Watch me and learn, mama: a ‘less is more’ approach to supporting optimum child development.


Image by courosa via Flickr

Magda Gerber’s Resources for Infant Educators (RIE) is an approach to childcare which I find very similar to my own: watch and learn from your kids, let them take the lead and show you what they are interested in. Plus that is proven to be how kid’s learn best.

Here is an amazing little introduction to the RIE philosophy, if you have not heard of it before:

I first came across RIE kind of by accident. A new momma I had just met invited me to a play date at a group near where we live. She never turned up – yep, she stood me up! And it turns out this group was just starting out and Anya and I were the only ones there – hah. That probably sounds better than it was, one-to-one attention from the group facilitator. In actual fact this is the kind of group where you don’t say much you mostly watch what the kids are up to, what new tricks they are learning, what takes their interest, what habits they have picked up (good or bad), etc. Parents ask questions and you get to benefit from the answers to all the questions, not just your own… but all that doesn’t work so well when you are the only parent in the group. Oh, well. We stayed anyway and then we came for a few more sessions and slowly fell in love with this quiet way of looking at babies’ ways. It turns out we did rather well out of the whole incident, really.

I find this approach to childcare refreshing. It is so organic and natural, somehow. It is based on trust: trust that your kid knows what to do, what skill to practice, that their instincts will drive their will to learn – no adult or gadget intervention needed. I am very much of this belief. I have been amazed over and over by the fact that Anya just knows what to concentrate on next. First babies wave their arms and legs about, then they learn to twist and finally turn. This is basically baby-pilates – as they build their core strength ready to crawl. Crawling in turn builds co-ordination (essential for the brain and for walking). You see them pulling themselves up, practicing squats to strengthen their leg muscles. It is like the DNA encoded its very own fitness trainer into a baby’s brain. Then, when they are ready, they walk and they become more and more obsessed with stairs – the next frontier.

RIE sees and respects this. It gives parents the confidence to trust this process by quietly observing and supporting the baby’s own pace of development. It was a RIE instructor who first suggested to me that I should stop sitting Anya up until she was able to get in and out of this position unaided – because by just ‘artificially’ sitting her up (which she could do, unsupported) she was not lying on the floor, working those core muscles, reaching for things and really getting ready to crawl. If you remember Anya started crawling literally days after I started lying her on her back again – like she just needed that extra little bit of practice to get going.

And it turns out I am not the only one who is into this kind of back-to-basics approach, a whole load of celebrities are, too (who knew?):

RIE is also all about fewer toys and toys that have unlimited possibilities. It was from RIE that we borrowed our ‘toys that aren’t toys’ philosophy – i.e. we started to give Anya bowls and spoons and cloths to play with and those keep her entertained for hours, often.

Magda Gerber’s also urged us to keep our praise natural and minimal: do not get the kid hooked on praise rather than the process of what they are doing. You want them to want to do what they are doing for its own sake, to do it even when you are not looking – not to only do things which please you, for the attention. This is powerful stuff which has repercussions over the person’s life – and super interesting, maybe I’ll post more about another time (if I can find the praise studies, which are so interesting).

At its core, as I see it, RIE is about self-directed learning and exploration. It is a gentle way that puts kids at the centre of their own lives from the start. It nurtures curiosity, self-reliance and determination by simply letting them be, freely, naturally who they are and who they want to be.


Playing ball (aka video or it never happened!)

Anya is learning social interaction and communication. She understands turn taking and will to and fro with ‘words’, clapping or… yes… playing ball. For the record it works with any kind of ball (including ‘normal ones’) but this one is her favourite.

As a cute little note, that sweater she is wearing was knitted for me by my grandmother, when I was a baby, !!

Awesomeness Report

Nearly everyday when Kai comes home, I say “Anya did something awesome, today!” He’ll reply “Something new?! What is it?” And I’ll go on to tell him what I observed in our daughter for the first time that day. And pretty much since she was three months old you can see something new everyday – however small or big.

Today, for the first time, I saw Anya pull herself up to standing. How cool is that?! That sent me down a completely different train of thought. I mean she has been pushing up to standing for sometime now. As in she’ll stand up in her high chair (on the little foot pedestal thingey) and reach for her water bottle, for example, if it is a bit far, but today was the first time I saw her pull up from sitting to standing by leaning on a table. It was, well… awesome. But here is the crux of it, in a home where she sleeps on the floor with us, where there is no play pen, exersaucer or bars (as there is a full time mom instead of mechanical mothering devices… which hey, have a place, I get it but I keep them as last resort, a sanity saver if/when mom needs to buy them) where does a baby practice pull ups? Well, it turns out the answer is, as with most things, on me. But now that I am aware of how much she wants to practice this skill I can create opportunities and/or not stand in the way of Anya creating her own opportunities to pull up onto (safe) furniture. And she has done it about five times since I first saw her do it, today, so I guess that is her ‘learning edge’ as they say. She really balances there in a standing position for a long old time.

