10 Essential Elements for Infant Environments - Outdoor Edition
We are often asked for our resource recommendations for various ages. So, we've decided to produce a series of blog posts doing exactly that. This week it's infant outdoor environments!
1. Shade. All children need shade, but infants perhaps more so. Their skin is new and they often aren't able to move themselves to areas that are cooler. Shade will also help the ground surfacing remain cool, which will keep little feet and bodies safe from burns.
2. Natural Surfaces - grass, dirt, sand. Too often we see outdoor environments that are predominantly concrete and synthetic surfacing. Natural surfaces and materials offer unique sensory input and experience, so having a variety of these in your environment is important.
3. Native plants to attract birds and bugs. Our outdoor environments should be rich with gardens, plants, trees, flowers. Choose the right native plants for your area, and for what they bring to the environment. Grevillea are often favoured by Rainbow Lorikeets, which will delight children as they spend time in the space. The flowers and foliage at different times of the year will also capture the attention of young children. When planting low, plant taste-safe, sensory rich plants like herbs.
4. Windchimes and suncatchers. Hang these in the trees, from a verandah, near a fence, and enjoy. Infants will be captivated by the tinkling of windchimes, or the sound of bamboo, and suncatchers or crystals that refract the light will bounce colour around the outdoor environment, creating a sense of wonder and magic.
5. Places to sit and connect. Ensure that you have soft mats or rugs that infants can sit or lay on, out of the way of bigger feet if need be. Outdoor lounges, hammock chairs, cushions and rugs all provide places for connection and time alone.
6. Things to crawl on and through. This is where grass comes in handy - it's much gentler on crawling knees than concrete and synthetic surfaces. Mats and rugs are also helpful. Tunnels - built in or movable - provide great opportunities for crawling.
The built in tunnel at Our Place Playschool offers a great crawling opportunity for infants
7. Places to pull themselves up, or cruise. During their time in an infant room, most children begin to stand and to walk. Rather than "walking" children, allow them to naturally pull themselves up and begin cruising with low, sturdy benches, planter boxes and tables, or other elements in your environment.
8. A suitable pram/wagon for outings. If you are venturing beyond the gate (and why wouldn't you?!) it can be extremely helpful to have the right pram or wagon to transport infants. The right pram/wagon can also provide a sense of familiarity/security for babies who aren't yet sure about exploring the outdoors. Observing the outdoors from the perceived safety/familiarity of the pram for a few minutes first can be all that's needed to help build the confidence to explore and engage deeply in nature.
9. Balls. Balls of all shapes, colours, sizes and textures. Add baskets or buckets for throwing balls into, or spend time rolling them.
10. Treasure Baskets/Heuristic Play. We mentioned these in our indoor play post, but they are just as beneficial outdoors. A treasure basket is essentially a low, sturdy basket that an educator or parent intentionally fills with items that a child can explore using their senses. Some examples of what you might include: scarf, loofah, kitchen utensils such as a whisk or wooden spoon, pinecone, small bowl.
So there you have it! Of course, the environment means nothing without connected, respectful and engaged educators who are in tune with children routines and rhythms. Need some support in that area - our Brilliant Babies Mini Course will do the trick!