The Best Learning App For Babies, Toddlers And Beyond

I get asked ALL.THE.TIME. for my recommendations of learning apps for babies and toddlers. Hands-on play is the best learning app, and the the perfect classroom for that learning right outside your back door. So if you arrived here hoping to get the names of apps for your devices, I'm sorry to disappoint. But I hope you'll stick around to read a really valuable interview with Angela Hanscom, MOT, OTR/L about why she agrees that nature is the best learning app for your kiddo.

Learn why pediatric OT's think NATURE is the best learning app for small kids.

Angela is a fellow pediatric Occupational Therapist who has been in the spotlight lately for her blog posts (which were republished by the Washington Post) about the effects of decreased free play and recess in schools. Angela recently released a new book, Barefoot and Balanced: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes For Strong, Confident and Capable Children {affiliate}. If you've read here long, you know I'm passionate about encouraging parents to allow freedom of movement and play for their babies. So it's a perfect fit to chat with Angela about her new book! I hope you enjoy hearing her answers to a few of my questions and feel encouraged and inspired to get your kiddo outside today!

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What would you say are the most important benefits of unrestricted freedom of movement for children? 

One of the major benefits of unrestricted outdoor play is that movement in all different directions helps us develop a strong vestibular (balance) system. This gives us better awareness of where our body is in space. It helps us to get from one place to another without tripping, falling, and running into surrounding objects. 

Getting plenty of play outdoors, along with lots of movement, also supports attention, emotional regulation, visual skills, endurance, strength, body control, and so much more! The sooner you get your children outdoors and moving, the better prepared they’ll be for life in and outside of school.

What do you think are the biggest barriers that parents face today in providing unrestricted outdoor play? 

One of the biggest barriers is fear. There is the fear that children will get hurt, fear of strangers, fear of insects, fear of animals, and fear of poisonous plants. However, there is always a way around all of these barriers. It really just takes a little thought and some creativity. 

For instance, if you fear “strangers,” then it would be important for you to get to know your neighbors. If you get to know the people around you, then those people are no longer strangers. In the past, people took the time to establish relationships with those around them. The whole neighborhood would watch out for the children. We just need to take the time to get to know one another again.

Being a parent IS scary! Our desire to keep our kids safe seems to be trumping their developmental needs for freedom, exploration and risk-taking.  What other advice do you have for parents who are nervous and who want their kids to be careful? 

This is really important. In order for our children to become strong and capable, we really do need to step back and allow them to challenge themselves. They need opportunities to run fast, to fall, to practice jumping off small rocks over and over again, to splash in mud puddles, to pull up weeds in the flower garden, and to spin in circles just to get dizzy. All of these things will assist with developing strong muscles and senses, which will later help them navigate their environment with ease and confidence. It is the only way they can become “safe” over time.

How do the families you work with describe the changes they see in their children when they incorporate unrestricted movement and outdoor play into their family rhythms and routines? 

Families often notice that when their children play outdoors all day they are much calmer in the evening. They also start to play independently more and there are less “behaviors,” such as talking back, arguing, and whining. In general, they seem to be “more at peace.”

As you describe in your book, a lot has changed in the landscape of childhood and I frequently talk about similar changes in the landscape of babyhood. What tips do you have for parents of very young children - babies and toddlers - who want to make outdoor play and unrestricted freedom of movement a part of their family life.  

My recommendation is to get outdoors with your young children as much as possible. Consider even feeding them outdoors. Breastfeeding and bottle-feeding can be done outdoors. Think about even bringing the highchair out on the deck on nice days. On really warm days, you can even bathe your child outside! 

Go for short walks with your infant in your arms and stop to look at and touch things (bark on a tree, pine cones, a moving insect, flowers) outdoors. Little kids can run around barefoot, exploring and playing in the mud, in the woods, and in the grass. Exposure to these early sensations help to organize their senses, setting them up for healthy sensory development.

What was your biggest motivation in writing Barefoot and Balanced?

In the beginning, I had started this project because of my own children. I wanted them to grow up in a world that understood the benefits of outdoor play. Now, I know this mission is for all of the children. They need hours of outdoor play on a daily basis in order to develop the mind, the body, and all of the senses. It is essential in order to lay the foundation for higher-level learning for years to come.

Value of Outdoor Play with OT Angela Hanscom.

Angela Hanscom, MOT, OTR/L is a pediatric Occupational Therapist, author of BALANCED AND BAREFOOT:  How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident and Capable Children, and the founder of TimberNook—a developmental nature-based program. She holds a master’s degree in Occupational Therapy and an undergraduate degree in Kinesiology (the study of movement). She has been a frequent contributor to the Washington Post and featured on the NPR education blog, Johnson & Johnson TEDx talks, The Huffington Post, ChicagoNow, Times of India, Jerusalem Post, Children & Nature Network, and MindShift.  For more information visit