There's something magical about spending time outside in nature, particularly for children. Having just spent about a month outside myself, I can speak to the peace and wonder it can bring into your soul. There is always something interesting to see, do, and explore. As an adult, this is one of the easiest spaces to prepare because so much is already in place!
Start by asking "How will my child use this space?" Does she need a safe area to practice cruising, pulling up, and standing? Or perhaps he's interested in frogs, and wants to look for some in the pond down the street. Maybe you just want an area where your children can play while you attend to the garden.
Your space will look different depending on what your child needs at her current developmental stage, and what you have available to you. Remember, a prepared space promotes safety, exploration, and independence while offering the tools for purposeful activity. Here are three examples of a prepared outdoor space so you can get a few ideas!
This is a enclosed patio prepared for ages 2-5 years old. Currently, there are four activities set up: gardening, painting, brick scrubbing, and sweeping.
Here is a corner of a large yard with a family garden. This 3 year old can fill a small watering can on his own, and take care of the plants. He also has a clear place to put his things back when he's done using them.
This outdoor space is prepared for a 9 month old who is just starting to pull up and stand. The rough wood of the deck is covered with a soft rug, and there is sturdy, safe fencing for her to pull up on. The area is shaded and easily visible for supervised independent play.
Don't have outdoor space? Bring some of nature inside to you, or get out to a park, field, pond, or forest. For outings, I suggest packing a small bag or backpack. A child who can walk can also carry a small backpack for her own water, snacks, and found treasures. Older children can carry a nature journal, insect catcher, guidebook, snacks, and water. I always pack things like sunscreen, first aid supplies, wipes, and a cell phone in my own bag just in case. You might also welcome a change of clothes or shoes, depending on what activities you are taking on.
You don't need to be an nature expert to encourage a love of nature, just a sense of curiosity! Keep your eyes open and comment on what you see. When I'm on a walk with toddlers, I comment about the trees changing color, the size of the leaves, any insect, bird, or mammal we see, the color of things, patterns of light, etc. With older children, I ask questions about why the bird is pecking the ground, or comment about the spider web glistening with dew drops. Get a few guidebooks if you don't know a robin from a blue jay, and learn along with your children!
There are also many, many programs and resources available for learning about nature, science, and the environment. Check out your local state park, library, Park and Rec department, or school for information. Here's some in the DC area:
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Leanne Gray, M.Ed is the owner of The Prepared Environment, which supports families in creating an ideal environment for their children at home. She has over fifteen years experience working with children in both public, private, and Montessori schools, and is AMI primary trained. You can always contact her for personalized support and answers to your questions.