Food is on my mind

Food. I have been talking to so many people about food lately, that really I just have to write about it. I don’t know where to start, so I’m thinking back to the table I left at home going to work the other day. A little table with a finished breakfast. Well, finished in our definition of what it means – there was still some food on the plate when Antek took his bib off, handed it to me, looked me in the eye, smiled and walked away. A few mouthfulls of scrambled eggs. A couple of bites of bread. Some tea on the bottom of the glass. Breakfast is finished. We don’t go for ‘One more spoon? For Mummy?’

My husband and I had our own struggle around it. We love eating, we love food, and we love spending time in the kitchen. And there is nothing wrong with that. Except that, quite a while ago we realised that our eating habits are not what we want them to be, and that Pawel’s portion of pasta would really shock you (and the fact that you can’t see him from behind all this food). How can we know that enough is enough? How can we know if we’re eating because we’re still hungry, or because we simply don’t know when to stop. Neither of us has a problem with obesity, but healthy eating habits are about more than that, you’ll agree. So we mindfully worked through our eating habits, we slowed down and started listening to our bodies more. And we let our kids do the same. Just so they maybe don’t have to go through the same thinking we are doing right now, in the future. Fingers crossed.

Respect.  When the subject is mentioned, pediatrician Emmi Pikler sticks out her tongue.  It is not a sign of displeasure from the distinguished 79-year-old infant specialist, but an imitation of a baby’s first rejecting movement, an early signal from the child of having had enough to eat. (from an interview with Emmi Pikler, reproduced on Little River School blog)

As always, we have found that it’s all about trust and respect. Trusting your child to know how much he needs, and respecting his decision to stop. Trusting your child that he knows his body better than anyone else, and respecting this body enough not to want to impose your will. All of this, if practices early, can lead to life-long benefits.  But recently I have been talking to so many people about food so many times, that it has led me to believe it’s not only these kinds of benefits we are talking about here…

Know when to stop

The first years of life are all about learning. It’s all one big experience (not that it changes much after that) and also learning how to learn. Learning what we like and what we don’t like. Learning what we are comfortable with. Learning what is and what is not acceptable to us. But, as ever, this kind of learning needs to be done by the child himself. We can talk about it, we can explain things all we want – but at the end of the day, this kind of learning needs to be coming from experience.

In letting our kids eat  as much or as little as they want, we hope to let them learn how their body feels about certain things. When they’ve had enough, Kala gets up, takes her bib of and sometimes says thank you ( ‘jeen’) and hands me the plate. Or just smiles and walks away. When Antek is done, regardless of what is left on the plate, he usually says ‘I’m done’ or ‘Thank you’ and walks away to play. Sometimes he takes his plate into the kitchen :) Letting them stop when they wants to stop we are letting them walk away when they’ve had enough. And this does not only apply to food.

We want our children to know when to stop. To know when to say ‘no’ and walk away. I can imagine that when our kids are teenagers, we will want them to know all of this even more. We will probably pray that they know when to say ‘no’ and ‘I’ve had anough’. But for them to be able to do that comfortably, we also need to respect when they say ‘no’ to us. Especially, when it is about things they know better than we do – when it is about themselves.

Emotional experience

Just like anything else that goes on between our children and us, eating and feeding is an emotional time. For all those involved. I remember how hard it was for Pawel when he prepared a meal and Antek would not eat it. And of course ‘I’ve made all this for you and you are walking away’ is definitely something that was on his mind. But he never once let Antek know that he thought that, and learnt to trust our son, and let go of the expectations. And that always pays off :)

We have this thing in Poland, where parents will sit down with babies and feed them spoonfulls that are always for someone (now, I have no idea if this is a universal thing or not?). ‘One for Mummy. One for Daddy. One for Granny….’ The list goes on, the child gets fed, nobody knows how much or how little he really needed to eat. But this, again, is not just about food. It’s a pretty heavy load, now that I think about it, for a child to stop even when he is full. After all, if he’s had one spoon for Mummy, will he not have one for Daddy?

