Creative engagement involves activities which stimulate a toddler’s sense of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing. The process (In this case; the activity) is more important than the product.
An important part of this process is to have kids come up with their own ideas. Let them choose from things around you and let them invent and modify their own activities. This is all a part of sensory experience. Creative Engagement of kids should revolve around five interactive questions. These are:
1) What did you see?
2) What did it smell like?
3) Did you like the taste?
4) How did it feel?
5) Did it make a sound?
All these aspects can be easily integrated in a garden. Exposure to the natural world is an important part of a toddler’s life. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods argues that spending time in nature is directly proportional to motor development. Children develop better motor fitness and coordination in terms of balance and agility when they spend more time in nature. Other benefits of spending time in nature include greater mental acuity, inventiveness and sustained intellectual development. Apart from the daily dose of fresh air, studies have shown that spending quality time in nature can help improve concentration and keep your child mentally fit.
A garden is the best place to keep your toddlers creatively engaged. It is filled with things that provoke a toddler’s imagination and attention. Simply follow you child around and watch them discover new things from under the rock or behind the bushes. It does not matter if you are at a public garden or at your own backyard, nature lessons are the same everywhere. There are several activities that you can play in a garden which can act like vessels for creative engagement.
What Scent is this?: This activity stimulates a toddler’s sense of smell. Collect items which have prominent smells like flowers, different fruits, mud, etc. Ask your toddler to close his eyes and take these objects near his nose. Ask him to guess the object secreting the smell. Smells of fruits and vegetables which the toddler eats often can be identified easily. Once in a while you can make them smell objects they have not seen, to encourage curiosity.
Rock Painting: Toddlers love colouring. Take these colours outdoors and let them paint tiny rocks. As the texture of rocks is different from paper, it brings out a toddle’s creativity. Teach them about leaf prints or fruit prints and let them take their time creating and designing. This activity is educational, fun and creatively engaging.
Animal Sound Guessing Game: A garden attracts wildlife. Birds, insects and small animals make it their home. A frog’s crock, a bird’s tweet, a cat’s purr, a dog’s woof, a bee’s buzz are sounds you often hear in a garden. Animal sound guessing game is an activity based on these sounds and will make your garden time an educational experience. Ask your kid to guess the animal which makes a particular sound. If they guess the sound right, tell them an interesting fact about that animal. You can always make sounds from your mouth of animals that are not commonly found in a garden like an elephant’s trumpet or a lion’s roar.
Nature’s Mystery Basket: This activity is rich in sensory experience. Take a walk in the garden and collect different items and put it in your ‘mystery bag.’ Make your toddler close his eyes and put his hand in the bag to feel the items you have collected. Ask him to guess the item one by one and take it out of the bag. Take turns collecting and guessing.
Who the Builder?: Collect stones, pebbles, sticks, dried leaves, etc. and start building. Nature is the provider of everything that helps a bird build its nest. Take your toddler on a walk and let him collect all the things he finds interesting. Later sit together and start building with all the things you have gathered. You would be surprised to see the vast number of things you can build with the simplest of materials. From mud cakes to ships, nature is like a green garage and your toddler, a mechanic.
Planting trees is a great way of spending time in the garden. If you’re in a private garden, visit every week to observe the growth of the tree you planted. If you have a garden of your own, grow veggies; teach your toddler how to sow seeds and water plants. Eat the vegetables or fruits that you have grown.
Nature in itself is an experience. Let your kids experience nature. Let him climb tress and jump in puddles. Kids are always learning and there is more than one way to do something in order to learn. You need not always come up with activities to play in a garden. Spending quite time observing nature can teach you and your toddler a lot of things. Watch birds fly home at dusk. Listen to the chirping of crickets as it gets darker. Nature has a lot of lessons to teach for as long as you are ready to learn.
The Washington Post
Raising Children – Australia
Growing Minds Organisation