Your Baby’s Call of the Wild (Guest Post by Angela Hanscom)

Magda Gerber talks about the importance of environment in her RIE approach. She explains that a child’s surroundings should be physically safe, cognitively challenging, and emotionally nurturing. For me, what comes immediately to mind is Nature.

Nature in its purest form is all of the things Magda describes. It is free from chemicals, plastics, dyes, and other manmade items; Nature is both physically challenging and forgiving; and most importantly, nature provides innumerable sensory experiences that can’t be manufactured.

As a pediatric occupational therapist that uses the outdoors as both a form of prevention and treatment of sensory issues, I feel that even the youngest of children, whenever possible, should be playing outdoors, and at a very early age. Recently a local parenting organization asked me if I would be willing to host their group of mothers and babies. While I was thrilled by the invitation and absolutely willing to accept, I was somewhat surprised when the group’s director asked if we do this group indoors instead of outside. “We wouldn’t want the young children to have to sit on the ground. They would get dirty,” she said.

Is this a common worry, I wondered?

Many children are kept from crawling. Even more children are kept from falling. Plenty of children are told “no” when they attempt to climb on top of a rock or pick up a stick. Little kids are told not to spin in circles and are kept from rolling down hills. It is my opinion – supported by observing scores of kids, in clinic and out – that by constantly restricting children’s movements we impede the development of strong vestibular systems (balance), which most children will achieve naturally through physical trial and error. If we don’t allow children to take (safe) risks and test themselves, they can seem clumsy, uncoordinated, and unsafe at an early age.

In a perfect world, all children would be allowed not only to crawl, fall, climb, and spin – they would be experiencing it all outdoors. Not only does outdoor play inspire creativity and imagination, but it also engages all of their senses — setting them up for healthy sensory integration.

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