This, of course, will continue to challenge our baby proofing (or lack thereof)… but in the meantime, let us bask in the achievement of this little human being. What an awesome report I have for Kai today! I can’t wait.


N.B. ‘Awesome’ is our American word. When we moved here we thought in order to assimilate fully into the local culture we’d have to do as locals do and say ‘Awesome!’ a lot and with a long drawl. And, I have got to say the word is awesome is… freakin’ fabulous!


P.S. I don’t have a photo for this particular awesome feat, yet. Will you settle for a photo of another cute milestone – Anya learning to drink from a cup alone (which she did a few weeks back, now)?

avocado on baby face

What a difference a month makes

My mom has been here for a month. She is going back home, to Portugal, in a few days (me so sad). She picked an awesome time to come, though. When she arrived Anya was 7 months old. She is now just past 8 months and she has learned, grown and developed so much in these past few weeks.

When my mum arrived Anya was rolling, rolling, rolling everywhere at the speed of light but she couldn’t move forward to grab something (or whatever). My mum went away for a week (during her month’s stay) and when she came back Anya had learned how to crawl on her belly. Adorable!! So much frustration was resolved for her with that, too! She can now go where she wants and get what she wants… until the big mummy in the sky scoops her up and moves her ‘somewhere safer’.

When mum arrived, Anya had no teeth. Now she has cut two teeth. She has also perfected her clap and now claps, very sociably, when we clap so that we take it in turns! She is getting really good at too-ing and fro-ing that way. We can do that with singing, blowing raspberries, drumming and even playing ball. Yep she can now roll a ball to me and catch it (you know, with some effort) when I roll it to her. So cute.

Anya kind of points, too. I mean she has a gesture that seems to be a proto-point. She uses it (open hand, arm extended) to announce that she sees Grammy or a duck. Grammy also noticed she was starting to show us things and even hand us objects she finds interesting, like a toy. My oh my, my little girl is growing up.

In this time, Anya has also learned how to sit up from lying down and back up again, semi-gracefully. This means she has discovered verticality and no longer notices only objects on the floor. Now everything is in the real of the graspable.

Anya’s language skills seem to be bursting to come forth. When my mother arrived Anya could babble but there were definitely no words. Now… well, now we hear ‘dada’ quite a lot (which seems to be her word for both of us, really, kind of meaning ‘parent’ or ‘person I love’). Occasionally she says ‘ma’ for mama, when she really, really wants me (usually said through sobs). She also repeats the sound ‘aca’ (as in qua-qua – the sound a duck makes in Portuguese) when she sees a duck. She says it with great excitement and whole body waves as she lurches forward seemingly to grab one of the birds. She even says ‘oya’ (for Ola’) each time she greets the bear in the car (sweet… though I reckon she thinks that is his name. Hmm… need to correct that :p ). Fascinating and actually quite awe-inspiring to watch as this little being builds comprehension of language.

Finger foods are on the menu, now, too. She can feed herself chunks of food, like avocado – even if 9 out of 10 pieces end up on the floor… or anywhere but her mouth. The high chair was literally pasted green the other day.

Most sweetly sad… Anya has just learned how to wave, just in time to say bye-bye to Grammy :(

New favourite things

Anya is almost 6 months old, now. Oh, the cuteness!

My new favourite things are: hugs. Yep, when I pick her up, now, Anya grabs me back. I am counting these are the first official hugs. The first time it happened I almost cried out in joy. So sweet. Technically she may be hanging on for dear life more than she is sharing her tender feelings for me… but hey, it counts!

I also love that she is trying out new things with her voice and she seems to have decided to go an octave higher. Yep, it is adorable, so much more baby-like and girly. Gone is the concentration and the furrowed brow preceding each sound; instead we have a little tongue pointing out with each syllable. And they are getting good, now. She literally says ‘goo-goo-ga-ga’ and she also says ‘dada’ (it is still just a sound to her now, clearly, but soon, soon with any luck she will add meaning and understanding, maybe some pointing, smiling and her new skill, hugging daddy!)

And on that note, the other cutest thing is Anya’s reaction when K gets home. If she is breastfeeding or on my lap, she will turn her neck and shoulders a full 180 to peer at the sound of the opening door and then when she sees it is daddy she squeals, smiles and giggles with her whole body (you know happy-frantic leg and arm extensions to go with the laughter). Of course this makes K’s day… and frankly it kind of makes mine, too, it is so contagiously fun.

Ahh, yep, still loving this age!