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?

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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.

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

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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?

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Thank you, Lisa!

We are still 2 mamas in the making. Still learning. Always in motion. One of the greatest gifts is to have people who inspire us. And support us. Who help us along the way. As parents but also as Bloggers – as mamas who also want to help.

Lisa Sunbury from Regarding Baby has always a great help for us. An inspiration in person. In return it is time to thank Lisa. This is why:

Dear RIE Parents and Caregivers,

As many of you know, Lisa Sunbury is a RIE instructor, mentor, parent coach, trusted advisor and cherished member of our group who has helped us to foster a generation of confident, authentic people. Now we have an opportunity to help her. 

She put everything on hold and moved from California to Florida in order to care for her infant niece and is the midst of the adoption process. Once the adoption is complete she will then be able to return to her livelihood in California. The adoption proceedings can take seven months to a year. Until then, she is the full-time caregiver as she can only use a mandated state daycare facility, which is not an ideal environment. This makes it very difficult for her to work, but she is doing what she can from home.

I am asking you, dear parents, to consider what Lisa gives us in time, knowledge and experience and how we now have an opportunity to help her. 

There are more than 2,000 of us in this group. We can assist her with the cost of plane tickets, legal fees, and incidentals that may arise during this challenging time. Any amount that you are able to donate, no matter how small will help. 

Thank you Lisa for all of the support and insight you have given to us and others over the years.

Below is a link to the website where you can make a donation in the amount of your choosing: http://www.youcaring.com/help-a-neighbor/lisa-sunbury-appreciation-/73752

We appreciate every help given. Thank you all!
Nadine & Anna

Collect moments, not things – Lessons in simplicity

We probably all know the situation. There is something on the coffee table. A mobile phone, a good book or a nice candle holder. A one- year-old comes approaching with big wide eyes and arms stretched out to grab whatever is there to grab. With a big grin he holds our mobile phone, book or the candle holder in his tiny and sticky hand. We already see it drop or go into his mouth. We don’t want either, so we take it off him and put it back on the table. Right back within his reach. This time we see the child approach again and we try and stop him right away. “No!“ maybe followed by a “You can‘t have that.“ or “This is not for your tiny fingers.“ But the child won‘t listen. The object is too interesting. The child is too curious. So the game can continue forever. Or we simply put the objects out of reach.

This is the first lesson in simplicity our children teach us: Don‘t have stuff lying around that you do not want to have in kid‘s reach. While the children grow and we will at some point run out of places high or hidden enough for the child to get to we will learn a much more rewarding lesson: Don‘t have stuff lying around at all. Ever.

There are a few lessons in simpler living in between. Your children might teach you some of those. Some you will have to discover for yourself. Here are a few we have learned over the past three years:

1. Everything in its place
Have a place for everything. Too often when we clean up we end up with a pile of little things we don‘t know where to put. Even if it is just a drawer you create especially for “random stuff“ – this helps you to have surfaces clean and tidy. And you don‘t end up looking for those things all the time because you know they must be (somewhere) in this random stuff drawer.

2. Touch objects only once
Often we go to the bathroom and on our way back through the hallway we see something that belongs to the kid‘s room. We pick it up and bring it into the kitchen where we leave it because we find something that needs to be put in the drawer in the bedroom… someone might eventually at some point take it. Or not. This is probably how one of our friends ended up with car keys in the fridge (true story!)

So instead if you grab an object go all the way to where it belongs and place it there. You might end up walking around a bit more? Maybe you end up picking up more things on your way and so end up having less stuff lying around and fewer times to walk around the flat.

3. Model
If you want your children to clean up after themselves and place things where they belong – do so yourself. Do it slowly and carefully. Don‘t just quickly throw the cloth from the table into the sink. Don‘t kick your shoes off and push them near the shelf. Make an effort to carefully carry the things to where they belong. Your children are watching you. But they need to see every movement. They can‘t follow if you are too quick. They will try and be quick too and might leave things in the way or even break them. And no matter how many times you repeat and repeat and repeat… they will end up doing what you do, not what you tell them to do.

4. Simply HAVE less stuff
Once you get into the habit of putting things back where they belong, of tidying up and clearing the surfaces you might soon realize that you don‘t look at or use the things you have now put into the cupboard or drawer that often anymore. You might forget about them altogether. If so – you could just get rid of them. At some point this tidiness might even lead you to not buying things anymore.

