By Karen Clarkson, nature play advocate, mum of two and founder of The Outdoor Kids Project.
The natural world is loaded with endless opportunities for stimulating babies senses and it creates a powerful learning environment that can’t be replicated indoors. Research tells us that an increasing number of parents are keeping babies indoors too often. And while we might be concerned that it’s too cold, they might get sick or it’s too much effort, the good news is that the benefits of outdoor play from an early age has been proven and not only does it provide a calming effect on the baby, but often for mums and dads too.
This is the third and final blog for our summer series. This blog focuses on development and the key role time outdoors can play. Hopefully our series has encouraged you to prioritise spending time outdoors with your babies and family as there’s also so many benefits to them spending time in nature every day.
Development of senses
Nature provides so much opportunity to develop the vestibular or balance sense. It’s an important one too because it’s the first fully functioning sensory system to develop and its fully developed only five months after conception! Ginny from 1000 Hours Outside says the progression of sitting to crawling to toddling to running during the first 15 months is a crucial time for developing the balance sense. And it is even more important that we allow our babies to practise these skills on lots of different surfaces and terrain so it will support strong sensory development. For even more sensory development and increased foot flexibility, let your baby go barefoot at the beach, at the park or on smooth pebbles (just remember to stay in the shade as much as possible, avoid direct sunlight and wear hats.)
Healthy eye development
In 2017 teams from three Australian universities conducted a study of over 4000 children. They were looking for clues to explain the sudden and dramatic increase in myopia or short-sightedness. Before the study, many assumed the rise must be related to all the time children are spending looking at screens. But they discovered it was due to children not spending enough time outside. Our eyes, it turns out, are designed to develop and grow in the presence of bright outdoor light. And when a child’s eye doesn’t get enough of this bright light, problems can occur. Optometrists now recommend that to reduce their risk of developing myopia, children spend at least 15 hours outside each week and this can start from an early age with your babies.
Making outdoor time a priority every day for parent and baby, can provide such an incredible benefits to you both and can be a lovely bonding experience. If you’re interested in joining our community of Kiwi parents, and be inspired and educated on the importance of raising outdoor kids, and gain tips and tricks for getting outdoors every day, please join The Outdoor Kids Project on Instagram.
Karen Clarkson is a passionate nature play advocate, mother of two active boys and founder of The Outdoor Kids Project. As a new mum with a baby that hardly slept at home, she took to the streets, the park, the beach and the bush and experienced first hand the benefits of nature not only for her children, but for her own mental health. She created The Outdoor Kids Project to write, inspire and educate Kiwi parents on all things raising outdoor kids. She shares her daily adventures with her boys around New Zealand and hosts a guest post series called #realoutdoormums where she chats to outdoor mums, educators, teachers and professionals who share their tips, tricks and expert opinions on all things outdoor play, family adventures and nature education. You can join her community here.