Finally…some sunshine and warm weather! This time of year is a perfect time to break your floor play habit and get up and move around. Taking early intervention outdoors does not have to mean that you just move your bottom from the living room floor to a blanket of toys out in the grass, which is what we often do. What you do outdoors really depends on what the child and family already do out there. It’s your job to find out what learning opportunities are available that could be used to address the IFSP outcomes. If you break down your journey between the floor to the great outdoors, you’ll find there are tons of opportunities out there!
Outdoor Natural Learning Opportunities
Here are some specific opportunities that might be hiding in plain site:
Transitioning from in to out – Observe what the family typically does to get ready to go outside. Listen for the words they use. Look for opportunities for the child to participate in putting on his socks and shoes, asking to go out, and then following the direction to open the door. Watch to see how he moves down the stairs, steps from the sidewalk to the grass, and waits (or doesn’t) for his parent to come along.
Following their lead – Invite the parent to show you what they normally do outside or to show you things she’d like for her child to be able to do. Dig in the garden, make a mud pie, rake some leaves, go get the mail, chase a squirrel, kick a ball back and forth, or coach the mother in how to seize all of the opportunities that happen on a simple swingset. If she wants her child to do one of these things, then that’s where you focus – on how to help her make it happen.
Walking on different surfaces & feeling different textures – Find out how the child moves from the grass to the mulch under the swingset. Notice how he manages the different textures of grass, bark, and dirt on his feet, legs, and hands. Can he shift his balance to take a step down on his own? Does he raise his hands up and widen his gait when on uneven surfaces? Talk about it and problem-solve ways to help him maneuver.
Weaving in playful communication – Listen to see how the parent and child interact when outdoors – is it different from what you’ve noted inside? Does the child check in with his mom when he moves across the yard? Use the objects in the yard and follow the child’s lead to find his interests, keeping in mind the IFSP outcomes that you are there to support. Model how to use playful communication to narrate the child’s experience and engage him as he explores. Seize the opportunities when the child needs help or wants something to coach the parent in how to apply what she’s learned indoors to communication outside.
Transitioning back inside – There is always a time when the child must go back inside, so watch to see how that goes. If it’s a struggle, explore the possible reasons why and problem-solve with the parent about how to improve it. Does she give him cues that the transition is coming? Coach her as she tries a new transition strategy, such as racing the toddler to the door, taking his hands and jumping him inside like a bunny, or giving him something to carry. Once inside, let the child participate in the activities that get him settled back in, such as following a direction to take off his shoes and put them away, washing and drying his hands, and asking for more to drink or a snack.
You probably won’t go outdoors for every visit this spring and summer, but when you do, look for each and every natural learning opportunity that present itself. Consider your role in helping the parent learn to recognize and seize each of them to encourage the child’s development. This is often easier when the parent expresses a concern that gets us up off the floor and out the door (like a concern with getting in the stroller). Keep in mind that moving outdoors can be a wonderful way to re-energize early intervention, even when going out is just for pure fun!
A Challenge for You
As you make this transition, challenge yourself – see how long you can go without planting yourself in the grass. When you think about it, how long do many toddlers really sit down anyway, especially when they are out in the fresh air? Join the parent and child in the sandbox or on the swings. Dig in the dirt, hide behind a tree, take a walk, watch the ants – enjoy the change of scenery!
What’s your favorite story about moving early intervention outdoors?
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