Nothing says love like a bunch of dandelions handpicked especially for you. Those precious, tiny hands plucked the perfect gift out of the earth for the one she loves most. No matter that the dandelion is considered by most a weed. To your cherished gift giver, it’s truly a gift of love. Is there a lesson in nature there, you ask? You bet!

While you might dismiss this yellow-petaled, prolific bloom an unwelcomed intrusion in your otherwise neatly manicured lawn, the humble dandelion actually serves many purposes. Here are some fun facts that you can share with the kiddos and get the lessons in nature started.

  1. The dandelion is really defined as an herb versus a weed. Herbs are of course, used in many of the meals we serve to our families to make them yummier. You can also find dandelion greens in the produce department of most grocery stores and serve as a vegetable side dish.
  2. It is believed that the dandelion hails from Europe and was brought to the US by the pilgrims. They planted and used them as a medicinal crop.
  3. Dandelions are an important food source to wildlife. In the early spring, the dandelion has already bloomed while other flowers remain slumbering under the soil. Insects, chipmunks, butterflies, bees and other pollinating creatures depend on them for pollen and nectar. Got backyard chickens? Feed them dandelions!
  4. The modest little flowering herb offers shelter for lizards, and hummingbirds use them to line their itty-bitty nests. And, their long and strong roots break up the soil underground creating channels of air and water for earthworms.

Who would have thought you’d learn so much about the lowly dandelion in the pages of the Boston Baby Nurse and Nanny blog? Of course, there’s so much more for you and your toddler to explore and learn about nature.

Enjoy Nature with all the Senses

  1. Children are instinctively drawn to nature and they can use all their senses to dig right in. You may not even need to go far. Your own yard or a nearby park are bustling centers of Mother Nature’s house with oh so much to explore.
  2. Get touchy-feely. When your little sweetheart gently touches the petal of a daffodil, the leaf of a rhododendron plant, a rock or the bark of a tree, ask her to describe how each of them feel. What does it feel like to have a ladybug quietly crawl across her hand? The textures of the natural world are abundant, and she may even learn a few new vocabulary words to describe them while you’re at it.
  3. Smell the roses. This old adage tries to teach us to slow down the pace. Heed the advice! Take the time with your toddler to smell the grass, the flowers, the rain, and even the dirt. Some aromas will be sweet; some may be described as icky. Is your nose tickled by the sniff test?
  4. Do you hear what I hear? Your morning may have begun with a symphony in the sky and trees. Listen together to the sounds of the different types of birds and imitate them to one another. Listen also for the sound of crickets or maybe even frogs at night. What sound does a pebble make when it hits a puddle? What sound does the wind make? Can you spell whoosh?
  5. Taste test. Of course, you’ll want to be careful with this one. Still there’s plenty of opportunity to taste nature’s bounty at a strawberry patch, an apple orchard and your own home-grown vegetable garden.
  6. Nature is a feast for the eyes. Each season offers its own smorgasbord of color. Spring and summer offer flowers and plant life in all the colors of the rainbow. As autumn descends on New England the leaves become a fiery blend of red and orange and gold. In winter you can look for different shades of green and brown. Ask your toddler to draw a picture of what she sees and look at the world through her eyes. Grab a magnifying glass or bug bottle and head out to your own back yard and watch your toddler be fascinated by the results of her investigation.

Go Out and Play

Sadly, American children spend far too much time inside the house in front of a screen versus a mere few minutes each day outside. There’s just so much to do and learn in the great outdoors so go out and play! Take as many opportunities as you can to reap the benefits of being alfresco. The benefits are real.

  1. Being outside builds healthier children. Running, jumping, throwing and catching a ball are all activities that require motor skills, and all are improved with more and more time spent in practice. Calories get burned and bones and muscles get strengthened, too, thanks to the sun’s natural dose of Vitamin D. You can’t chase a squirrel or follow the flight of a butterfly inside the house!
  2. Cognitive, social and emotional development increases. Children learn about the world around them through play and observation. Fresh air also reduces stress. As a parent, you could probably use some fresh air, too!
  3. Interestingly, an optometry and vision study found that distance vision was better in children who played outside versus those who remained indoors. As noted above, all your toddler’s senses are engaged when exploring nature and there’s always something new to learn.
  4. Curiosity is high when children are outdoors. They may be more likely to initiate, participate in new activities and stick with a task longer as compared to those who spend a majority of time indoors.
  5. As with decreased stress levels, the light of day is good for a child’s immune system thanks to the pineal gland. And spending time outside just plain improves our mood and happiness level.

Get outside with your toddler, grab a milky while dandelion globe, and make a wish!