All epic adventures begin with small steps. Sometimes the steps are tiny, like the ones my 9-month-old baby boy is taking in his Baby KEENs these days. Being an outdoorsy mom, I think there are good reasons that he learns to walk outside. The desire to wonder about the natural world begins as an infant, if nurtured. With childhood obesity on the rise, babies as young as 3 months logging in hours of screen time a day, and preschoolers on anti-depressants, getting kids up close and personal with nature seems like the best answer.
When Baby T was first born and would get fussy, an easy solution was to take him on a walk outside. Something about the cool air in his face and the sound of birds chirping soothed him. Now that he has become more independent, he doesn’t always want to be in a stroller or backpack. My solution has been to let Baby T roll around on the grass. Rolling around on the grass led to learning to crawl outside. Crawling outside, in turn, has naturally progressed to learning to walk outside. Sure, he’s fallen in puddles, scratched himself, eaten a few not-yet-ripe tomatoes along with plenty of leaves, and has gotten bitten by a bug or two along the way. He’s also become comfortable outside. He’s learning that nature is something he is meant to explore.
It’s true that spending time outside can mean contending with grass burns, bug bites, dirt, sun, rain and wind. Babies get germs, they get dirty and they can even get hurt. We can’t baby-proof the outdoors. But arguably, just as many dangers lurk inside our homes. The presence of electrical outlets, poisonous cleaners, sharp coffee tables and steep staircases means that curious babies can get hurt at home, too.
We live within an accelerating contradiction: the more that we try to shelter our children from the sometimes-harsh realities of the outdoors, the unhealthier our children can become. The statistics are frightening. In the last 30 years, the number of overweight children between 6 and 11 years old has doubled. The number of overweight children in the 12- to 17-year-old age group has tripled. Children are now getting what used to be considered “adult diseases” like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol.
It’s important to let the next generation feel the joy of sunrays on their skin, to let kids laugh as blades of grass tickle their toes, and to encourage them to relish the cool relief that splashing around in water provides on a hot summer day. By providing opportunities for our wee ones to feel sure-footed in the outdoors from a really young age, we are helping them develop life-long habits that keep them active in nature. My hope for Baby T is that exposure to nature early and often allows him to connect with nature on his own terms. And as the size of the KEENs increase, so too will the size of his outdoor adventures.
Ky Delaney enjoys the outdoors and you can follow their adventures on her blog: http://suddenlysouthernblog.com. Meghan Rolfe, a photographer in Asheville, North Carolina, took the photos in this post and you can check out more at her website: http://www.meghanrolfe-photography.com.