My husband has recently told me an adult version of this, which really is just the same. When you go out and don’t want to have a drink with someone (and by drink in this situation we usually mean a shot of vodka) the ‘normal’ response is: ‘Come on. You won’t drink with ME?’ well…

Trust me, you’ll like it

Antek had a couple of months when he would not touch a carrot. Kala is going through the same thing right now, funny enough. We never worry about it, but unforunately we mentioned it to someone, who seemed to find it a bit problematic. The advice which followed included things as varied as giving him only carrots so he had no choice, through to giving him other things mashed with carrots, so he would not notice. Now, needles to say, we did neither.

First of all, we don’t think it’s abnormal not to like something. We usually don’t see it as something unusual when it comes to adults (think about having all your friends over for dinner at once… I would probably have to serve water). The problem with children is that we tend to worry that they will not get what they need, or that they are becoming ‘picky’. Since we tend to trust our kids that they will know what they need, we didn’t worry about the first one. And we keep offering carrots once in a while. In the beginning, we just ate them ourselves. Until, of  course, one day Antek grabbed one, ate it, and has loved carrots since. Kala is not there yet. She might never get to love carrots, and that’s ok too.

There are several important things we wanted to remember with the carrot ‘situation’. It’s ok not to like something, so if he ended up just not liking carrots in the end, we would also not have a problem with that. But more than that, we disagree with cheating anyone into doing anything – and in our ears ‘mashing everything so he doesn’t know carrot is there’ is cheating. We don’t want our son to  lie to us. We will not lie to him. And that goes far beyond carrots.

Do you have any particular food-related struggles? Or stories you would like to sare? We always love to hear from you!


Just playing #2

This post is part of the Just playing series inspired and started by Child Central Station.

Look at all the fun, emotions and discoveries children around you have when they are ‘just playing’ :)

Have a look at the photos here and tell us:

What is the child doing here?
What do you see?
What learning is taking place?
What skills are being practiced/developed?

_DSE8064 _DSE8079 _DSE8086 _DSE8091 _DSE8095
















One girl.
One scarf.
A ton of fun.
A lot of surprises.
Heaps of discoveries.
Learning. Working. Playing.



Child Central Station

Just playing?

This post is part of the Just playing series inspired by Childcentralstation.

Instead of us telling you about play – YOU are invited to watch play at its best. Observe the pictures and tell us: What do you see?


What is happening in the photos?
Who are the players?
What materials are present?
What are the developmental values embedded – possibly – in the scenarios?
Why is any of this play important?

Three kids age 1, 2 and 3 discovered this gutter and small stones today. The obvious thing to do was… well throw the stones down the gutter. At the bottom was some rainwater left from the previous rainy days. They simply couldn’t stop.


All three of them just played and made their own experiences. The stones. The holes. The water. Sounds.




I almost forgot to mention a 35year old enjoying this play by simply watching the kids. Feel their experiences. Hear the sounds, the laughter, the joy.

Were they really just playing?

This is a Blog Hop! What’s that? Get your code here!

Already playing along:
1. Child central Station
2. Zella said purple
3. Little illuminations
4. Squiggles and bubbles
5. Growing inch by inch
6. P is for Preschooler
7. Mamas in the making


Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Respect the diaper!

diapersLanguage is important. It matters. It matters what we say. It matters how we say it. And while this does not mean we need to go crazy and analyze every-single-word-we-have-ever-said, it means that whatever we say to (and in front of) our children will also matter to them. We get emotional, we say things we later wish we hadn’t, sure. But there are certain areas, where disrespectful words are not a matter of emotions, are not necessary, and are harmful.

We’ve said that before, and we’ll say that again – we love diaper changes around here. Really. We think they are truly valuable times, times of connection. So hearing comments like these makes us really sad, and here is why:

‘Ewwww, your diaper is smelly.’

Yes, poop smells. Mine does too, by the way. Wouldn’t it be oh-so-lovely to have our poop smell like roses? Sure it would! Imagine though how embarrassing it would be if someone walked into the toilet after you and commented on the smell. Not so nice, right?

The hidden (well, not so well-hidden) message our child might be getting is that his bodily functions are not pleasant for us. That somehow the way his body works is ‘smelly’ and so he should be ashamed of it. This sends a powerful message about the body and how we treat it – we all want our children to respect their (and others’) bodies, to know that they are respect-worthy – here is where we can really have an impact on how our children see themselves.

‘Oh wow, look he is pooping, look at that funny face he’s making!’

