Babies and Nature: Encouraging Brave Explorers

Anyone who has watched a small child explore knows it is a very tactile experience. The baby wants to touch it, taste it, turn it over in his hands and look at it from every angle. This is all well and good, but when you start introducing little ones to nature, things get tricky.

From the beginning, I have encouraged my son’s relationship with our border collie, Ranger. The dog is indifferent to the child who is useless to him until he can play or open a bag of food, but “dock” (Ronan’s pronunciation of “dog”) is the most heard word in our house these days. Merely suggesting we go find the dog can stop a crying fit, and often he wakes from a nap muttering “dock, dock, dock” and looking around for his furry friend.

As my child is learning about his environment through taste and touch, this can get gross with animals and parents may wonder if they should draw a line. Ronan wants to touch the dog, taste Ranger’s rope toy, share his food, and – most recently – kiss the dog’s nose (and be licked in return) with that open-mouthed ‘ahh-wa’ characteristic “kiss” of young babies.

It can also be dangerous. Luckily our dog patiently submits to the uncoordinated fingers that grope through his long fur, but some animals do not want to be touched (and can you blame them? Babies can be rough!). Even friendly animals can present a danger to small children if the animal (like our exuberant border collie) accidentally knocks down the child or injures their delicate baby skin with an over-eager paw.

It can be tempting to scoop up the daring explorer and censor his or her interactions to safe, soft, and sterile. 

Should we though?

Should I prevent my child from picking up the dog’s toy (Ranger is trying to encourage this small person to play fetch but Ronan hasn’t quite learned to throw yet!) on the chance – ok, likelihood – that he will put it up to his mouth? Or pick him up when he starts scooting towards the dog because Ranger’s paw might knock him down?

There must be a middle ground between helicopter parenting and a more laissez faire approach. This is where Montessori principles come in. Without over-simplifying the educational concept of Montessori (post coming soon on the tenants of Montessori. I will link -HERE- when it is published!), it can be briefly described as creating an environment in which the child may independently explore and learn. By applying this to my son’s insatiable curiosity, I allow him to touch, taste, tear, throw, drop, turn over, tap, clang, lick, and even kiss a wide variety of items. Basically, he reaches, I assess the situation for possible dangers and usually don’t interfere*** For our border collie, this means I have the dog lie down and I stroke his head, telling him he’s a good boy while Ronan stares in adoring wonder and the great beast in front of him. Often he scoots close, touches the dog’s fur,

The germaphobe in me keeps packets of hand wipes close by, but overriding my sanitary concerns is my wonder at this small person who doesn’t shy away from an animal three times his size or worry about the copious amounts of dog hair on his sweater, and just focuses on the textures, the sounds, and the fun offered by interacting with Boy’s Best Friend.

As this child grows, it is my wish that he has a muddy childhood. I want to encourage his exploration, his wonder, and try not to worry at his daring. It is my job to give him an environment free of any serious dangers, but one that empowers creative learning and fosters his natural curiosity.

Happy exploring, little ones. 🙂

***DISCLAIMER: This does NOT mean young children and infants should be allowed to investigate the wide world at will. Most environments are filled with dangers and that is why the FIRST STEP should always be to baby/child-proof the area. Interactions with animals should ALWAYS be supervised. Embracing the principles of Montessori means to create an environment in which the child can safely explore and grow independently.

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