shatter or break and do not propose a choking risk. We made one at school last week for our visiting baby. I explained the concept to the class, and they understood immediately. We worked our way through one of the classroom storage cupboards and within 10 minutes we had assembled the following: a large shiny cowrie shell, a smooth pebble, a tightly knotted string of large wooden beads, two decorative tins of different sizes carefully sealed for shaking and rattling, a rubber bath plug on a chain, wooden spoons of different sizes, a small leather purse, a piece of sheepskin, a length of ribbon and a piece of velvet. The children sterilized and rinsed all the items before placing them in the basket and presenting it to baby Luniko. She delighted them by diving in straight way, grabbing at items with her tiny hands and exploring fully. Below are some of the many advantages of this simple activity:
– The Treasure Basket can be social when several babies play together, or when the caregiver or parent joins in
– The Treasure Basket promotes choice
– The Treasure Basket promotes concentration
– The Treasure Basket promotes fine motor control
– The Treasure Basket leads to the formation of concepts
– The Treasure Basket is fun
The Crawling Baby: Once the baby is mobile, they will not have so much interest in the Treasure Basket, they can go off and find their own world of treasures! At this stage baby- proofing your environment is essential to facilitate safe and free exploration. Pots and pans, and the garden can provide for hours of exploration. The basket can still be of value if the child is tired or unwell and for long drives and flights. As language is now developing it can also create wonderful opportunities for building vocabulary.
The Toddler: Goldschmied and Jackson also developed the idea of Heuristic Play for Toddlers. This term comes from the Greek Word eurisko, meaning ‘I find’ or ‘I discover’ in other words the ‘eureka moment,’ (Hughes 2006.) In Heuristic play the toddler is offered collections of natural and everyday objects, containers and tubes for exploration and play. There should be at least 50 of each object and the collections can be stored in drawstring bags or baskets and put out in different combinations to promote a variety of exploration. A great deal of physical development occurs through this type of play. Concepts such as: same and different, small, and large, heavy, and light, rough, and smooth, hollow, and solid are formed through exploration and consolidated with the introduction of language. Moving between Heuristic play sessions and the garden or beach will promote even deeper learning. We have found these activities to be of huge value in our Toddler environment at Ocean View.
Goldschmied, E and Jackson, S, (1994) “People Under Three,” Routledge, London, UK
Hughes, A, (2006) “Developing Play for the Under 3’s,” David Fulton Publishers, Oxford, UK
Up next the Pre-schooler…