Seriously, put a mirror in front of you when you are on the toilet – yes, we all try to look our best most times, and there is a reason (well, more than one reason) why we sit on the toilet behind closed doors. Yes, it is private. Yes, it is something you would not really want to do in front of other people. Our babies don’t have that luxury yet – let’s support them, not ridicule them.

Making fun of a child is one of the most powerful ways to break him. To make him feel really badly about himself. Above all – it is plain cruel.

‘Oh no you pooped again, now I have to change you.’

We love diaper changes around here. Really, we do – have a look at our previous posts if you don’t believe it :) There are times when it’s not the best timing, sure – we are in a hurry, almost out the door and of course that’s when the diaper needs to be changed. But with all honesty – hasn’t it happened to all of us one time or another? We need to catch that bus and suddenly we also need to go to the toilet really badly.

We take care of our children because we love them so much. Because they cannot yet do it for themselves. Because too soon they will be able to do it all by themselves and changing diapers will be a sweet memory.

The message our children might be getting hearing disrespectful comments like the ones above, is this: Taking care of you is not pleasant for me, it is annoying. I wish I didn’t have to do it. Powerful, right? Also, a little scary…

Language is important

[P]eople will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. (Maya Angelou)

Considering our diaper-related language is important. We send powerful messages to our children, messages that our children treat very seriously, that might stick with them for life. Talking about body, its functions and the way it behaves, leaves a mark on how our children will see themselves and how they will build their self-image. It will influence how they feel about themselves, and how they think others should think and feel about them. Talking about this in an unpleasant, disrespectful way might also create problems with future toilet use.

So yeah, mamas and papas – let’s all respect the diapers!


Was that really a question?

There were some interesting comments and discussions after our last post on saying and hearing ‘no’, that got us thinking in a lot of creative ways about language. One thing that we have been talking about is this: What about the situation that precedes the ‘no’ – the question itself. Do we ask the same questions our children actually hear?

Sometimes we might ask lots of questions (I know I do – Anna), some of which may not be necessary, some of which are just for making conversation, some of which possibly create conflict, which we might be able to avoid. Does this sound familiar to you:

Me: A, do you want to brush your teeth now?

A: No!

Me: …

Hmm. Did I really mean that as a question? In Nonviolent Communication there is a useful distinction between a request and a demand. A request means we are asking someone to do something (usually for us), and we are open to all answers; a demand, on the other hand, means we are asking someone but already know what answer we expect, and will not take the one we don’t like. Usually the one we don’t like is ‘no’. Sometimes on the surface they look deceptively similar :) You probably know what we mean here…

Our children are learning the world, and one of the things they are just learning is the world of words, how powerful they are, what they mean and what they ‘really mean’. They don’t really care much for pragmatics and the hidden meanings, they take our language literally. To a toddler ‘Do you want to brush your teeth now?’ is a very real ‘yes/ no’ question, and as such requires a real ‘yes/ no’ answer. If we’re asking this question, and are not prepared to accept one of the alternative answers, is it really a question?

What to do?

In the numerous times we have talked about this, we have figured that there are several ways of dealing with the ‘no!’ situation, that we are comfortable with. Well, more comfortable than other ways, at least.

If ‘no’ is an acceptable answer, we have no problem. It is important for the child to be able to say ‘no’, and for us, parens, to create a safe space for him to explore the reactions to this. This, in our eyes, is really giving the child the respect he deserves – hearing his ‘no’ and accepting it as a ‘no’ coming from our fellow human being. Unless, of course, it is something dangerous, something we have agreed not to do etc. In other words, if his ‘no’ is something we can live with – why not?

We can involve the child, so that he feels a real participant in the situation, not a person something is done to, which more often than not will change his ‘no’ into a ‘yes’.

If something really needs to be done, the question ‘Do you want to do x?’ is awfully deceptive. We can either explain he will need to brush his teeth in 5 minutes (with a fair warning so he can finish whatever he is busy with).  He might not like it, we might still have to accept his disapproval and all the emotions that go with it (and that is fair – everyone has a right to disagree!), but at least it won’t feel like we’re not being honest (Why are you asking me if you won’t accept my answer?). Or we can give a choice we can live with – ‘Do you want to brush your teeth now or after we read the book?’

