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Discover the secret of childhood from 0-3 year old:

Toys and activities

Which Is Better: Man-Made or Natural?

Friday, May 31st, 2013 12:47 pm | By Stephanie Woo

Recently, I took some photos of B and M sliding, dangling, climbing and swinging on the playground and in the forest. How is a child’s consciousness shaped by playing on man-made swings and slides VERSUS dangling on living trees and sliding down dirt slopes in a forest? 

I can’t put my finger on it, but it really does feel very different, doesn’t it? For one, nature is continuously changing. The slopes gets muddy after a rainstorm. The tree branches will bend and give when you climb on it. For me, having that connection to earth, trees and nature expands our consciousness in a way that metal and plastic play structures don’t do. What differences do you see?

Sliding down a slide vs. sliding down a particularly steep slope in the forest

Dangling on monkey bars vs. a dangling on a tree

Climbing on a metal play structure vs. climbing a tree

Swinging at the park vs. bobbing up and down on limber tree branches

Make It Hard for Them!

Friday, May 17th, 2013 6:34 pm | By Stephanie Woo

 Climbing a big hill in Baltimore’s Federal Hill park (2 years old)

When Brooke was 11-months old, she loved climbing stairs. Twice a day, I would let her loose in the staircase of our four-story building and she never looked back till she was at the top. When Mackenzie was cruising at 12-months old, I would take her and her red wagon around a whole NYC block. When both of them started walking, we would go for long walks in the park without a stroller.  

Children are born to adapt. Mexican children can eat hot green pepper off the vine without feeling any pain. A Himalayan child is used to climbing big mountains. An African child can see and run long distances. 

Knowing this, I try to give my toddlers lots of active, physical experiences that push their bodies. I let them experience many different terrains and even try to make it hard for them. Big hills, 1-2 mile treks, difficult hikes – even our driveway is unusually steep, which means walking up and down everyday takes extra effort. 

I’m not trying to train Olympians here. I just gives them experiences and observe how they respond. Before they turned two, I took them up the big hill in the Federal Hill Park in Baltimore. They fell and slip so many times, but they never gave up. By the time we reached the top, I was completely out of breath and swore I would never do that again. But when we reached the bottom, all they wanted was to climb up again. And again. Who knew they would love conquering big hills so much? That steep climb quickly became part of our weekly routine. 

The other day, I told B and M, “Today, we are going to climb a mountain.” At the end of the 7-mile paved hike (they were in the stroller for part of it), I asked, “Did you enjoy climbing the mountain?” Brooke said, “Brooke didn’t climb mountain.” She then pointed to a really steep hill in the distance and say, “I want to climb that mountain!” Walking on a paved road did not qualify as mountain climbing to her! 

Toddlers have way more physical stamina than you can imagine. To them, the upward climb is the most interesting part of a walk and that interest keeps them going. So find terrains that challenge them. Make it hard for them. And start them as young as possible! You’d be surprised how far they can go. 

Trekking in the woods behind our house, which was overgrown and had no path before we arrived (2 years 4 months)

Walking on a stone path with big, uneven stones in Portland’s Japanese Garden (2 years 2 months)

Indoor wall climbing gym (2 years 2 months)

We Started Gardening! Part II

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 7:09 pm | By Stephanie Woo

M and Dad are back from the mountains. First they have to mix the dirt they dug up from the mountains with store-bought organic soil to create the optimal soil mixture. M helps Dad cut open the package of store-bought soil with her Muji scissors.

M scoops in soil from the bag, while Dad dumps in dirt from the mountain. 

M crawls into the bucket to help mix the dirt and soil.

Dad dumps the soil mixture into the trough. M helps to smooth it out.

We’ve been collecting vegetable scraps for two days. They add it to the soil as worm food. It’s raining and M looks pooped in this picture, but trust me, in real life, she’s still going!

Dad adds the worms to the soil. Apparently, these red wrigglers help produce the best planting soil. We think we might even start a worm farm! Dad covers up the worms and food with another layer of soil. The worms need one week to do their magic before we start planting. 

The next day, we add more worms. Even B can’t resist getting involved – once you get past the ‘ewww’ factor, they are really fun. Even I’m hooked!

If you’re looking for a reason to plant with your children, consider these benefits:

  1. Sensorial exploration (wet, cold soil and wriggly worms)
  2. Gross motor skill development (treading wet mountainous soil while carrying a pail and shovel)
  3. Fine motor skill development (cutting, scooping, mixing, spreading vegetable scraps, picking up small worms)
  4. Appreciation for nature/cycle of life (composting, preparing the soil, planting)
  5. Language development (‘gardening trough,’ ‘composting,’ ‘prepping the garden bed,’ ‘red wrigglers,’ ‘starter plants,’ ‘clay soil’ vs ‘sandy soil’ – even I had to learn these!)

But my favorite part of this whole process is watching how much effort M puts into it. She uses her whole body to dig, transfer, mix and pat. There’s nothing better than watching young children use maximum effort to engage in tasks they’re interested in. And after a few hours of work like this, M (who usually hates napping) is out like a light-bulb at nap time and stays asleep for THREE straight hours! 

More gardening posts to come!