I’m featuring a question from a first time mom who’s raising a toddler.
Question: Hi Teacher Tanya! I often observe my toddler becoming so restless during the afternoon, after he wakes up from his nap. I often see him, climbing up the bed, and tapping the window of our room. He would sometimes point to the door, wanting to go out of the room and our house. He likes looking outside the window and he would always smile whenever he looks outside. What message is he sending me?
A: Hi! You are not the first parent who asked me this question. Parents in my parent-toddler class also shared that it’s quite a challenge for them to keep their toddlers “busy” after they wake up from their nap. I’ve seen this with my own daughters, too.
I believe that the message your toddler, is sending is this: “Could you please help me find things to be interested in, so that I will be able to satisfy my need to explore and to connect?” Your toddler is probably asking for a change of scenery, maybe, his pointing outside means he wants to see something else, someplace where he can explore more.
Ruth Anne Hammond, my RIE® mentor and an infant specialist pointed out in her article, “Balancing Boredom and Engagement” , that by allowing babies and young children to move freely in a safe space from the very beginning gives them ongoing opportunities to satisfy their need for pleasure and discovery. However, the older a child gets, the wider they want to roam and it gets harder to provide for. Ruth Anne emphasizes that, “some places children are still free to run and to play outdoors without much adult interference, but if we are raising children in what seems like a more dangerous world, and they have less freedom because of that, they may need more help in staying optimally aroused. Being outside in nature actually provides the perfect setting for children to keep themselves interested in life…”
What is your baby’s outdoor life? Is this part of your baby’s routine? I asked this because the outdoors can bring so much benefits to your young child.
Magda Gerber, in her article, “Time Outdoors” explained why outdoor living should be a regular habit for your babies, she wrote , “Because babies thrive out of doors. They sleep better, eat better, look better, play better, and learn better. Fresh air (though I realize is becoming staler each day) both soothes and stimulates.” I totally agree with what Magda wrote here. I’ve seen how the outdoors have given my own children the positive benefits she mentioned here. Parents in my parent-infant/toddler program attest how they observed their babies to be calmer, more at peace after taking them outside.
My husband, Mike and I knew that our childhood experiences played a crucial role into what we are now. We always talked about how we would spend lots of time playing outdoors- literally, on the streets, making our own bubbles with the gumamela plant, and playing while it was raining. We wanted also our children to the same experience. And so with this mindset, we try out best to also translate it in how we raise our children.
We started this even when they were still babies- we would take them out in the morning for the usual sunbathing, and as they were growing up, we’d put them on the stroller and take them during our afternoon runs. Being outside is part of their daily routine (except when it’s raining or when they are sick) and we have asked everyone in the household to be onboard with us.
When we are outside, we never run out of activities to do. The activities are just endless- play with sand; play with water; do some basic gardening; feed your pets (in our case, our pet turtles: Sharon and Chika; harvest some plants/fruits (we have a papaya and kalamansi tree where we let them get those). I also take the indoor activities into the garden area such as: painting, and snack time too. At the park, they get to try out the different playgroup equipments; run around the basketball court or ride their bikes. At times, I’d take them for a walk around the U.P Oval or try out another park in a nearby village.
I haven’t seen a child restless when they are outside. They seem to always be busy, more engaged, more interested with what they see around them.
I would attribute this exposure to nature to my children’s ability to focus with whatever they are doing- whether they are playing, eating or conversing with other people. Their attention during storytelling or when they are reading alone is amazing. They can very well entertain themselves just by playing. They can play for hours on their own. We don’t have to always constantly entertain them, and neither do we have to rely on screen media to amuse them, too. Plus, my children’s ability to move and balance using their big muscles as well as,their grasp and grip are indeed admirable- must be from all those climbing, and picking up of leaves and stones!
I love this book written by Richard Louv, entitled, Last Child in the Woods, where he talked about the importance of saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Louv wrote specifically that green spaces enable children to think more clearly and cope more effectively with life. He added that a study done by Swedish researches found out that children who played outside everyday had better motor coordination and more ability to concentrate.
Living in Metro Manila is quite challenging when you are raising a family. How do we support our baby’s outdoor life when we are lacking in free play spaces where we can just take our children and know that they will be safe. There are very few condominiums who have outdoor playground areas for their tenants, and not all local government cities have notable play spaces except perhaps for Taguig (BGC has really clean and nice parks; and Q.C has universities with wide open spaces for children). My response to this is: try your best to make-do with what you have. For example, if you could set-up a small garden by your lanai, then go do that. if you live in a village, take your child for an afternoon stroll; if you live in a condo, look for a nearby village with a park where you can take your toddler.
We, parents, should make it an effort to support our baby’s outdoor life. Be intentional in looking for places where you can take your family apart from just the mall. Magda Gerber said, “but what a different learning experience your child will have watching nature rather than watching TV?” Don’t you agree?