Contributed by local Mom, and Milford Kids Thrive Collaborative member, Kayla Calabro. Check out her new podcast! Mothering Together

Spring has sprung, Milford parents! And you know what that means – it’s time to bust out the gardening gloves, dust off the stroller, and get ready to explore the great outdoors with your little ones. Not only will you get some much-needed fresh air after a long winter, but your toddlers will also benefit from the sensory experience, exercise, and socialization that come with outdoor spring adventures. So grab your sunscreen and let’s get ready to dig in!

Looking for more nature experiences and content? Head on over to the Nature Skills Cooperative Facebook group for tons of outdoor adventures and ideas!

Let’s get outside!

Here’s what we know: getting outside is fantastic for you and your toddler. The benefits for your child range from increased self-confidence, independence, and self-esteem to increased awareness of the limits and boundaries in their play. Kids who play outside have better motor development and a lower risk of obesity and nearsightedness. Best of all, kids who get outside often are more likely to try something new, interact with other people, problem-solve, explore outside, socialize with new friends, and show resilience. (source) But that’s just the benefits for the kids, there are also benefits for their adults too!

The simple act of going outside and being exposed to “green spaces” has been found to benefit the human body in countless ways. For example, you might find  “improvements in sleep, blood pressure, cognitive function and physical activity, as well as reduced risks of chronic disease, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer,” according to Heather Eliassen, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. But those are just the physiological benefits, there are mental health benefits as well.  For example, “the ability to recover from stress is better in natural settings, because that’s where we are meant to be. Just the idea of getting out, being in nature, looking at a tree—the theory is that this helps you to recover from stress, improves your mental health, and improves cognition. It’s just a direct pathway.” -Peter Chan, an assistant professor at Harvard’s Department of Environmental Health

Here’s what we’re going to do…

In today’s post, we’re going to talk all about how you and your toddler can get outside during one of our favorite springtime activities: gardening! You can expect to learn the benefits of gardening with your kiddo, some tips about gardening with a curious toddler, and then we’re going to talk about even more outdoor adventures that you can find around Milford this spring. 

Gardening with Toddlers

Starting a garden is the perfect project for any family with a window. Today we’re talking about any kind of activity that involves dirt, seeds, water, and sunlight! 

Prepare the Earth

Phase one of any gardening project involves preparing the earth (a.k.a. Playing with potting soil and potentially some compost). If you’re making an outdoor garden, this can be a fantastic way to encourage your child to use their big muscles and expand their gross motor coordination by encouraging them to use a shovel or hoe to flatten the earth and wake up the soil for planting.

As you explore your garden space, make sure to talk to your child about what you’re doing. Explain why you’re removing rocks and point out anything interesting that they may not have noticed. Talking with your child about your problem-solving will give them a model for their own future problems.

Pick the Seeds

If you aren’t too picky about your garden, have your child select the various seeds that you will be planting this year. Be forewarned, if you buy several tomato plants, you will be swimming in tomatoes and may never want to see another tomato again (a true story from a couple of summers ago when I was very pregnant and very nauseated by the idea of a tomato by August).

You can start your project inside (while the ground thaws out) by starting seedlings at home. Plant your seedlings and place them by the window. As they grow, you and your child can talk about various scientific topics, make “smart guesses,” and learn how to care for a seed. I’d recommend going to our local library and asking for some fantastic books about gardening (knowing Ms. Trina, there will likely already be some fantastic springtime books on display in the seasonal book section.

Plant your seeds outside

Once your seedlings have begun to take hold and look strong (and the earth has thawed), it’s time for you and your kiddo to plant the seeds outside. Let your little one use a measuring tape to measure the proper distance. Maybe use string to make sure you plant in a straight line. The opportunities for teachable moments are endless with a little one.

A note about “gardening with toddlers” – at this point I should point something out. Your toddler won’t spend the entire time gardening with you. There will be an ebb and flow. Sometimes they’ll be interested in your activity and then other times they may be distracted by their own play. My recommendation is to keep on gardening and let them explore and play independently as they wish, while being a constant presence nearby. They’ll come over when they’re interested!

Real Tools Help

Whenever you can, give your child the opportunity to take reasonable risks. That includes using real tools. This will help your child to feel responsible and grown up. 

Make it fun and engaging

If it isn’t fun, then it’s time to stop. Let your child take the lead in this activity and never force them to actively participate. Just invite them to join you in your project. You never know! Quality time may be their love language.

More Outdoor Spring Adventures with Toddlers

You already know all the benefits of getting your toddler outdoors. Consider any of the following springtime adventures to spice up your calendar. Also, head on over to the Milford Kids Thrive Outdoor Family Fun page, where you’ll find a list of trails, farms, playgrounds, etc. in and around Milford. 

1. Visit local parks and nature trails

Head to Keyes Park for some playground fun!

Keye’s park has some great walking trails and a fun playground. Go explore and walk around. Maybe introduce yourself to another parent and make plans to meet up again!

Try Shepard Park

I love this tiny little park. It is just the right size for a smaller or more timid kid to explore the equipment and have some fun.

2. Explore the local farmers’ market

There are often tons of local vendors. You and your little one can meet and socialize with local artists and creators while you explore the various sights and sounds.

3. Attend outdoor events and festivals

Keep an eye on the Milford Kids Thrive calendar for updates on different outdoor activities that are coming up this spring! We’re constantly updating it.

I hope that his post has given you some great ideas for embracing spring and starting a garden project with your toddler! 

I hope to see you around the oval soon, union coffee in hand, smelling the sweet and savory aromas from all of the amazing restaurants we have in town.