So next time you want to ask your child a question, try and ask yourself first: is this a real question? :)

We LOVE to hear your thoughts!

Anna & Nadine

A thousand times no!

One of my most vivid memories from childhood is a very strange one. I am on a bus with my Dad, and in front of me there is a woman wearing fur. I had never seen fur like this before. I remember feeling a strong need to touch it. I reach out my arm and touch her coat. She turns around a bit surprised but then she smiles, and both her and my Dad say at the same time: “Soft, isn’t it?”

I remember very clearly the strong need to EXPERIENCE the feeling, to KNOW what it felt like if I touched that coat. I don’t remember anything that happened afterwards, or anything else from that bus ride. Just that. I have seen fur since ;), and have never felt that need to touch it again (and also, just for the record, I don’t go around touching other people’s clothes) but I can tell you I really remember exactly what it felt like on my hand. Sometimes I’m reminded of that need to experience when I hear something like this…

“No, don’t touch that”

“No, don’t go there, you will get wet”

“No, you will get dirty”

“No, not this one”


And here is the one that I didn’t hear: “No, don’t touch that lady’s coat“ (Anna)

One of the most common words in English (really!). Apparently one of the most common words toddlers use. One of the most powerful words if you think about it… I recently did an exercise, just for the fun of it – I tried to count how many times a day we say ‘no’. You can narrow it down and count how many times a day you say ‘no’ to your child. You’ll be surprised, I can promise you that. I know I was.

There are several things to think about when I wonder about the magic power of the word ‘no’. When it is about movement,  when we discover something new,or we just know it is going to be fun (whether or not it turns out to be fun in the end is a different story).


When it comes to movement, it seems that there is little good our ‘no’ can actually do. In fact, it might do more harm than good. When we see our children practise their movmenets, we imagine that they have a strong sense of purpose in their body – that their bodies feel that they have to move in a certain way, even if the outside world tells them not to. That they have to push that chair; that they have to climb that sofa; that they have to run around. And we try my best to understand that this urge comes from their body, and if we don’t let them do it, it will create a deep sense of conflict between that which they feel they have to do, and that which their beloved mum tells them is not right.

It doesn’t mean we let them do everything they want, even if it’s dangerous or it bothers us – I try to find other outlets for their movement, like running outside, climbing something safe, or pushing a box not a table. But we try our very best not to say ‘no’ to the movement itself.


Imagine walking into your favourite bakery, and seeing that they have just made a totally new cake that looks more amazing that anything they have ever baked. Anything. You must have it. You have enough money. The line is not too long. It is within reach. And then someone stands in front of you and says something like this: ‘no don’t have that’. What? Why not? Did that make you not want you have that even more?

There is a huge amount of development and change toddlers go through, and a lot of things are new. A lot of things need to be tested, tried, and tasted. A lot of things are out there that need to be touched, licked, pinched… As long as it’s not dangerous, why not?

Your ‘no’, my ‘no’…

So as said before – there are moments when a ‘No’ is necessary. When we need to keep the kids safe or ourselves sane. Or both. And that’s good. If we keep the ‘No’ limited then a ‘No’ will always be a ‘No’ and not just a word Mom keeps using all the time.

On the other hand – how do we respond to our child’s ‘No’? When he shakes his head to that food we cooked. When he runs away from our hugging arms. When he screams ‘No!!!’ as a response to “It’s time to go brush your teeth and go to bed.”

Do we force? Do we say “Oh yes you will!!“ Do we ask “C’mon, you haven’t even tried!“ Talking about the word ‘No’ is a two way street.

When Leander gets angry at his sister for coming near when he plays he screams loud: “No! Mona! Go away!“ There are two scenarios that can happen.

1)       I say: “Leander! Don’t push her! Go to your room if you want to play alone!“ to which he will respond: “No! She’s in my way!“ and he will most likely push her again. And again…

2)       I say “Mona, Leander wants to play alone. He does not want you to play with his cars right now. Let’s see if we find something for you.“ to which he quite often responds: “Here. She can have that car. And that bus. But I need these here!“ (Nadine)

If a ‘No’ is respected a child feels respected in many ways. His feelings are acknowledged, he feels that his words and actions have an effect, he is a person no less important than us. And this is a wonderful lesson in life.

