Turn it off and get out!

Parenting has changed. No, I’m not referring to the changes one sees from generation to generation, I’m talking about what it was like to parent a mere 10 years ago.

You know what we didn’t have then? 

Smartphones. Tablets. Phablets. Screen time.

Today many of us sleep with our smart phones at the ready (if not under our pillows). And we’re always aware (even if it’s just subconsciously) of the ever-important updates: Tweets and Likes and Plants vs. Zombies. Good old Candy Crush. 

And while — fortunately — moms aren’t as bored and lonely as they used to be during two-hour breastfeeding sessions and seemingly endless lap naps, the flip side of the swipe life is that we’re forgetting to look down at that beautiful sleeping babe. 

Of course, we love our electronic devices — and should make no apologies for being a part of that current climate. But we also know that we suffer from overstimulation and distraction and stress because we just don’t ever turn off.

Now, on to your toddler. 

By nature, a toddler is easily stimulated, distracted, prone to tantrums and hard to settle down. 

Your ones and twos and threes will find your phones and remotes and iPads. 

And, at times, this quick fix known as big, bad screen time will be a parent’s best friend. Perfect. There’s no shame in that. This is the world we live in. I’m right there with you.

But we need to counterbalance our technology addiction. Our kids need horizons and clouds and textures — and colors beyond smooth, glowing blue. 

“Children develop habits, feelings and meaningful relationships at a very young age,” said Marty Watson, director of Dodge Nature Preschool in West St. Paul. “They are sorting out the world and try very hard to understand how things work around them. This is a heightened time to learn through the five senses. The world outdoors is filled with smells, colors, textures, sounds and tastes that support cognitive learning.”

For the not-so-outdoorsy parent, Dodge Nature Center makes it easy. 

With family events such as a Halloween Extravaganza, January Frosty Fun, a maple syrup extraction followed by a pancake breakfast, Rock the Barn and after-dinner nature activities, getting outdoors with the kids can be fun and — dare I say — almost effortless. 

The center also has a green house, a farm, community gardens, apple orchards, beehives, a raptor center, a reptile lab and a small natural history collection, not to mention year-round hiking trails. 

Getting into those 3T, 4T and 5T snow pants? You might consider Dodge’s preschool, where the students spend a majority of class time OUTDOORS, all year round. 

Year-round outside activity is tricky in Minnesota, but when dressed in appropriate gear, children LOVE winter play. 

Said Watson: “Snow provides an entirely new landscape to explore. Snow houses can be built. Fires in the snow provide a delightful contrast to the cold. Creating ice sculptures out of ice blocks made by freezing water in various plastic containers can be an activity that happens inside as well as out. Add coloring to snow or ice for extra fun.”

Though the upcoming season is long, we’re lucky to live in an area of dynamic change. Something shifts within us as we move from summer to fall and winter to spring: We are witness to plant life flourishing rapidly from once-frozen ground. We see birds migrate and leaves change. Our trees turn from green to red to white to brown. 

We ourselves go from excited to whimsical to wistful to contemplative. For a toddler, the experience is new and unformed and — in turn — magical. 

Jen Wittes lives in St. Paul and is a mother of two. She’s helped many Twin Cities families in her work as a postpartum doula. Send questions or comments to jwittes@mnparent.com.