I remember one of the first services I ever visited as a young student. I headed on into the infant room and was overwhelmed by toys and swings and rockers and stuff. When I went outdoors, I was surprised to see that the outdoor environment was a simple decked area with a mat and a few toys. Unlike the toddler and preschool playgrounds, the infant playground had no grass, no plants, no challenge, no sensory experiences.
What do our infants need?
When it comes to the outdoor environment for infants, I think that many services err on the side of caution - we want our little ones to be safe. But in doing so, we miss opportunities for exploration, creativity, connection and challenge. There are a bunch of myths and misconceptions, and in this post - I want to unpack five of them.
- Small is Fine - There seems to be a misconception that because infants are smaller and there is often less of them in a room, they need less space. Okay, while they may not need quite as much space for running or large group games like older children, infants are exploratory and their mobility is emerging, so it is vital that they have spaces that are large enough to allow for crawling, cruising and walking, and that encourage exploration.
- All Flat Surfaces - Of course, we want to keep out littlest ones safe and want to avoid injury, but trips and falls are a valuable part of development. Learning to navigate uneven surfaces provides much needed challenge and requires different muscles and skill development. Including ramps, slopes, garden beds and other uneven surfaces in the outdoor space is vital.
- Just bring the indoor toys outside - often when I visit infant spaces, I see a lot of the indoor toys (predominantly plastic cause and effect, pop-up type toys) bought outside on mats. One of the amazing things about being outside, is outside! Providing resources and experiences that usually can only be had outside - such as sand, water and mud play, gardening,climbing, large balls and beanbags, things to ride and push - is vital to maintaining curioisity and engagement.
- Loose parts are for older children - loose parts are not just for older children, the exploratory nature of infants and toddlers (think Heuristic Play and Schema) makes loose parts perfect for the outdoor environment. Buckets, balls, scarves, sheets, boxes, baskets - all of these are perfect for inspiring creative play.
- They'll just eat nature -we often worry that everything goes in the mouth with infants. And yes, a lot of things go in infant mouths. We worry that they will pick all of the petals off the flowers. And yes, they will most definitely pick petals off the flowers. But we simply cannot leave nature out of the equation. From a sensory perspective, as well as developing an innate connection to nature (super important for embedding sustainable practice) - nature matters. Infants need to be able to feel real grass under their feet, and to touch flowers, and to see bugs. We simply need to be mindful about what we plant and where we plant it!
One of our favourite infant/toddler services Our Place Play School (@ourplaceplay) shared some beautiful before, during and after shots!