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

Crawling

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.

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Another Beautiful Blog: Simplicity Parenting

You know some days you are rushed, running, hectic, stressed. That is how my day ran today. And then I read this and remembered to breathe:

Simplicity Parenting » Blog Archive » Becoming Like Little Children.

Thanks to Natural Mama for pointing this little gem out to us.

Even breastfeeding for a week is helpful!

A woman breastfeeding an infant.

Image via Wikipedia

This is a really lovely guide to some benefits of breastfeeding according to how long you do it: ‘if you breastfeed for four to six days…’, etc: peaceful parenting: If You Nurse Your Baby…. It does have a bit of a bias toward extended breastfeeding perhaps but nonetheless it does encourage and support women to breastfeed for as long as works for them and their families – knowing every little bit helps and we are all doing the best we can!

The other dada (or: when, oh, when will she call me Mama?)

On the other hand, at 14 months, Anya still doesn’t call me Mama! For the last six months, I have been dada (along with the other dada). She knows the difference, she’ll point at the right one of us in response to our ‘names’ but she calls us both dada. If she sees a photo of the two of us together, she we’ll point at K. and say ‘dada’ and point at me and say ‘dada’ while signing milk. She gets it… she just doesn’t bother using the other title. To be fair she also calls random people on the street dada, quite often. We figure it is just her word for person… although I will say she says it with way more zest and enthusiasm when greeting her dad from work. ‘DAADAAAAA!!!’

play

This is quite an emotional subject. I mean we all melt (I can only assume) at the sound of our own child calling our name, especially for the first time. Apparently it is common for this to happen, for a baby to pick one name (either mama or dada) and call both parents that for a time. Thankfully I have met plenty of other moms who say the exact same thing happened at their house – it was dadadada all the time. Once, I even ran into somebody I didn’t know at the shop and her kid was saying ‘dada’. I said that is my daughter’s favourite word, too. She got really quite upset as she told me her baby only said ‘dada’ and not ‘mama’ yet. I rambled off something about evolution and the necessity to ensure the baby bonds with the father first, hence why most moms encourage their babies to say ‘dada’ early on, not to mention that in all languages the word for father is composed of some of the first sounds that babies naturally babble by themselves – even deaf ones – such as baba, papa, dada. Most dads I know will gleefully claim any of those as their ‘name’ if they hear the baby saying it… or at least the mom will claim it for them. There is also research that proves (?) first babies look more like their fathers, again, an evolved trait biologically engineered to keep dads around for longer – especially when things get tough and mothers really need their support. Anyway, I digress, the point is it kind of hurts when your kid doesn’t say your name. Does he/she love dada more?  I got over it. I have rationalised it away, as you can tell, and I figure she’ll say mama sooner or later and in the meantime her dada gets to enjoy all the attention, fun and closeness of hearing Anya shout for him when he arrives home from work everyday.

I’ll share an early secret with you, though, Anya has started saying mamamama a lot (a bit like when she was first learning to babble it) and she looks at me for a reaction (maybe ‘cos she knows that sound will get a reaction) but it fills my heart with joy and my spirit with hope. Could it be soon?

My parents’ most surprising gifts to me

Item 31160, Ben Evans Recreation Program Colle...

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Some years ago I realised something surprising.

I am very blessed and have great parents that have surrounded me with love and given me some incredible teachings. And still, like with anybody, our relationship is not ‘perfect’. Then one day I had an ‘a-ha! moment’ and realised that some of my parents greatest gifts to me were their weaknesses.

Let me explain. Okay, so I can say I have got from my parents an introduction to Eastern mystical spirituality, a love for whole-foods and an understanding of their importance in creating and maintaining good health, a thirst for learning, a love for travelling, and so much more… and then there were things they couldn’t teach me, like how to be tidy, how to dress perfectly for a cocktail party or how to make small talk with people you have just met. They couldn’t teach me these things because they were not in their repertoire – or at least these are not things that were important to them.

So I had to learn them for myself. And there is the gift. In a way those areas, the things I have had to go out and learn for myself are the ones I am most proud of – I didn’t just inherit them or learn them by osmosis by hanging around them. I had to work for them (and keep working and learning them afresh). This was a gift by omission. And so it is that I find it is all gifts: the good stuff are gifts and the ‘bad’ stuff are just a different kind of gift.

I’d do well to remember that with my own child(ren). As my uncle says, jokingly, I am going to f*ck ’em up. All kids say their parents f*cked ’em up. It is just a question of how.So, we might as well let go and trust God/the Universe to sort it all out (hmm, my uncle doesn’t say that part, I just ad-libbed it).

In fact, I believe babies chose the parents they are to be born to with some knowledge of the kind of conditions and experiences they are coming into. Sometimes they come to learn, sometimes they come to teach, sometimes they come just to observe but either way the parents they are given are the perfect parents for them to experience what they are here, on this planet, to experience. So it is not my job to be perfect. I can do what I can do and the rest is, well, out of my hands and I trust that God, my kid(s) and providence are in charge of the rest. 

And relax…