DSC_4698mazzy This time last year, Mazzy was just six months old. The spring and summer consisted of sticking her in a sling or a stroller and toting her around while she slept.

Mazzy is a toddler now. For the first time in her short life, she gets to play outdoors. What does that mean for me? Shaking sand out of her hair, pulling her off the big kid slide and picking NYC garbage out of her mouth.

It's enough to make a parent want to stay indoors.

When I started this blog, I had Dr. B outline weekly baby games for me to play with Mazzy because I could not come up with stuff to do on my own. Nothing complicated— we're talking peek-a-boo and fingerplays. I was a sad, sad case.

You see— I have always been terrible at entertaining kids. (Much like the guy from Blue's Clues. He just hasn't realized it yet.) I am about as natural with children as Renee Zellweger is with a smile. I'd like to say that after a year and a half, things have gotten better. But I'm not so sure.

So today, I asked Dr. B to write a list of outdoor activities for toddlers to help me out. The activities are fairly obvious but she lists out various ways to up the parental interaction and make it a learning experience.

I am also guest posting for Debi over at The Truth About Motherhood about how I can be a good mom despite my awkwardness around children. (See how I tie things together?) It's Debi's two-year blogoversary and she has a whole month of stellar bloggers lined up to guest post. I am honored to be included.

If you are here from The Truth About Motherhood, check out yesterday's post entitled "Dear Mariah Carey" or my most popular post of all time— "Intruder In The House". Then come back to get schooled by Dr. B on outdoor toddler activities. Unless, of course, you are one of those people who knows instinctively how to entertain kids, in which case, let me know if you're free to babysit.

Outdoor Activities For Toddlers
Dr. B has a PHD in school psychology and specializes in early childhood development. If you have a question for Dr. B, please email me at myshort@mommyshorts.com.

The spring and summer months present a great opportunity for toddlers to release pent up indoor energy. Kids are often happier and their behavior improves. Below are a few hands-on activities to keep your toddler busy outdoors:

Water and Sand: Playing with sand and water can help children improve their hand-eye coordination, their skills at pouring, and early math concepts.

• Use items such as strainers, watering cans, containers, bottles, cups, sponges, buckets, and shovels

• Teach early math concepts by showing your child to count how many cups it takes to fill a large container or how to pour water or sand from one container to another

• Use mathematical language such as big and small, least or most, height and weight, and the names of different shapes

Trip to the Zoo: Trips to the zoo are a great way for children to make the connection between the images they see in books and actual living creatures in their natural habitats.

• Point to the animals your child knows and see if they can name them

• Ask for them to make the animal sound or model it yourself

• If they have trouble naming the animals, it might be helpful to remind them of a favorite book or story with the animal in it. You can also bring a few books with you and point to the picture of the animal in the book and then the real animal in front of them

• For older toddlers, you can begin introducing concepts such as where different animals live, what they do, and what they eat

• Take pictures of each animal you see at the zoo and create your own personalized book about your family’s trip to the zoo

Gardening: Gardening is a fun way to teach your child concepts used in science such as plant growth and exploration with different senses

• Take your child to a garden and show them different flowers. Name the colors of the flowers and have them smell and feel the texture of the petals

• Read a book about planting a seed and watching it grow such as the Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss. Repeat the story several days in a row and then buy materials to grow your own plant or flower. Buy seeds that grow quickly and consider plants that your child can taste such as parsley

• Let your child play with the dirt. Show them how to fill a cup with dirt and practice counting how many scoops it takes to cover the seed and fill the pot

• Check on the plant each day and show your child how to fill and pour a watering can to feed the plant

• Take pictures of the plant growing at different stages so your child can compare the pictures to see how much it has grown

Playground: Trips to the playground help your child develop important motor skills, social skills, and rules about safety. Activities such as running, climbing, swinging, and digging are ideal for fine and gross motor development. The playground may also be one of the few opportunities your child has to socialize with other children.

• Teach your child simple reciprocal games that they can eventually play with other children such as catch, racing games, or building in the sandbox

• Use the slide or swings to teach your child to wait and take turns

• Teach safety by being consistent and enforcing rules such as how to go down the slide safely, refrain from putting things in their mouth, and to look forward while running

It is also important to remember that when outdoors, toddlers need close supervision because they do not have the coordination to react to danger and are not generally aware of things that have the potential to cause harm. That's why they are always trying to go the wrong way up the big kid slide.

So keep a close watch, use sunscreen and have fun!