5. The simple toy story
We dare to say that most children in the western world have far too many toys in their room. Small babies are surrounded by stuffed animals, balls and blinking mobiles. The older they get the more toys move into their play space. Often it‘s well intended to encourage and nurture the child‘s both happiness and development. But the truth is – they don‘t need that much. Often they don‘t need anything at all. This is why we have started The toy revolution. Of course kids like shiny and blinking toys. But we like chocolate or this 5th cup of coffee too. Do we need it ? Children are explorers. They are creative by nature. They make the most wonderful toys out of a spoon and a cup, a twig or a ball and a blanket. If you are gifted with too many toys and can‘t bring yourself to give them away – keep them in a box. Limit the amount of toys in the play area to keep it simple and clear. It‘s nice to have „something in the back“ that your children might „forget about“ for a while. Don‘t be scared of kid‘s boredom. It doesn‘t exist. And even if they do get a little bored every now and then – THAT is encouraging. Challenging.

6. Simplify your schedule
Being busy is a motto of today. We are all busy and we are always on the go. There is stuff to do, people to see, schedules to fill… and then you have kids. The choice is yours – will you keep up with the world, filling your diary with stuff to do, or will you simply let a day go by sometimes? Separate the things you need to do, the things you want to do and the things that you do because… if you have no good reason, maybe skip it? Give yourself and your kids a break. Sure, it’s nice to have all those coffees with friends, but why should your toddler behave through all those adult conversations? Schedule less. Try to just be with your kids. There will be time for coffees and lunches with friends. There will never be another childhood for your kids.

7. Simplify your kids’ schedule
And then there is the baby gym, swimming classes, piano lessons, and other stuff that is never too early to start with… or is it? Your child probably has enough exercise as is (see one of our many posts on movement if you have doubts ), and playground seems like a social enough place. Resist the urge to fill your toddlers days with scheduled program. Let him play freely and just watch what happens. There will be time for filling his diary with ‘stuff-to-do’. Let your kids be. Let yourself be. And enjoy every moment of it – it will be gone to soon, when the time comes for filling in the schedules.

We could go on and on. But we want to keep this post simple. There may be follow ups. There will surely be more lessons to be learned. More stuff to be thrown out. We’ll keep you posted.

What do you do to keep your life as a family simple and sane and your house clean? Tell us, we are always keen on another lesson in simplicity!

Anna & Nadine

Walk the line – (Diaper) changing with a toddler

“Help me do it myself.”  – This is a famous quote by Maria Montessori. Her approach was to help the children JUST as much as needed for them in order to then do most of it themselves. Which is the fine line between doing things FOR them and forcing them to do things completely on their own. Again – it takes patience, careful observation and communication with the toddler. All of which are strong pillars of the RIE philosophy too.

This post is the third and last in our series of diaper changes. But it is also about (un)dressing in general. Because with a toddler this goes along the same lines. 

When changing a toddler we are facing a whole new challenge – the strong aim for independence. More and more often we hear „Me! me!“ or „Alone!“. Quite often he wants to be bigger than he is. And more independent. It is our task to support this. Not more. But how ?

Move down

With a toddler we tend to change him wherever we are in the house right now. The changing table might be too small or too dangerous now. And in the end the child can stand just anywhere while being changed. But having a clear area helps us and the toddler focus on what is going on NOW. What we are here to do together – get changed.

This area can now be on the floor, maybe with a little cushion for the child to sit on while he tries to put his trousers on. And we sit or kneel down with him. To still be able to look him in the eye.  To be at his height and connect.

A little corner is ideal because there WILL be times when he tries to run off. But at the same time trust the child to stay. In the end – he will know that this time there is not just about the diaper or the pyjama. It‘s about you and him.

Observe more. Do less. 

It can‘t be repeated often enough what Magda Gerber used to say.
From careful observation we see what our child is capable of. And what not. So when he tries and puts his arm through the sleeve of his jumper himself we may only hold the end of the sleeve so he can slide through easily. We might watch him put his jacket on all by himself. Bite our fingers and watch him struggle. A bit. And we are there as soon as he gets stuck and finally when he needs it zipped up. We offer help. And accept a „No.“

We also wait for the child to ask for help. We encourage without enforcement. We allow without expectations. We acknowledge without praise.

Walking this fine line takes the relationship with our child a step further. While silently moving away from doing everything for your child we are moving closer in trust and the security of „I see you can do this but I am still there when you need me.“

Communication

With a toddler communication comes to a whole new level.