He learns that he is not less lovable if he says ‘No’. That it’s ok to say it, that’s it’s ok to disagree. If we let him practice saying ‘No’ in a safe way, if we accept his ‘No’, if we let him disagree, he will take this ability with him into the world, where – we hope – he will be able to say ‘No’ to a number of things he doesn’t feel comfortable with. And that is a truly powerful lesson in life.

A beautiful post about turning no’s into a yes by Lisa Sunbury is right here

The art of observation

MonaClimbingRecently we have been having lots of conversations about struggle and observation. And observing the struggle, both in ourselves and in our children. And about how intense and difficult it is to observe. And…

Magda Gerber encouraged us to observe our child, observe and observe and perhaps observe a bit more. We have both written about observing our own children before, and about ways which helped us in learning how to do so and what to pay attention to. But what if you are observing your child struggle, or at least attempt something and fail, and it is all you can do not to jump in and help out? How can we help ourselves so we can help our children?

We noticed that in learning the fine art of observation, what hinders us most is trying to figure out the answer to ‘What next?’. It seems that the most difficult task for us, parents, is to ‘just’ notice what is going on, without trying to figure out what our child’s next step might be. It is that practice of constant guessing and waiting for the next step, that may prevent us from really seeing what is going on, and sometimes leads us to interrupt our child in their play. And it is that guessing and trying to be one step ahead of our children that sometimes leads us to help out a little bit too quickly, and perhaps not let our child be the master of their play, and reap the benefits (and pride) of doing it all by themselves. That stops us from waiting  just that one moment longer to see what will happen.

It seems that being truly objective and really in-the-moment is the hardest task of all. In coming to know a little bit about Non-Violent Communication, one of the key difficulties is to make an ‘observation’ – what happened? Not what you ‘think’ happened, what you think ‘should or should not have happened’, but really and only – what happened?

So, how can we help ourselves to help our children? We have noticed that there is a trick to observing we can do, and here it is:

Instead of guessing what will happen, try asking yourself what is going on right now. So, instead of asking yourself: ‘What is my child trying to do?’ try to ask: ‘What is my child doing right now?’

How does it work?

She is trying to reach a ball vs. She is stretching her arm towards the ball

She is trying to move forward vs. She is on her hands and knees, moving forwards and backwards

She is trying to get back down vs. She is standing and fully experiencing this new postition

When you say these things to yourself, how does it feel? Can you feel the difference how you perceive these actions? In the way you want to react, if at all?

If instead of looking for things your child is ‘trying’ to do, we focus on the ones our children are actually doing it might have the following effect:

  • We see our children as capable and able to do oh-so-much
  • Our urge to jump in and help out might be a bit less, and we may be inclined to try and see what they do next, and so let them be the master of their play
  • We might be sending the following message: ‘You can do so much. I can see it.’ Instead of: ‘You’re not there yet. You need my help.’

The difference may be subtle. You may think there is barely any difference. But do try this, and see how it changes your perspective, and your approach to your child’s behavior and action. And of course, there are times when our child is actually *trying very hard* to do something, and we *know* it. But maybe observing what we can see rather than what we anticipate helps both us and our children slow down and enjoy the process.

Let us know how it goes!

Anna & Nadine

Oh so many things to play with!

_DSD0885In our last post we talked about open-ended toys. About what they (don’t) do and what they facilitate. Many of you have then asked what exactly those toys could be for certain age groups. A while back we had a post about what our boys loved to play with when they were babies. So we thought we’d now share a short list of toys for kids from 6 months up, mainly focusing on the fact that the children are mobile, crawling and walking, and therefore able to follow the toys around.

The age span is huge, so first and foremost make sure that the toy is safe for the age you are interested in – for example, if it’s a child just over 6 months they are still learning the world by putting objects in their mouth, so anything made of paper or too small might not be a good idea.

The main thing is that once they are safe to use, they stay with the child for… well, we’re not sure for how long. For ever perhaps? We still have all the stuff our boys used when they were tiny – except now they are getting a new life in pretend and fantasy play!

Since we look at play as ‘the highest form of research’ (Einstein) as well as an innate urge, we give ideas what schemas a child might be working on using these objects. You will surely notice how many areas of development they engage, and that these ‘toys’ tend to provide play experience for all senses. The list here is intended as a collection of ideas ☺ and it is not exhaustive – so if you have more please share with us!

