It’s never too early to get children interested in nature and the environment. From feeling the grass or sand between their toes, the sunshine on their skin and breeze on their growing limbs – the physical and mental benefits of being outdoors is enormous for kids of all ages.
The World Organization for Humanitarian Movement says that spending time in nature results in improved physical health, enhanced cognitive development such as improved attention span and problem-solving abilities, improved emotional health – including a reduction in stress and anxiety – improved social skills and increased environmental awareness. So not only is being outdoors fun, it’s vital for kids’ health and development, too.
Winter in Dubai is the ideal time to get babies and toddlers outside and there are plenty of classes and sessions aimed at introducing infants to nature from newborns.
Whether in a park, playground or on the beach, these sessions use natural materials and activities to familiarise babies and toddlers with the environment and natural world around them.
Here are our pick of six Dubai companies hosting nature and outdoor classes for babies and toddlers, to help parents and little ones get a breath of fresh air this winter.
This vegan-friendly, 100 percent gluten-free café is a great place to visit in cooler weather with the family with a pretty terrace and dog-friendly garden area. Plus, this winter Bounty Beets has introduced an outdoor education lawn space with mud kitchens, tipis and exploration paths to enable children to have fun in nature and understand the great outdoors. Not only that, the café has teamed up with The Nature Caravan to host Forest School classes to meet like-minded parents and to help children understand more about flora and fauna.
There are weekly sessions for toddlers up to three years old that focus on insect exploration, planting, storytelling, nature songs, outdoor skills, art and more, while baby classes will explore textures, nature sounds and songs. The Toddler Turtles classes take place from 10am until 11.30am every Monday and are AED800 for four sessions, while Baby Beetles runs from 10am until 11am every Friday, costing AED600 for four sessions. The café has vegan dishes such as falafel wraps, veggie burgers, buddha bowls, avocado on toast, too, for when hunger strikes.
Katie Jane Dubai
Best-known for its messy play classes, Katie Jane Dubai also hosts outdoor sessions during the winter to help children get closer to nature here in Dubai. Busy Bees classes are held al fresco at JLT Park and Al Barari Playground, and toddlers are encouraged to run around barefoot. The classes aim to help kids connect with the outdoors using songs, crafts and activities, and include free play time to explore nature.
‘Unstructured play in the outdoors has consistent positive impacts on physical activity and cognitive play behaviours (imaginative and dramatic play), problem solving, social and emotional skills and sensory regulation for children who may struggle with impulse control, attention, and transitions from one activity to another,’ says the team. Busy Bees classes are 75 minutes long and are aimed at kids aged 20 months to four years old, while Baby Busy Bees run for 45 minutes for babies eight months to 19 months.
Mini Explorers was set up earlier in 2023 with the aim to get kids interested in science and exploration and away from screen time. The classes, which are for babies and toddlers from newborns up to 36 months, are held indoors, but for private classes and events such as birthday parties, parents can pick their location, be it their garden or in a park.
Mini Explorers can then theme the party to however they want – whether it’s exploring under the sea, trekking through the Black Forest or celebrating a favourite animal. The team will tailor the journey making it educational and fun, finishing off with a science experiment such as building volcanoes to teach kids about lava flow and chemical reactions.
Plus, the team has a commitment to using high-quality educational toys made with natural materials and a focus on sustainability. Mini Explorers also works with Operación San Andrés, and NGO focused on the residents and supporting women and children in Collique, Peru. The team sources many of its toys from the craft workshops of Collique.
Mumz & Munchkinz
In winter Mumz & Munchkins hosts sessions outside, including beach play sessions at Peaches & Cream on the Palm, messy play at Al Barari Playground and ‘play on a tray’ in the garden at community pub Reform Social & Grill in The Lakes. All sessions take play in the open air, in shaded areas, with a range of activities using natural items such as sand, earth, rice, lentils, water and more. The sensory sessions get kids used to the feel of different natural things, while spending time in the fresh air.
These sessions follow Montessori-inspired techniques of free play and are open-ended play using natural materials. “Nature play makes a child more self-dependent, gives decision-making capabilities, a problem-solving attitude, and also boosts their imagination through different role play in nature,” says the team. Mumz & Munchkins also sells toys as well as natural playthings – such as dried fruits, pinecones, sea shells, pebbles, natural wood building blocks, tree blocks and DIY wooden craft sets.
With the tagline ‘fall in love with nature again’, Natura Tribe is a nature-inspired group that aims to connect children with nature, as well as boosting social, emotional, creative, physical and cognitive development. The sessions are held at Al Barari inspired by Waldorf education and Forest Schools and are a mix of free play and guided activities. The sessions use natural, handmade and non-toxic resources, such as wooden stamps, plant-based playdough and more, which can also be bought at various locations in Dubai such as Eggs & Solders and My Backyard Chronicles. There’s everything from nature playdates to six-week programmes, nature camps, night safaris and private parties.
Nature Navigators was set up in 2022 to help foster connections between children and nature. Another one inspired by Waldorf and Forest Schools practices, the company hosts ‘immersive nature experiences’ for kids learning about the great outdoors. It hosts classes for three- to four-year-olds at Al Barari Playground every Saturday, with Montessori-style activities including season crafts, gardening by season, studying leaves and trees, cooking, storytelling by season, practical life activities, bug hotels, composting and more.
Activity materials are made of natural materials such as cotton, wool, clay, wood and bamboo as well as recycled materials such as jars, egg boxes and yoghurt pots. Sessions run from October through to June, while Nature Navigators also host classes for older children – for three to six years old at Gogo Village Playground, from four to seven at Sanderson’s Sustainable City and from four to five and five to seven at Al Barari Playground