Language has developed and becomes part of the play we mentioned in our previous post. Because the child can now name the car on his shirt or the mouse on his sock. And he will happily do so. He will ask what this is your hair is tied with or what is dangling from your ear. He will wonder why your hair is wet and will zip your hoodie up and down and up and down once he figured how these things work. Again – we join in. We talk and have fun.

This is connection and bonding too. A conversation at the changing table.

But this communication is fragile. And a fine line again. Between offering options and suggesting more than the child is capable of. We might ask „Can you take your diaper off yourself?“  and mean it as an offer to do it himself. But for a child who is not quite able to do so this is a question of „Can you or can‘t you?“. A question that shouldn‘t be raised because it lies within a child what he is able to. And what not. So instead we ask „Do you want to take your shirt off?“ And if the answer is „No.“ we go ahead and just do it. As usual.

Help

Sometimes the child might ask for help although we know he is capable of taking the shoes off himself. This is where parents tend to start a fight. „No you do it. I know you can.“ Often the intention is well thought and they just want to „teach independence“. But there is no need for it. Independence will come when the child is ready for it. There is no need in pushing or even forcing him to do things he is asking us to do. In letting him sit there alone until he did it because we know he can. Instead we can simply say „I know you can do it but I see you are really tired. Of course I‘ll help you.“

Children grow up so fast. We know this and watch it with a laughing and a crying eye. So why do we often rush them into being big and independent? Why don‘t we enjoy being their servants every now and then? We don‘t mind making our colleague a cup of tea although we know he is able to do so himself, do we?

We are so afraid of having children who are too lazy or too dependent and helpless of caring for themselves that we push them too early into something they are simply not ready for. Let‘s not do this.

„Every unecessary help hinders the child‘s development.“ (Maria Montessori)

This is true too. And of course – in doing everything for your child when he is already ready to do it alone, without giving a chance to try we will be in the way and maybe even hinder our child‘s development. But first figure out what help is necessary and what is unecessary. Find this thin line in between. The string that is tied between no help and too much help. And dance on it in rhythm with your child.

Nadine & Anna

Catch me if you can – Diaper changing with a mobile infant

In our last post we talked about how to build a relationship with our newborn and infant on the changing table, what helps us to really connect and enjoy these many many moments together so that our child can then “go off and play“ happily afterwards. And while this all may have sounded doable it won‘t take long until your infant gets mobile. Turns onto his belly. Crawls. Stands up. And literally walks away from you… 

We are facing two new challenges now. Not just will we sometimes find it difficult to wrap a diaper around our child while he turns over and around. It won‘t be as simple as picking him up and taking him to the changing table either. Chasing each other around the room surely becomes a famous game now. So what to do?

Have fun

As much as the diaper needs to be changed now – don‘t forget to have fun. Crawling or running away is not a sign of an uncooperative child. It‘s play. It‘s fun. And why not start a diaper change with some joy and laughter ?

Yes. Diaper changes are about quality time together. About closeness and connection. About paying attention to each other. But that doesn‘t mean it can‘t start a few minutes earlier during play. As long as it is clear that the diaper change is what is on the menu next. Play. Have fun but make clear “Ok this is fun and I see you really want to continue playing, but I need to change your diaper now. Do you want to go to the changing table yourself or do you want me to carry you over?“

Cooperation is thus a two way street – we expect the child to answer to our invitation, but we have to be able to do the same. That is, while changing a diaper should clearly be about changing the diaper (and not about playing peek-a-boo), if the child invites us to play with him for a while we should also be able to accept this invitation, this way showing him we also want to cooperate with him. Surely if you look at it this way, you can imagine the child who is more mobile would be thinking along similar lines: “My mum does not cooperate with me the way she used to during diaper changes.” 

Stay in touch

Eye contact seems to get lost a lot during a diaper change. We are often so busy cleaning and wiping around our child‘s most intimite area, closing tiny buttons or holding those moving legs out of the way that we forget to actually stay in touch with our children. But if we want them to listen to us and to be with us – Cooperate – WE have to greet them first. So keep looking up. Draw the attention back to where you are and what you are doing. Mumbling the next step into the socks of your child will not make him feel as if you are talking to him or actually really waiting for his cooperation.

While starting a game of rolling over or trying to move away your child is showing that he is actually having fun up there with you. That he likes and enjoys those special times with you. But children easily get drawn into those games. Bringing them back to the changing table and the actual situation can help bringing you two back together. A gentle touch (maybe placing your hand on his chest) and eye contact interrupts this game and calms him down. You can then take it from there again.

Slow down even more

It is important to slow down and be gentle and calm with a newborn. Makes sense to us, doesn’t it. But with a moving and mobile infant we tend to follow his movements and his pace. Quite often when it becomes wild our hands become wild to. Even hectic. We wanna be quick and get the diaper on before he moves over again. Instead of staying in touch we are losing touch here. Losing our connection.
It helps to breathe a moment. Hold on, maybe close your eyes (if your child is safe). Calm yourself and then get back in touch.

Grow together

As the baby grows and begins to be more mobile, the interactions on the changing table on the one hand need to grow with the baby, but on the other – the underlying principle needs to remain the same. We are here to do something together, I am here to guide you, but this is a cooperative activity.

When our child turns onto his belly – we carefully turn him back onto his back. We may comment on it „You turned around. You like doing this. But I need you to stay on your back for a little so I can put on a new diaper.“

Remember that the child is developing. Instead of insisting on doing things a certain way – try and develop with him.

I remember raising the issue of Leander not wanting to lie on his back while being changed anymore. And how to get him to do so. Our family counsellor looked at me, smiled and said: “Leander has just learned to stand up. He has achieved a major milestone. He does not want to lie on his back anymore. Can you imagine changing him while standing?“ I couldn‘t but smile back and nod. I had difficulties changing him while standing up with our cloth diapers. But when he was able to develop so fast, to master those gross motor milestone, why should I stand still and not continue trying to develop myself too ? (Nadine) 

Obedience vs. Cooperation 

A common comment seems to be that “my child does not cooperate the way he used to”. Do we really mean he does not cooperate? Or do we simply mean he does not obey, or he is not acting in a way we are accustomed to, and expect him to… but is that the basis of cooperation? Perhaps we should redefine ‘cooperation’?

Therefore if we see the child as our active partner in all activities, ‘we do not always expect him to do what we want [...], but if we cooperate, the child from the beginning learns to want to cooperate with us’ (Anna Tardos, Amsterdam lecture, March 2013)

So what were you most challenging moments on the changing table ? What sort of games did your child come up with ? We’re always excited to hear your stories.
Nadine & Anna

BCF 01/13 – “Loving Hands”

We would like to kick off this new section of our website with a wonderful book by Frédérick Leboyer. Not only has he introduced “Birth without violence” – the importance of which we both from Mamas  in the making can’t underline enough. He has also written and photographically documented a traditional Indian baby massage in his book “Loving hands”

Topped with some wonderful poem like quotes he describes The Art of Indian baby massage all Indian mothers use with their babies and teach their daughters to give their babies.

But this book contains a little more behind all the words and pictures. It’s the focus on our hands. How we gently, soft and loving touch the baby’s body. His soul. It is something also Emmi Pikler has talked about a lot.

“How different the picture of the world is for an infant when calm, patient, soft but secure and firm hands touch and lift him – and how distinct this world will look when those hands are impatient, rough or hectic, restless and nervous.” (Emmi Pikler)

And this is it. Not only during a baby massage or close cuddling should we take the time to touch our baby calm and gentle. We should do so every time we get in contact with him. 

“In the beginning hands are everything for the infant, they are the human, the world. The way we touch him, pick him up, dress him: that is us. precise and more characteristic than our words, our smile, our look.” (Emmi Pikler)

And so Leboyer’s “Loving Hands” is a wonderful introduction for an additional connection with our baby through which we can become even more aware of our hands and the way we touch another person’s body respectfully.

What are your thoughts on Baby massage? Has s/he enjoyed it? Do you think it has helped or supported attachment and bonding?

The urge to play

Our boys are now over two. A lot has changed since they were born, and their life (and our too) has been influenced by many wonderful people, ideas and thoughtful conversations. One thing that never changes – we still love watching them play, and we still admire how much is hidden under this one tiny umbrella term – PLAY. Learning, discovery, experimenting, mastering, hypothesizing, trying out, compromising… you name it, it is all there – in their play. Here and here we talked about what play looks like for children until 1. So, what do toddlers do when they play?

Well basically – Play can be divided in two. On one hand children play to follow their needs. They are driven by some inner urge that is almost impossible to resist. On the other hand – there are the toys that mainly we provide. And the child, following Heinrich Jacoby, asks: ,Thing – what do you want from me?‘ and explores what he can do with it.

In this post we want to talk about the first part of play – the one driven by needs and urges. All the things that are so important for our children, their healthy development and later life, that happen during play in these first years. And in the next we will have a closer look at what toys we can offer that allow a child to ask: ,What do you want from me?‘ rather than ,What am I supposed to do with that?‘

Developmental steps, schemas, needs and urges

Children at every stage of their development have certain needs that emerge within their bodies, in connection with their brain, and which they have to follow. It might be that „your toddler’s desire to climb makes you want to climb walls“, but it is not something they are doing on purpose, and asking them to stop is futile – the urge is stronger, and more importantly – it’s necessary.

I remember looking at Antek standing at the edge of a huge puddle, looking at it. You could see the struggle – he knew he could not go in, but this urge to go in was so strong, it was almost painful to watch. Finally very slowly he walked around it. (Anna)

Surely you have seen a ton of moments like this. The developmental urges are similar, only stronger – the body wants what it wants, and not only that. These are all the things that the little body needs to do, for the big body to later fare well in life. Knowing what these things are can help us in finding safe ways for our children to explore the world, do what they need to do, all the while making sure they are safe and happy. Recognizing those urges in our children’s play not only allows us to offer safe ways to fulfill their body’s needs (‘I know you want to climb, but I cannot let you climb on the table. Why don’t we go outside and find something you can climb on.’), but it also gives us as parents a unique view on their developing bodies and minds. It is easy to say that we should observe children at play, but hard to do when we don’t know what we’re looking at (http://everymomentisright.blogspot.nl/2011/09/day-in-life-of-scientist.html) – it takes time, trust and practice. Knowing a little bit more about the natural ways in which children develop gives us more joy in observing them as well.

We also believe that the best toys (or, as Magda Gerber called them – play objects) to best support toddlers in these activities are exactly the simple, open-ended toys you don’t need to spend a fortune on, some of them you might already have, and a lot of them you could even find interesting to play with (more on that in the next post)!

So, first things first, what are these urges?

Some of these actions have been well discussed and classified under the common heading schemasSchemas are all those behaviors and actions we see our children repeating over and over, in a variety of settings, using a number of different things. Sometimes they appear as a single action, sometimes a child is particularly interested in one, sometimes they are joined and combined together – like pieces of a puzzle. They are:

Transporting

Carrying things around, from place to place. Moving objects from place to place. Carrying things in your hands one at a time, or all at once. Perhaps filling a toy truck and going around with the load.

Enveloping

Covering themselves, each other, other things, hiding. Pulling a sleeve over their hand so it disappears. Playing peek-a-boo. Hiding in small spaces, maybe climbing into a box and sitting there. Or sitting under a blanket. Covering your face, their own face – this can turn into a game where you also are invited to participate

Containing

Putting things into other things and then taking them out, filling containers, putting their thumb into their mouth and taking it out. Pouring water into a cup, and then into another cup, and another… stuffing all the toys in one box, bag or basket.

Rotating

Making circular movements with things, walking around something, spinning toys, turning around, watching the washing machine.

Connection

Joining toys in a long line, joining train tracks. Making a long line of toys and then rearranging them. Putting blocks on top of one another, or in a line.

Positioning

Finding a place for something or oneself, putting things on their heads, placing things one on top of the other. Rearranging toys, books, things on the table. Perhaps putting forks next to placemats before dinner time?

Apart from these schemas, there are also things we often see our kids doing frequently – some kids will do one, some all of them, some will prefer one to the other. The things we noticed with our boys were:

Climbing

This is probably the most challenging activity for us as adults. Because children don‘t just climb onto a chair or a sofa. They move things around to climb even higher. Because we hide things from them by putting them into heights they can‘t reach. And therefore make these more attractive. (Not to mention the fear of them falling – but that is another topic we will discuss at some point later). But remember that climbing is a strong urge (see Lisa Sunbury’s post we mentioned earlier), and such an important one too! Not only for their cognitive and physical development – think of the pride and joy they can experience reaching such great heights all by themselves.

 

One morning I opened my eyes and found Leander sitting on the work surface in the kitchen. He had climbed onto the chair, from there onto the kitchen table and just another step onto the higher surface. There he was happily pouring maple syrup all over the place. I couldn‘t even be mad. I had to laugh about my own silliness of believing that ANYTHING would be safe up there. (Nadine)

Pushing and pulling 

Especially when learning to walk children quite often reach forsupport that helps them

walk. Instead of buying dangerous walkers that gain speed they can‘t control kids find themselves furnishings, boxes or big objects they can push around. Once they are able to walk it becomes more interesting to pull things. It keeps them busy and they have the feeling of actually working.