All the stuff you probably have lying around 

triple frame_Anto & kocyk

Pieces of fabric, scarves etc.
Make sure that the size is safe, and these can provide a long list of fun things to do – carrying them around, carrying things in them, covering your face, or something else (enveloping schema). Later on they are very flexible in pretend play – in our house they have become lakes, rivers, parking lots…

Boxes / Containers/ Tupperware/ Baskets
Cardboard boxes rule the world in this department, but there are others as well – any container that is safe is good for it. Surely you have them lying around, after all so much food these days comes in containers of some kind. It doesn’t matter big or small. If only a small bottle cap fits in it or if the child itself can hide inside. This is about sensory processing “What fits in where”(containing schema). Big and small. Filling and emptying. But most importantly: endless fun.

Can be carried around like Mom and Dad do when they go to work or shopping. They can be filled with exciting stuff. Then emptied. They can be worn (on your head?) (transporting schema; containing schema). They can… BE A LOT !

Things you might be inclined to throw away… but don’t!

_DSD0857Bottle caps; Lids…
… can be little people. Boats. Cars. Money. Food. Tiny cups. Or imaginary objects our adult imagination wouldn’t ever think about. The can be lined up, counted, used to build towers…With safe plastic bottles you can leave the caps on and the children can screw and unscrew. Open and close. Fill and empty. Drink and serve. (containing schema; rotating schema)

Toilet paper/ kitchen roll tubes
Don’t throw these out ☺ You can collect them and have a box ready for pretend play, for building, for artsy activities. For looking through. For taping on the wall and weaving ribbons through them, or dropping beads or chestnuts and checking how loudly they fall out onto the floor.

Odd socks, old hats
Pretend play. Fantasy play. Clothes for teddies and dolls. Good for putting other things into.

Empty tissue boxes
Ahh, again the joy of putting into and taing out of can be explored endlessly with these.

Oh the stuff your kitchen is full of:

Wooden spoons;



Pots and pans, of course!

What nature provides us with:

Chestnuts, acorns
For collecting, piling, counting, lining up. For cooking and throwing. To give them names and play house.

Where do we begin? If your kid is a stick-person, I don’t think we need to say anything more here…

You can have your very own sandbox in a small box! Ute Strub, a physiotherapist who collaborates closely with the Pikler Institute in Budapest uses sand for incredibly creative sensory play. She provides all kinds of kitchen utensils (spoons, sieves, colanders etc.) and sand in boxes and baskets – not only kids have fun, believe us!

A lovely post about nature’s toys can be found here.


IMG_3169Balls of all sizes. Many of those. In fact – at this stage you might want to have A LOT of everything. We humans are collectors by nature. We like to gather a nice amount of things around us. So children do that too.
We gave our son a basket of 144 ping pong balls for his birthday. Can you imagine the sound they make when being emptied onto a wooden or stone floor? Ping ping ping… He loved the feeling of digging into the basked with his whole arms. Then from the very bottom shoveling them all out. Throwing them around. And even putting them into his mouth and trying to spit them as far as possible. Oh the fun! (Nadine)

(Stacking) Cups
They make towers. The fit into each other. They can be filled with other toys. They can be _DSD1049hats. They can be…

Well we had a whole post about cars and what they allow. Our boys are now 3,5 years old. Cars are still the favourites.

Pull along toys
No matter if it is a duck or a truck – when before a child can walk he will be busy pushing everything that isn’t screwed to the floor, he will then be happy to have something to drag along once he can walk freely.

None of these examples have a label like “fine motor skills“, “hand-eye-coordination“, “language developments“ etc. Because they all encourage those skills without being made for one or the other. They simply are. And with every child they become something new. They open a whole new world every day.

What are your child’s favourite open-ended toys? How does he play with them? Tell us your play story, or maybe send us a photo of your child playing with his favourites!

Our thoughts on open-ended toys…

open ended1Once again the topic of play and play objects has been coming up a lot in our conversations. Both of us have little boys around 3, and little girls, who are in their first year of this big adventure called life (and in case you want to ask – no, we did not plan this!). Once again we are reliving the first moments and observing the first discoveries our little girls make daily. As our daughters are slowly becoming more and more interested in the world around them (and inevitably also their brothers’ cars!!!), we are again wondering about toys, or rather as Magda Gerber called them ‘play objects’, that are suitable for our little people.

