Strategies for Maximizing Outdoor Learning Opportunities for Infants and Toddlers

Delora, a family child care provider, sees a small, green lizard perched atop a small boulder in a sunny corner of her yard. She picks up 10-month-old Alicia, points to the reptile, and says, "See the lizard? It's sitting on the boulder. Watch how he moves his head to look around." After a moment, the lizard turns and scurries off. Alicia's eyes widen. "The lizard ran away," says Delora. "It moved fast didn't it? I wonder where it went. Let's go look for it." Delora carries Alicia over to the boulder and sets her down on the grass. Alicia crawls to the boulder, places her hands on it, and pulls up to standing. They spend a few minutes looking around the boulder. Delora says, "I don't see the lizard; do you? Maybe it's time for his nap." Alicia looks at Delora, then looks down at the ground. Delora says, "I have an idea. Let's go sit in the hammock and look at the picture book we made about our backyard lizards."

The outdoors offers rich learning opportunities for infants and toddlers. Whether in outdoor play spaces, backyards, parks, or on front stoops, these opportunities take shape and place within the context of relationships and interactions between caring, supportive adults and children. Infants and toddlers take their cues from the important adults in their lives. They are more likely to respond positively and explore the outdoor environment when adults plan for, model, and support those explorations. Because staff and families play such an important role in connecting infants and toddlers to nature and the outdoors, it is important for program leaders to consider ways to facilitate and strengthen adult engagement with outdoor play and exploration.