 

 

 

Gathering, collecting and categorizing

This, of course, is a development of schemas as well. Eva Kallo talks about this as a phase of development in her book ‘The Origins of Free Play’

‘In the collection process, the child discovers by searching through and choosing among various objects that there are differences among them and notices their particulars. When he compares things, he notices their shape and disparate properties, and as he puts them together, he takes care to group them according to common feature. Examination, comparison, abstracting certain properties and disregarding others, grouping them by feature, all are intellectual processes repeatedly evidenced by children engaged in collecting, whereby perception and action remain closely linked.’ (Eva Kallo, ‘The Origins of Free Play’)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the first stage of their interest in collecting, children begin to gather together toys that are identical, to later start putting them together in line, or alongside one another. At this point it is important to have more than one of something within reach or in sight. This later develops into categorizing objects, putting them into containers or in piles, depending on their shape, colour, size etc. (we talked about this also with our boys and their favourite cars. Only later on the child begins to also be interested in the result – at first you will probably see collecting to fill a box, but later he might also keep the box close by as a sign of what he has accomplished.

Knowing what these urges are, and that it would be near impossible (and also possibly harmful) to control them, helps us parents to allow our children to safely explore what they need to explore. The action in itself is most of the time not as important as the child’s need to fulfill the urge – knowing what these urges are allows us to see them as learning experience, rather than perhaps some unwanted behavior (such as climbing dangerous places, pouring water out of the cup etc.).

So before you head to the toy store – think of what is actually in your house. Or don‘t even think and let your child explore. That a laundry basket is great for climbing in and out, for putting things inside or pushing it around the room. That a shopping bag is not just for emptying but also for putting all the things back inside (you might not see much of your shopping for an hour after you got home). And that pots, bowls and Tupperware make great hats – more on that in our next post!

And before you leave the house with a toddler – make sure you have got a spare set of socks and shoes (or waterproof boots). Because these puddles ARE very very tempting!

Our boys and their toys

Recently in a parent‘s consultation we were told that Leander was reluctant to take the Montessori materials off the shelves and they asked what he was interested in playing with at home. We said: “Toy cars.“ But those are not allowed in The Children‘s House. They are not part of the Montessori Concept. In fact: They had toy cars and cards accordingly so the kids could match the cars with the cards. But all the boys did was play with the cars, not the material as it was meant to be. So they took the cars away. They also took the little London bus that served as a moneybox for which they had provided little buttons in a basket to put inside the moneybox. But as you may guess – the boys only played with the bus as a bus, not a moneybox. 

A mom on twitter recently asked: “My son (2,5) has been obsessed with sea animals for months now. He can name them all and is extremely interested. Should I leave him or should I help him take interest in something else, because it has been going on for so long now. And how can I do that?“

What is our fear when we try and move the focus of our child‘s play to something else? That he could miss out on something important? And if so – what?

There is so much to learn when you are a child that we as parents often feel the need to fill our kid‘s brain with information. Constantly. And who can blame us? As soon as we become parents we ourselves are filled with information and offered all sorts of classes and groups to attend that encourage and foster all sorts of life-important areas such as music, creativity, language, science. You name it. Parent-infant classes as Emmi Pikler or Magda Gerber ( http://www.rie.org/classes/parent-infant ) offered are questioned because the children are not given any input, no songs are sung and no activities lead. What is the point if the child is not learning anything?

What we might miss out on from the very beginning is trust. Trust in our own children, that they have it all and are able and most importantly willing to learn. Maria Montessori said: “A child cannot NOT learn.“ Whatever a child does – he is learning. It‘s just not always obvious to us adults who seem to know everything but in fact quite often – seem to know nothing. This trust is taken from us during those first days, weeks and months when we start focusing on children‘s play and age appropriate toys. Every packaging of a toy has a big bubble blown up that states what this toy is encouraging. May it be “just“ creativity or even logical and scientific thinking. And it is hard not to look at it and choose just simple play objects. In the end – everyone has it. And is amazed. So there must be something to it, right? Right?

Another reason why parents are so worried their children might miss out if not being offered early learning opportunities in all sorts of ways, is our own background. If we feel we haven‘t achieved everything we quickly project those expectations on our own children. So they at least do better in writing, spelling, math, playing an instrument or whatever. And how can this be achieved other than by attending a class that offers it all?

