As an early-years teacher and a mother of 2 boys, finding ways to keep all these little ones entertained, active, and busy can be challenging. However, every now and then, we all need some chill time. Just to relax and run around in the grass, climb a tree, maybe or even just to watch the ants go marching while singing, “the ants go marching one by one.”
Now, when it comes to playing outside, we have to consider a whole array of other things. One of the things we all have in mind when going to play out with the little ones is if it is safe for them to play with the grass.
When we look at it we may think that it looks like it could be a nice, soft and safe place for our babies to play and it is. Grass is a great place for babies to play, but there are a few very important things to consider when letting babies play with the grass.
Grass can be fun and can also be great for sensory play if your baby is introduced to it correctly, and you are prepared in case your child experiences sensory overload. Here are some tips to know what to look for and safety guidelines to follow.
What is Sensory Overload?
Most people think their baby does not like grass or that their baby is afraid of the grass. This is not actually the case. Grass can actually cause babies to experience sensory overload. This is the main reason babies do not like to play in the grass when they are first introduced to it.
Sensory overload is basically overstimulation of one or more of the 5 senses (smell, taste, touch, sight, sound). It is most common in babies and individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, sensory processing disorder, and some other conditions with high sensitivity to sensory stimulants.
In the first months of a baby’s life, their nervous system is still not fine-tuned to each sensation they may come across so every sight, sound, and sensation is much more intense for babies than it is for older children and adults.
Sensory overload or overstimulation occurs when your little one experiences an overflow of experiences, noises, sensations, and activity. It is more than their developing brain can process at one time.
What are some symptoms of sensory overload
Grass has a high possibility of causing sensory overload in babies and that is one of the main reasons babies do not enjoy playing with grass.
Some of the symptoms your baby may exhibit if they are overstimulated are:
- A feeling of being over-excited
- Trying to cover their ears or eyes to avoid sensory input
- Becoming tired, moody or cranky
- They may cry more than normal
- Turning their head away, seemingly avoiding you or whatever is overstimulating them.
- Clenching hands and arms and perhaps swinging arms and legs in kicking or hitting motions
- Moving uncomfortably or aggressively
Overstimulation is not good for babies as this can cause them to feel overwhelmed, tired, and stressed. If your baby seems overstimulated by the grass then immediately remove them and talk to them to calm them. Do not force them to interact with the grass as this can cause fear or reluctance to ever interact with the grass again.
How to introduce baby to grass
It can prove difficult to introduce your baby to grass for the first time, as sensory overload can be an issue when introducing your little one to grass.
Here are some steps you can follow to introduce your little one to grass without causing over stimulation:
- Find a soft patch of grass that has some sand or solid ground near it.
- Put something familiar on the grass for them to start on, such as a play mat, blanket, or a rug.
- Allow your baby to slowly ‘test’ touch the grass with their hands first (touching with their feet first may cause an increase in sensation)
- If your baby wants to move away from the grass, allow them to ‘escape’ to the area of solid ground where they are more confident and relaxed.
- Introduce grass slowly and frequently to allow your baby to get used to the idea of grass over time.
- Place favorite toys and items that grab their attention on the grass close to the playmat or solid area so they can wander on and off the grass to collect the items. (you can place them further away each time)
What to do if grass or dirt gets into your baby’s eyes
When playing in the grass, children may touch their faces and end up with small particles of sand, dirt, or grass in their eyes. This is not a cause for alarm, but it is always best to be prepared if this happens.
These are some steps to follow in the event of something getting into the eyes.
First of all, it is essential to remember that any particles in the eye will always stay at the front of the eye. The space at the back of the eyelid is too small for anything to go to the back of the eye, so if there is anything in the eye, it will be where it can be seen or just under the eyelid.
Symptoms that may show there is something in the eye are:
- Continuous rubbing of the eye
- Tears or crying
- Irritation or redness in the eye
- Constant blinking
Here are some steps to follow in the event of grass, sand, dirt, or any other small particles in the eyes:
- Using a wet cloth or clean, warm water, clean their hands, face and the area around the eye so no more dirt can get in the eyes
- Wash your own hands so you can make sure not to make the irritation worse
- For babies and young children, holding your child’s head up and the eye open (gently pull down on the lower eyelid) use a glass or jug to pour fresh, warm water into the eye to flush out the dirt.
- If needed, Use your hand or a damp cotton bud to gently rinse the particles out of your baby’s eyes but do not rub on the eye.
- Check the eye and repeat these steps until all the dirt has been successfully removed from the eye.
- If the dirt is in the corner of the eye, try using a moist cotton bud or edge of a wet cloth to gently remove it from the eye.
- Check the upper and lower eyelid to ensure all dirt has been removed from the eye.
After all the dirt and grass have been removed, the irritation should stop, and the redness should go away.
If all symptoms are not gone within 2 hours or if symptoms persist, then seek medical advice.
General safety guidelines for playing with Grass with babies
From my own personal experience, I can tell you with certainty, babies will put almost anything in their mouths, at least once. With that in mind, the following things are crucial to remember when your baby is going to play with grass:
- Is the area clean enough for your baby to play?
- Has the grass been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides to get rid of bugs or weeds? If the grass has been treated or sprayed, do not let your baby play with it until at least 48 hours have passed.
- Are there any poisonous plants they can access or reach? If playing with grass in your garden, then fence off or remove any plants that may be poisonous or cause health problems.
- Are there any animals permitted in the area (parks for example) – avoid putting your baby on the grass in these areas because animal feces can cause serious health issues. (see below options for putting your baby on the grass at parks and other areas)
- Check for Sand or Dirt around the grass area.
- Ensure your baby doesn’t eat the dirt or sand near or around the grass.
- Ensure that no dirt or sand gets in your baby’s eyes. (See below instructions in case this happens)
- Areas with mosquitoes and other bugs:
- Put baby in clothes that keep most of their skin covered up (long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and socks) to help avoid bugs.
- Try to avoid areas where bugs are usually more active (flowers, bushes, water areas like ponds) Avoid areas where bugs tend to hang out (like near flowers, standing water and brush areas)
- Apply bug repellent – When using insect repellent on little ones remember:
- Ensure you are using a baby-safe bug repellent
- Use repellent in an open area to avoid inhaling it.
- Do not spray repellent directly onto your baby. Spray the repellent into your hands then rub it onto your babies skin
- Avoid open cuts or skin irritations such as eczema.
- Do not spray repellent near babies’ faces, eyes, or mouth.
- When you are done playing outside, make sure you wash your baby thoroughly with soap and water to wash off all the repellent.
- Avoid giving your baby too much water. Dehydration is not really a risk for babies.
- Your baby will let you know when they need water, so don’t force it.
- If you give baby water to soon, you can risk the chance of water intoxication.
- Babies between 6 months (after starting solids) and 12 months only need a few sips of water to hydrate.
- Rather stay out for shorter periods to avoid heat exhaustion.
- Play should be fun! If you’re your little one experience sensory overload or overstimulation, then try another time again. (read below to learn about sensory overload)
- Never leave your baby unattended when playing with grass, plants, sand, or dirt.
Babies may show resistance to playing with grass at first, but once their nervous system can process the sensations that occur when playing with grass, and then they will enjoy playing with it.
Follow all safety guidelines when playing with grass and remember to capture the moments. Our little ones grow up fast, and we want to savor those memories.
Article checked by:
Dr Binu George – Consultant General Pediatric
(MBBS, FRCPCH, Dual CCST (UK), Paediatric Neurodisability)
Head Of Department, Child Development Department at
NMC Royal Hospital, Khalifa City, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates