The sight of leaves blowing in the wind, the scent of flowers, the feel of grass, the sound of bird song… these are just a few of the wonderful outdoor sensory experiences available for any baby to enjoy. Getting outside is good for both baby and parent… the more often, the better. When my son was a baby, he had colic, and it was tough for me to do much of anything. If I wasn’t holding him and walking or swaying, he would cry and scream. When he napped, I slept or fell exhausted on the couch. I was lucky if I found the time to eat or shower. But I found that when I got us outside, things were better. The screaming would subside, and he would became more quiet and focused. I would feel more calm and present. Of course, if you have an easier baby, getting outdoors daily will be less of a struggle, but the benefits are the same. Babies thrive when their senses are stimulated.
The activities I recommend involve being held by the parent or having close contact, so the baby will feel love and comfort while exploring the outside world. Each baby is different. Some have a higher tolerance for sensory stimulation, while others are more sensitive. Go slowly if necessary, or, if the baby wants to explore further, give them the space within reason to do so. We enjoyed the following activities the most. The ones I did more frequently were those that required the least effort.
Take a sensory walk around the neighborhood:
This can take 15 minutes or an hour. Put the baby in a front carrier (Ergo Baby, Baby Bjorn, etc) and simply walk out the door. Walk slowly and allow the baby to look around. Stop at a bush or small tree and allow the baby to look at, touch, and smell the leaves (but don’t taste). Do the same thing with flowers. Look at, touch, smell flowers. Talk quietly with the baby, giving the names of the colors the he is seeing. Listen to the birds. Give the baby a rock to hold, ensuring he doesn’t put it into his mouth. Let the baby feel the sun or wind on his skin. Point out a cat walking by. Do you know the cat is nice? Allow the baby to gently pet and feel the fur. Talk gently with your baby about what she is seeing, feeling, smelling, and hearing.
Explore farther from home:
I know it can be hard, but get in the car and head to the nearest park, walking path, garden, the beach, or forest with a trail (whatever your area has to offer). Again, as in the neighborhood sensory walk above, put the baby in the front carrier and head out for your walk, allowing the baby to experience his surroundings in the same way, but add new experiences. Are you at the beach? Allow the baby to feel the sand on her feet. Listen to the waves. Are you in a forest? Have him touch the bark of a tree. In a garden? Smell and look at the wide variety of flowers. At the park? Touch grass. Watch kids at play. Listen to the laughter and joyful play of children. The opportunities for sensory experiences are endless.
Feel the wind:
Is the day slightly windy? Take a walk or lie on a blanket under a tree. Allow the wind to blow through the babies hair. Let the baby feel the wind on his face. Get low to the ground and watch leaves blowing across the ground. Look up and watch leaves falling from a tree. Get low and watch the wind blowing through the grass. Listen to the sound of the wind blowing through the leaves of the trees.
This is a very quick activity… five minutes is probably enough. I wouldn’t recommend this in a super heavy rain or on an extremely cold day, but it it’s gently raining out and the weather isn’t that cold, take the baby outside to experience the pleasure of rain. If it’s a touch chilly, wrap the baby in one of your waterproof jackets, but leave his head and hands free. Allow the rain to fall gently on her head. Put her hands out and let her feel the rain fall on her hands. Touch the tiny puddle of water that’s collected on a leaf. Watch water dripping from an object. Enjoy the beautiful scent of a fresh rain shower. If it’s raining harder or it’s a cold day, then rain can be experienced from inside the house. Open a window for a few minutes. Watch the rain through the window. Listen to the sound of the rain on the roof. Don’t be afraid of rain.
Have a picnic:
This can be done in your backyard, at a nearby park, at the beach, or in a beautiful nearby nature spot. Instead of walking around as in the above suggestions, sit on the blanket and experience the surroundings. Feel the sun or wind. Touch the grass. Watch the birds flying by. Look at the clouds in the sky. Bring along food for the adults (think oranges, strawberries, cheese, french bread.. anything with a delicious, strong scent) and allow the baby to experience the smells.
Go for a swim:
Slather your little one with sunscreen, put on a little hat, and head to the pool. This is a wonderful sensory experience for your baby. Cool water on the skin, warm sunshine, being held lovingly and securely by mom or dad, surrounded by blue water.
Enjoy the pleasures of experiencing the outdoors with your baby. These are just a few suggestions. I’d love to hear additional recommendations from others!