Take A Toddler Hike
By Susan K. Perry, Ph.D
Next time your toddling dynamo gets bored, step outside and take a walk around the neighborhood. Your child stands to gain much more than a breath of fresh air. Sometime during the age of two or three, children’s curiosity about the world away from home starts to peak.
“They’re learning to put the things they see into categories,” said Prof. Shari Tarver-Behring, Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling at California State University, Northridge. “That helps develop their cognitive abilities.”
An ideal way to satisfy a tot’s curiosity and to sharpen her ability to observe, sort, and make sense of the world is to take them out on a “theme” walk. It is also normal for toddlers to have a lot of stranger anxiety. “One way to help them cope is to go with them outside the house and show them all the really fascinating and exciting discoveries out in the world,” Tarver-Behring said.
She’ll get exercise as well as an increased appreciation of the natural world outside the front door. The short unhurried walks will also give you a chance to tune in to your toddler’s eye view of the world.
Remember that your child will have the most fun if you match her pace without rushing her. Talk about safety rules when you reach a corner (look left, look right). Get their senses involved and help her notice things she might not otherwise. Point out the whiteness of a cloud, the tinkling of a wind chime, the smoky smell of a fireplace and the rough feel of tree bark. Enjoy your walk and keep these toddler-sized themes in mind.
Count the critters.
Dogs are easy to locate because they usually bark when people pass. Cats may be silently camouflaged under cars or on roofs. Or count lampposts, fire hydrants and picket fences.
Ask your child to look for changes on your block. Is there a hose uncoiled that wasn’t out yesterday? Has someone begun replacing roof tiles? Is that a new car in the Smith’s driveway? Was that flower in bloom last time you passed?
Look for and pick up stray leaves, feathers, dried seed pods and other potential collage and craft materials. It’s amazing what you can find, even on a city street. Then go home and make something.
Challenge your toddler to walk part of the route in a variety of ways, such as slowly, taking big steps or taking tiny steps on tiptoe. Can she move stiff-legged like a robot? Hop like a kangaroo? March like a soldier? Join in the action.
Take along a couple of flashlights and go around the block. Notice and talk about the differences between night and day: streetlights on, television sets flickering in a neighbor’s living room, the moon and stars and the cooler air.
As soon as the skies clear, take a stroll to see how the world has responded to the rain. Are many snails out strolling, too? Poke a stick in a sidewalk puddle to measure its depth. Does the air feel different? Are the trees or mailboxes still dripping?
Help your child identify different shapes such as the leaf that looks like a diamond, the circular base of a street lamp and square sections of the sidewalk.
Go for the gold.
Have your child name all the colors he sees. Or choose one color and see how many outdoor items he can find in that hue. Provide an example to get him started.
Call out the first letter of everything you pass. D is for dog. C is for cat. Be creative.
The sounds of silence.
Moving as quietly as possible, ask your child to listen very carefully. What can she hear? Can you hear an insect buzzing, someone raking, a lawnmower, a telephone, a dog barking, a car or water running?
Can your child kick a small stone or a bottlecap for a whole block? Can she make it all the way around the block without stepping on a crack?
I see something.
Say to your child, “I see something shiny” (or something huge, square or flying). See if she can spot what you are looking at. Then, let her try to stump you.