- Written by Lynn U. Nichols Lynn U. Nichols
Stimulate your baby’s brain with textures in nature
From holding a smooth, sun-warmed rock to feeling the sensation of grass on the bottom of their feet, nature provides the perfect playground for babies and toddlers to explore different textures and stimulate their senses. Here are some fun ways to explore the outside world with your baby or toddler.
Bare those tootsies
Did you know the bottom of our feet have about 200,000 nerve endings? Encourage your baby to walk on different surfaces from grass to sand to smooth rocks and bumpy garden dirt. Once you make sure there is nothing sharp or dangerous, let the sensory exploring begin.
Water stimulates our skin and soothes our minds. Enjoy the baby pool with your little one but don’t forget to also go to the beach. Get out and encourage playing in the rain or jumping in puddles. Running through the sprinkler or simply discovering the sensation of water pumping out of a hose in the backyard all have value.
Toddlers and older babies love to discover objects. Bury plastic toys in the sandbox and dig them up together, or have your baby help pick tomatoes or apples in the yard. Let her take apart a flower, petal-by-petal or collect rocks and throw them in the water at the reservoir or a pond. Get in the habit of going on nature hikes with a basket or bag and see what you can find.
Count and categorize
To promote early math skills, look for ways to teach sequencing, cause-and-effect and shapes and sizes. Collect different colored rocks and count them or sort various leaves and talk about their differences. Point out items in nature that are round, square, sharp or soft. Talk about what’s warm and what’s cold—how the sun warms rocks or how the Popsicle you are enjoying is cold.
Set up a temporary art table outside and let your young child get messy. Or when it rains or the hose makes a puddle, let them take a mud bath. Remember, it’s all for stimulation-sake!
Let them lead
When you play with your toddler outside, let him direct and make choices of what happens next. Active play helps hardwire synapses in your baby’s or toddler’s brain. Research shows that when kids get a lot of chances for unstructured, imaginative play, they are happier and well adjusted. Free play helps kids solve problems and cope with stress. According to studies cited by the national Children and Nature Network (CNN), kids’ stress levels drop within minutes of seeing green spaces.
Your baby’s brain
From ages 0 to 3, your child’s brain is rapidly growing. When she turns 3, she’ll have about 1,000 trillion pathways or synapses—twice as many as you have as an adult. All this growth equals amazing “sponge” power to soak up everything you share with her.
The good news is it doesn’t take special toys or an advanced degree to know how to best stimulate your child. Lots of play and involvement in daily tasks is all it takes. You don’t have to pack their schedules with expensive classes. Kids develop and learn through playing and being active and there is no better place to do so than outside.