We believe in Free Play. Observing our kids every day, we have grown to believe that self-initiated, self-paced and child-led activities is what children ‘need to do, to learn and to grow’. So how do we make sure their environment encourages this kind of play?

More and more research hints at simple, open-ended objects as ones that are most likely to be used continuously, over and over, and stimulate the imagination of children regardless of the age. Since we repeatedly have conversations about play and toys with friends and strangers (believe it or not), we noticed this question comes up a lot: But what exactly are open-ended toys?

That’s one of those seemingly easy questions, which when asked generate this kind of answer (in us at least): ‘Oh, well, you know’. So we have been thinking. How do you define open-ended toys? Here are our thoughts:

Open-ended toys:

  • Don’t play by themselves
  • Can be used in 101 different ways
  • Are not age-specific

“Active toys make passive babies”

Open-ended toys don’t do anything.  They don’t ring; they don’t light up when a button is pressed. In other words, they don’t play for the child – the child is free to do all the playing by himself! Even though they might seem ‘boring’ to some, to us they contain endless play possibilities – the more passive the toy, the more active the playing. How empowering for a child to know that what happens in his play is entirely up to him :)

“This is not a box…” 

Open-ended toys don’t come with a set of instructions, so they don’t have a ‘right’ way in which they ‘should’ be used. This way they not only stimulate the imagination, but also allow self-initiated play, simply because children don’t need any help or explanation to use them. And while they engage all the senses, and stimulate development in all possible areas, their use in imaginative play can also have positive impact on the development of executive functions, specifically self-regulation skills.

Open-ended toys are suitable for any age

open ended3With safety considerations in mind, of course, these kinds of objects can be used by any child, at any age or any stage of development. Why? Because they do not need to be used in a specific way, that requires a specific stage of development. And why else? Because these kinds of toys get a new life every time a child picks them up – they start out as perfect mouthing objects, move on to being something that is fun to bang on the floor, and end up being… coffee grinders (have a look at the photos – that face that A is making, he is actually making  ‘coffee-grinder noise’).


So, what are some examples?

Blocks, Sticks, Balls, Scarves, Boxes, Rings, Bowls. We have talked about those in one of our previous posts (“Age appropriate toys“)

So when thinking about toys for your baby, maybe you don’t need to head into the overstuffed and jammed toy stores. Just look around. Most of them you can find in nature or in your house anyway. When looking through kitchen drawers you might find tons of things you could consider toys – well, your children will!

Have you ever wondered why babies are so attracted to shoes or toes, to the pegs you use when doing laundry or the sock you just dropped? Because our children are not asking for anything fancy. They  can have fun with EVERYTHING in reach. And even better: they naturally know how to do so. We don’t need to teach them. But that again is a whole other topic.

What are your children’s favourite open-ended toys? We LOVE to hear your thoughts!

Anna & Nadine


Degrees of struggle

Kala_struggle_MiMThere is a story about a butterfly you must have heard – a man was watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from his cocoon. The butterfly seemed like it was having a hard time cutting through and coming out into the world, so the man decided to help – he took scissors and cut the cocoon open. The butterfly came out without a problem, but his wings were all wrinkled and weak. The man was waiting for the butterfly to stretch his wings and fly, but it never did. It only walked around dragging its wings behind…

Infant educator Magda Gerber Said: ‘If you can learn to struggle you can learn to live’. Easier said than done? Surely. But why?

Struggle comes in degrees

Struggle is an integral part of our lives, and if we can learn to deal with it, if we can learn to cope, we can learn to live to the fullest. It’s not bad. It’s not good. It just is. The fascinating thing about struggle is that we have come to believe that it comes in degrees, and it only ever comes in the intensity we can handle… well, usually.

Right now we are observing our tiny baby daughters taking first steps (no, no, not literally – not yet!) in the world filled with struggle. We are looking at them deal with their frustrations, as they learn new skills, master new movements, notice new things.

