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Babies Need Nature Too Babies are typically included in the “early childhood” category, but for this book I focus on children ages three through eight. In focusing on that age range, I do not mean to suggest that babies, toddlers, and two-year-olds don’t belong outdoors. They most certainly do! The best way to introduce children to nature and the environment is simple: take them outside early (as babies) and often. Babies love being outdoors: there is so much stimulation, and the rhythmic waving of tree branches in the breeze, as well as the many sounds and textures, can soothe like nothing else. Don’t be afraid to take babies outside. Dress them properly for the weather, and you’ll find they enjoy being outdoors just as much as older children. Allow them to lie in the shade, crawl through the grass, and explore the world. Toddlers and two-year-olds also enjoy time outside. Insatiably curious, they can roam and explore nature’s infinite variety in textures, sounds, colors, and patterns. Some never stop exploring, while others will be instantly mesmerized by one phenomenon, such as the leaves rus- tling in the breeze. You can support their safe explorations by providing plenty of time outdoors and dressing them properly for comfort. Natural phenomena, such as breezes, clouds, flowers, and even blades of grass, are exciting and new. Move everyday activities outdoors so you can enjoy a snack or story in the afternoon shade. Take the time to in- troduce children to this rich source of inspiration by simply making it a part of their everyday experience. If we think about children from this child devel- opment perspective, it is clear that an overabundance of scientifically accurate information about the en- vironment, particularly about its problems, can be scary or lead to feelings of helplessness in young chil- dren. For example, when people think about educa- tional lessons on the environment for children, many might jump to such common ideas as the “rainfor- est corner,” or a unit on endangered polar bears and melting glaciers. These activities might be perfectly appropriate in some contexts and with some chil- dren; however, for many younger children, they may be overly abstract and removed from their immediate 4  Chapter 1 life experience. Faced with problems bigger than they can truly comprehend, children often feel guilty and confused. They may disconnect emotionally from the issues rather than stay engaged. In addition, young children can become over- whelmed by the emphasis on taking action that is part of many issue-focused environmental education curricula. The reality is that most of the consumer decisions and behaviors that are legitimately impor- tant for environmental stewardship—such as chang- ing household purchasing habits, reducing the use of personal vehicles, or reducing a family’s electricity usage—are ones over which young children have no control. Burdening them with the responsibility to educate their parents or remind them to make dif- ferent choices is ineffective and unfair. It can lead to feelings of guilt in the young child. A child sees her parents engaging in so-called negative environ- mental behavior and knows this isn’t what they are supposed to do, yet can’t change it. Then she doesn’t understand why she feels guilty and sad, and per- haps even angry with her parents. On the flip side, when children see adults engaged in behaviors that are positive and helpful for the environment—such as composting, reducing fossil fuel consumption, and recycling—it normalizes these behaviors and sends the message that actions do count. Instead of expecting children to change others, we can ask children—and inspire them—to develop a love for the Earth. We, as educators who provide chil- dren with rich, authentic opportunities to know the natural world and the environment, can accomplish