An acquaintance stopped me once to mention that she found this blog. She asked about taking her toddler to Birdsacre. “Do you think he’s too young to get outside?” she asked. “I mean, he doesn’t even know where he is half the time.”
The answer is no. I don’t believe kids are ever too young to be spending time with their family outside. It’s always worth your time to make it happen. Here’s why:
You are building their brain
When you read to a baby, do you think the baby understands the full plot line of Brown Bear, Brown Bear? Of course not. Does that mean you shouldn’t do it? Of course not. The baby still benefits from the sound of your voice, the rhythm of the words, the sight of the pictures, and the time spent in the experience with you. All of those things are still helping your child’s brain develop a capacity for learning and understanding language.
Just like with reading, your kid doesn’t have to be aware of everything that’s going on to benefit from the outdoors. The inside world is generally pretty static, but the outside offers a lot of stimulation. When you take them out, you allow them to develop their senses through the feel of sunshine on their skin, the breeze in their hair, and birdsong in their ears. You are still building their capacity to understand the outdoors and consider it part of the experience of life.
You are building a family culture
If the only reason you are going outdoors with your kid is because you read that it is good for the development of their parietal lobe, you are doing it for the wrong reason. It’s important to push yourself out there (and when the kids are really young, it is a push, I know), because it’s important to do this as a family. It is important for your kids to get outside, but they aren’t going to go outside if you don’t go outside. You really need to model what you want them to do.
But I don’t mean to make it sound so grim. Look, family time spent outside is fun. You learn to appreciate each others’ strengths and interests. Thanks to our outdoor adventures, I know that one of my kids likes to run trails (goal-oriented) while the other likes to lag behind to keep an eye out for birds and butterflies. They teach me what they have learned about animals from books and I teach them how to pay attention and make connections.
We also seem to squabble less outside. Maybe because of the lack of LEGOs, I don’t know. But don’t you want to start that as soon as possible? Don’t you want them to expect the outdoors as part of family time, instead of trying to convince them that it’s cooler than video games?
You are building memories
When we went hiking at Blagden Preserve last weekend, it brought back a flood of memories. That trail had been the scene of one of my most vivid failures as a parent. The first time I took them to the preserve, my daughter was just two and my son was a mere handful of months old. My daughter pooped out early on and I had to pep talk her the rest of the way by singing “The Ants Go Marching” over and over for over a mile. Meanwhile, my son, packed on my back, was screaming about being viciously attacked by mosquitoes because I had forgotten the bug spray. It was one of those parenting experiences that I knew would be funny later, even while I was living through the horror.
And, when I told them about it after we completed the trail this time, it was. They loved hearing about how cranky they had been, my daughter marveling that she was able to run down the trail she could barely complete a few years ago. Even though they couldn’t remember the first hike, they liked feeling the connection. They knew they had done this before, that we would do it again, that it was all part of one long, ongoing adventure.
And me? Well, I was able to enjoy how much easier it was this time around. If you start now, you will never underestimate the value of that.