The other day Kala was lying on the side lifting her head up ever so slightly, and then banging it with her whole strength on the floor. She cried. I knelt down and talked to her, then picked her up. When I put her down, she rolled onto her side and … of course, did the whole thing again. And again. The fourth time she was very careful placing her head on the floor, so very careful. You could see the intensity of experience, the focus, the relief and finally the pride on her face. (Anna)

Learning comes with struggle, but if we protect our babies from the daily struggle from the very beginning, we might be doing what the man in the butterfly story did – we might be preventing them from experiencing the degree of struggle that is necessary for them now to be able to fly later.

Learning to struggle is the first real experience of learning to deal with frustration, emotions, fears and anxieties. The first opportunity to live life to the fullest, with all its ups and downs, floors and blankets, bruises and laughs.  What better way to learn to struggle than in a safe place, with our beloved mum or dad nearby?

This tiny (in our eyes) struggle to reach a toy, to roll over, to get out from under the chair is exactly the level of struggle our kids are designed to endure… and overcome. The older we grow, the bigger the struggles in front of us.

First it’s your head on the floor;

Then a toy that is too far to reach;

You got stuck under a table;

Your Mum or Dad disappeared behind the doors;

Then it’s a fight with a friend over who will get to use the yellow tractor;

A ball that you wanted to kick but missed;

Not exactly the grade you wanted at school;

An exam you failed;

A friend who turned out not to be one;

But maybe, just maybe, if we were allowed to experience the tiniest of struggles in the beginning of our adventure on Earth, we can move on and be prepared to face it all with courage, dignity and the ability to get up and go on when YOU are ready.

In those first moments of struggle if we are present, if we manage not to take it all away, we are teaching our kids a very powerful lesson – that struggle is not bad, it’s not good, it just is. And maybe we are preparing them for a wonderfully full life, when once they fly out from our homes they will be ready to face the world with all its bruises and laughs. Because we didn’t take it all away when they were oh so tiny – but because we were there with them, right there on the floor, crying with them and picking them up, but not taking their struggles away.

Whose struggle is it, anyway?

Why do we struggle when our child struggles? Struggle equals emotions, and so we have to face not only our child’s emotions, but also our own. Our own emotions that have to do with our child’s cries, discomfort, but also our own emotions about the way WE struggle… or choose not to.

Mona has been a real “Zen-Baby“. She was happy from day one. She loves to play on her own for long periods of time. She barely cries or screams. She is taking her time when it comes to gross motor development. She tried to roll onto her tummy for months. Barely showing any frustration if she didn‘t. And if she struggled it was still quiet and calm. I was with her. I held her and then she went on. Right now she is working hard on a sitting posture.  And she wants to get up onto higher furnishings. She realized that she doesn‘t always has to stay on the floor. So she wants to be up. Up up up. But she can‘t. She tries. And she cries. Her crying is complaining. Louder and full of voice now. No more Zen. And it is harder for me to cope. With the noise and the fact that it is still such a long way to go until she will be where she wants to be. (Nadine)

Part of our struggle as an adult is that we know the big picture. We know what we could achieve and if we don‘t, if we struggle, we are upset and it‘s hard to deal with it. We see three steps ahead but often we oversee the power of the moment.

If we step in too quickly in the moment of struggle, if we give them the last push to rolling over, hand them the toy their tiny arms can‘t reach we don‘t just help the butterfly leave the cocoon. We send another message that says: “This now is not it. See over there, behind those big mountains? This is the world. This is where you should be.“ And we take their ability to live right now. In this very moment.

And then, the bigger the struggles are, the higher the mountains become. And we become frustrated. We oversee the small hills in between. We aim for the big ones, we run, jump and… we might fall, because we have underestimated the distance between here and now. We do this once, twice. And then… Well, we suppose most of you know what‘s next. We give up. We‘re fearful. Avoiding. And we can‘t deal with that either. Because we weren‘t able to deal with the small hills.

So, to support our sons and daughters, we have chosen to let them struggle. We don’t walk away leaving them there, we don’t turn our heads, but we also don’t take it away from them. We try to empower them by being there, by making sure they have us right there when they need us, by being their rock and their tree. We let them get out of their cocoons “on their own, with our help”, in the hope that their beautiful wings will take them up when they’re ready.

How do you cope with your child’s struugles? What helps you believe that they can do it? We LOVE to hear from you!

Anna & Nadine