If you have terrible childhood memories because you had a hard time understanding math you might know how that feels. The need to offer numbers, puzzles and counting games at the earliest possibility. And in the end – if it does not help it won‘t harm either, right? Well, we’re not sure. Some experts, who have been working on the concept of play, might disagree. As long as we don‘t understand play as it really is and what it really offers to our children, we might harm them in taking those important hours from them by doing something that “has a point“. Because “The importance of play is, that it has no point.“ ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/how-childrens-play-is-being-sneakily-redefined/2011/11/15/gIQAMNjdPN_blog.html )

We might not harm them directly by offering them charts with letters to be able to read at an early age. But we harm them by not leaving them enough time and room to explore on their own. To engage with something they are interested in. And maybe even learn to read, write and count in the process – who knows? But how much more fun would it be, if this whole learning was done on their terms, while playing with their beloved cars, sea animals or tea sets?

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But, for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. (Fred Rogers)

And therefore we have happily been watching our boys play with cars. But not just that. We have been trying to discover what they are actually learning by “just playing”. Because of course, just like all of the other parents out there, we are curious about what they do when they “just play”. So, is there any learning going on? Even without the special materials, and all the educational toys? We don’t know for sure, but here are some of our ideas of what might be going on. These are not based on Parten’s or Piaget’s categories, they are purely our ways of understanding what our children are doing when they… well, play

Movement – large and small

We have already talked a lot about how important movement is in development of play, and how much of movement is really play. When just playing with cars? Well, there is the pushing and pulling that can get discovered, practised, and practised again – what surfaces and slopes are better for which one? What happens when you pull the truck downhill?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there are the fine, small movements, which we probably barely even think about now that we just have them all in our toolbox – opening and closing tiny doors, and putting little people (or, in A’s case – allspice) inside, taking them out, making sure they are sitting upright and that they all fit – these are all extremely precise movements of hand and fingers. Have a look at how your child is trying to manipulate something small – it really is fascinating!

Language

Car parts. Different types of cars. Different types of vehicles in general. What they do. What kinds of people drive them? What are they wearing? What do these people do? This could go on for a long while… Here we also have a unique opportunity to join in and answer all the questions – starting with pointing and a questioning look on a face of a very young baby, up to probably much much later and all the ‘how?’ and ‘why?’

The only thing we have been very careful of is not to have an agenda. If they ask what color the car is, we try and answer ‘yellow’ – not have them guess, or try and make them remember. We believe the trust the boys put in us by asking us to tell them names of things in the world needs to be respected for what it is, rather than unnecessarily tested.

Serious science

Playing with cars has been a source of some serious scientific discoveries for our boys. These are just some of them:

  • Hypothesis: Some cars, when pushed, go faster than others. Tested for the van versus the truck. Will it also be true for other cars? Which ones?
  • Hypothesis: Some cars are much bigger/ heavier/ longer than others. Tested. True, with different answers for different combinations.
  • Hypothesis: Some cars will fit into other cars. Tested for some, true for some.
  • Hypothesis: Some cars break when thrown on the floor. Tested for one. Enough proof obtained. Not willing to test on others.

And of course there are the many categories that they have been using to organize the cars – by size, speed, length, color… These discoveries are particularly engrossing; it takes hours to figure out just the right way, and is as fascinating to watch as any Discovery channel documentary. These categories, discovered on cars, sea animals, tea sets, so early on, help all of us understand life later on without going crazy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Therapeutic play

A. became scared of flying, especially take off and landing, once he turned 2 and had to be in his own seat. On our return from a first trip like that, he dug out a plane tucked neatly among his many cars. He was practising taking off and landing for a couple of days. He put his plane in the air (on the windowsill), then took one of his cars (that’s right, cars!) in his hand and proceeded to explain to the car: “You are bigger now, you will have your own seat on the plane. You can hold my hand.” I watched quietly as this play continued for another few days. We were due to take another flight in a week or so. It was much better.

 

(Also have a look here: http://www.janetlansbury.com/2011/10/the-power-of-play-therapy-and-4-ways-to-encourage-it/)

 

Fantasy play: cars aren’t always cars, you see…

… sometimes they are potatoes, when you need to go shopping and fill your bag with them; sometimes they are chopped veggies that will taste so nice for dinner tonight; sometimes they are people, or animals. They really are what you want them to be. Just like acorns can be coffee, once you put them in a cup, or a turtle can be a table when you put a cup on top of it.

Which is why it’s ok that our boys don’t have all the toys in the world – they really only need the ones they have. If they did have all those toys, would it be half the fun?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh and just maybe – social stuff?

Kind of funny, but it is also quite amazing. A. has two tractors, but only one little cart that goes on the back of the wooden tractors. I have just found out recently that the two tractors share the cart.

