Baby-Led walks are an excellent way to experience and explore the outdoors at a child’s pace and following children’s interests. As adults, we usually have a destination or agenda in mind when walking, whereas babies, toddlers and children live in the present moment and potential of discovery. When we impose our pace and agenda on children, we stop this potential in its tracks, and children are more likely to lose interest and tire. Given the time and space to lead, children can become deeply involved in their discoveries and cover a lot of ground, or not go far at all! When children lead, they have the opportunity to be in charge of their own adventure.
- Self-discovery of the natural environment
- Promoting freedom and independence
- Respect for the voice of the child in decision making (one of children’s rights)
- Choose an environment when children can lead the walk as much as possible without interference
- Allow children to stop when something attracts their interest and move on when they are ready. It can of course be tricky with more than one child, but if one stops, yours and their excitement can encourage others to stop – or the right environment means children can be doing different things if safely in your view
- Toddlers are incredible at finding treasures! Bring along a bag or basket to collect them in
- Pack some snacks and water for refueling – and also to show what can be eaten if younger ones are mouthing unsafe objects
- Bring a change of clothes in case children get wet or muddy (or both!)
- Set expectations such as staying in sight at all times and stopping when asked – holding these boundaries allows children to feel safe to explore
- Involve groups of children in decision making when choosing which way to go – older toddlers can try a vote, younger children could point
- Don’t forget you don’t need to walk to be able to do a child led walk, a baby-led crawl is entirely possible!
The indoor environment, even when carefully prepared with young children’s interests in mind, is created by adults. The wild outdoors is organic and unlimited. In our modern world, we are often reliant on gadgets and vehicles to get us from one place to the other and make our lives easier. Though these gadgets open up possibilities for us, they also close down possibilities and we become dependent on them. Babies can find themselves in a constant cycle of transfer from car seat to buggy, obstructing their intrinsic need to move and explore. We need to make sure children have ample opportunity to move freely and make their own decisions, to discover their own world and how they journey through it.
A good place to stop Sometimes it can be fun to set up camp for a while when exploring outdoors. When venturing out with really little ones that will need transporting it can be useful to have a destination in mind. Babies can crawl freely through a clearing in the forest, or a larger group of toddlers could benefit from a more static set up. You could also give children a choice between going for a walk or stopping to play for a while. The idea of a little camp is still baby-led but with some invitations to play, explore or relax in nature.
- A fairly open space so children have the freedom to explore but be in view
- Climbing opportunity – maybe a low tree with lots of strong branches, or a fallen tree
- For younger babies a long branch or low fallen tree to cruise along or lean against is ideal
- Lots of loose parts to capture children’s interest – sticks, pine cones, leaves etc
- An appropriate tree to hang a rope swing if doing so
- Two trees close together if hanging a hammock
- Cones to indicate a boundary for older toddlers
- A bag of bits and bobs for a mud kitchen. The bare bones of this could simply be a couple of pots and pans, spoons and water
- Rope and a favoured stick for a rope swing
- A hammock
- Story books
In their little camp, babies will have the freedom, space and time to explore, play and relax under the sky and trees. They can choose which little section to experiment with and enjoy, or follow their own agenda and ideas.
One of the most important things to think about in regards to babies getting that precious time outdoors is clothing. As the famous saying goes ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing’. It’s true, and young children get so much out of playing in the elements all year round if they are kitted out properly. The most important buy is going to be a good quality waterproof set. This will provide all year round rain cover, acting as a shell in the winter months and for rainy or muddy days in summer. A two piece set allows you to just wear the dungarees if needed and is also much more waterproof than the average all-in-one puddle suit. Top brands to invest in are Didriksons, Spotty Otter and Abeko. These good quality waterproof sets last a long time so are well worth the investment. They are so long lasting they can be passed onto siblings or bought second-hand on places like ebay and facebook marketplace.
The summer months are of course easier. Long sleeves and long light trousers or leggings are great for protecting children from low stingers and brambles, plus a good sun hat and sunscreen are a must.
Winter months take some more dedication but it’s worth going the extra mile to enable time outside all year round. The most important thing is keeping the core warm with layers, preferably wool. Here’s a little video to take you through a full outdoor clothing example:
Early Learning Contacts
Nicola Theobald, Early Years Improvement Officer
Kate Hubble, Senior Foundation Years Consultant
Nicky Bale, Foundation Years Bristol Standard Consultant
Beth Osborne, Foundation Years Consultant Birth to Three
Kate Irvine, Interim Foundation Years Consultant
Ali Carrington, Interim Foundation Years Consultant