The Greatest Outdoors

(My earliest professional work with children took place in a child care center, working with infants and toddlers. Part of my responsibilities included occasionally contributing to the center’s newsletter. I hung onto my articles, and am including a sampling of the more relevant pieces. Enjoy!)

Infant Classroom, Spring 2007

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

~Rachel Carson, A Sense of Wonder

I was fortunate to work in a center that pioneered ‘outdoor curriculum’ so even with infants and toddlers, our doors were often open and hours were spent outside. It could be the light or the breeze, or just simply being outside, but I learned early on that a trip out the back door was sometimes all that was required to help a crying baby center herself. It’s true that in the youngest infant rooms, many children needed to be carried out to the blankets and pillows on the deck, but as soon as children were mobile, they would crawl, scoot, and then walk out the back door whenever it was opened. Toys were put out for exploration, but nature will always provide a wonderful assortment of activities. The wind whispers across skin and ruffles the leaves of trees, grass, and plants; it might stir wind chimes or make curtains flutter. The earth may be dry and dusty or damp and grassy, sticks, and stones and leaves, can provide ample sensorial exploration, albeit with careful observation.

Take a moment and think about some of your fondest moments outdoors. What comes to mind? What do you remember feeling? The breeze? Grass? Earth? Concrete? The sun? What do you remember seeing? How did it make you feel?


Spring has arrived and added a new luster to the natural world: the air is warmer, the grass is greener, and the trees are bursting with colorful blossoms. We have been treated to bluer skies and gradual, graceful sunsets; warmer sunshine with forgiving cool breezes. Does this time of year elicit any childhood memories for you? Perhaps picking daffodils, hiding in leafy trees, or riding your bike through puddles? The infants in our classrooms are busily exploring the outdoor world and creating their own fond memories.

Before we open the door to go out, the children express their excitement by standing eagerly at the door looking out; and if a teacher happens to be outside setting up, they actively let her know to “hurry up!” The yard offers a variety of textural experiences to explore: cool concrete, a creaky wooden deck, tickly grass, squishy mud, and gritty sand. Those opportunities are met with varying levels of enthusiasm: while one child chooses to “bear crawl” through the grass, keeping as much of his body off the ground as possible, another has been spotted throwing her head back and her arms out in delight as she makes her way through the same space. Another child, exploring the sand, cheerfully tosses a double handful of sand into the air.

Being outside brings us closer to our neighbors: the infants in our room are fascinated by the school-age children that sometimes show up by our deck and by the toddlers who play in the corridor by the sandbox. The outdoor space is becoming more and more developed as the children grow: some climbing structures have been added, as well as some push-toys in the grass. As the days march on, temperatures climb upward, and the children in our care continue to grow, we will spend more and more time outdoors.

Beyond the simple joy of being outside, there is a great deal of learning going on as well. They learn about physical properties of the world: sand clumps when it’s wet, but trickles through your fingers when it’s dry; grass comes right up out of the earth when you pull on it; leaves are flexible when they’re green, but brittle when dry; water is absorbed in sand, but makes puddles on concrete. They learn about how the world works as well: looking up into the sky when hearing an airplane fly by, experimenting with a push toy to see if it rolls as well on its side as it does with all four wheels on the ground, or investigating the acoustic properties of the metal storage shed. Each child is actively involved and engaged in discovery.

The reason this center strives so hard to make sure your children have uninterrupted time to explore outdoors is to help them foster relationships with the natural world. We want to help you raise physically active, energetic, and healthy children. We want to help your children remain connected to nature and the environment, to understand their impact on the physical world, and to care for the Earth. And we want to help your children keep their senses of wonder alive and healthy…“this way of knowing…can serve as a life-long source of joy and enrichment, as well as an impetus of motivation for further learning” (Ruth Wilson, PhD.).