Baby strollers are a common sight along woodland trails and gardens at the nonprofit Cibolo Nature Center & Farm in Boerne, which is open to the public from dawn to dusk each day.
“It’s extraordinary to watch their smiles and tiny hands reaching up in wonder at discovering the sounds and sights of nature,” Carolyn Chipman Evans, executive director of the 160-acre grounds, says about the center’s youngest visitors.
“Socializing with nature is such a healthy way for children of all ages to actively engage their senses,” says Chipman Evans. “Dozens of research studies have measured the significant social development and intellectual benefits that come with connecting to outdoor settings from the earliest age.”
Yet, research also shows that too few children are exposed to nature centers, public parks and other outdoor venues because of distance and time constraints – a situation often described as “nature deficit disorder.”
Chipman Evans says the nonprofit Boerne nature center has become a popular destination for urban San Antonio families looking for nearby wild places to bring babies and older children. The center has Little Explorers classes each Tuesday for preschool-age kids and summer nature camps for kids 5-12.
At the Library
Free Baby Time classes are offered to parents and infants each week at several San Antonio Public Library branches. “It’s a way for moms and babies to socialize with each other and with the library,” says Viki Ash, coordinator of children’s services at the San Antonio Public Library.
“We’re very interested in early literacy development and vocabulary. Listening to the human voice is important to brain development,” Ash says.
For example, parents can clap their hands to rhymes that are read aloud for infants, who also are encouraged to touch sturdy baby board books. “We buy board books and replace them with amazing regularity. They’re for babies to explore,” she says.
Recommended read-aloud e-books and hardcover editions for toddlers and older kids are available for infants of library members, too. “Parents can say, look, he’s only 1 and he’s in the reading club,” Ash says. “We’re not trying to turn every baby into Baby Einstein. It’s very light-hearted.”
Membership, of course, is free at the local library, and so is the app to download e-books free to library cardholders. “When you’re going on a trip, it’s nice to know that we have kiosks at the airport where you can download books,” she adds.