A. usually explains to one of the tractors that the other will now borrow the cart, but that later it will be back. Not quite what is happening on the playground yet.

 

 

So does it matter that they have been playing mostly with cars for… well, quite a while now? We’re not too worried about that, to be honest.

It doesn’t matter what you play with, but what and how you think and feel as you play. You can play intelligently with a doll […] and you can thoughtlessly read books. (Janusz Korczak)

It doesn’t matter if our boys are playing with cars, sea animals, or tea sets. What matters is how they think and feel as they play. And to let them develop in this thinking and feeling as they play, to let them discover the creative possibilities and scientific facts, we are choosing to give them the freedom to choose what they want to play with, how they want to do it, and the time and space for their explorations.

What about your children – do they have their favorite toys, or play objects? What are they? We would love to hear your thoughts!

Weaning part 2: The big transition – From breast milk to soft boiled eggs

Imagine you work in an office. You have been working there for about six months now, all is going well, you like the people around you, you know where everything is and who to ask for help. One morning you come in, and the key you used to open the door doesn’t work. Someone walks past and hands you a card, without a word, smiles and walks away. Ok, this card is different to any you have used before, how do you get it to work? You try and try, someone finally walks behind you, quickly does the trick for you and lets you in. You notice the office looks different, things are all in the wrong places. And someone was definitely playing with your chair! How can you work like this?! You look around, but nobody seems fussed, everyone is smiling at you, even though you have no idea what is going on.

What does this have to do with weaning?

Weaning is a change from something familiar, something your baby is used to, comfortable with, and ‘knows how it works’. Weaning is a big transition, it is a big step and a moment when everything changes – from the comfortable, familiar feeding sessions, it’s all new and different. How?

Spoon?

Whether until now you have been bottle- or breastfeeding your baby, introducing a spoon is a very different thing. Your baby has no idea what it is, why it should go anywhere near his mouth, and what you want to do with it. Imagine you are blindfolded and someone is feeding you something with a weird stick. Spoons are a normal thing in our household, we don’t think about them anymore – and why should we? But it’s something our babies have never used, seen, and it is to go in their mouth – it’s pretty intimate.

And that thing that is on the spoon? What is that?? Where is my warm, yummy milk?

Food?

It’s different consistency. Different taste. Different texture. Different color. Probably also different temperature. It is as big a change, as it can be. Again, try and remember when you are invited somewhere and you end up being offered something that looks like nothing you’d ever eaten. If you have travelled a lot, it probably happens all too often – how do you react? What is your first thought?

When we were travelling I often got offered food that looked like nothing I had ever seen. My first thought often was – I hope it’s not made of insects. I can assure you, I had to work really hard on keeping a straight face more than once when I saw what landed on my plate, or banana leaf. It takes time and a lot of courage – at least for me – to let something so unfamiliar end up in my mouth. It came back to me when we were feeding Antek in the first months – once I remembered that feeling, it was easier to give him all the time he needed to open his mouth and let us feed him. (Anna)

Position?

Until now, your baby was comfortably cradled in your arms while nursing, with the possibility of close body and eye contact. How can we keep this from changing too much, when we move on to the next stage?

Emmi Pikler and Magda Gerber advocated for no high chairs. One of the reasons for not using high chairs is that often we start weaning before babies can sit up by themselves – we need to then put them in a position into which their bodies cannot yet get naturally. Another one being that babies will not be able to get in and out of high chairs by themselves, even as they grow older. It might be exactly the tempting thought of that, that makes parents go for it. But do you really want to tie your child to their seat with food in front of them? (We had a high chair in the beginning, and moving Antek to our lap after a while made us aware of how much more intimate and enjoyable the feeding was. He was close to one of us, even when the food was somewhat strange the body contact helped him relax and feel a bit more at ease with the whole situation. Anna)

Of course it’s impossible to keep your baby in the same position that you did while breast- or bottle-feeding, but there are a few differences between the cuddled arm position and the high chair.

Everything really is different when we start the weaning process. Change is something we need to get used to, something we need to tame so that we can work with the new conditions and new expectations. New passages have to form in our brain (that takes time), and we need to develop new habits – this, as we all know too well, takes a lot of time. How can you help?

Here is Emmi Pikler’s way to baby-led weaning

Emmi Pikler intensely focused on all the different changes that come along when weaning your baby, and she suggested that there should always be just ONE change at a time. So when moving from breast/bottle milk to spoon-fed solids there were many little steps in between.

Those include:

  • Offering milk or tea in a glass instead of bottle or breast;
  • Once the child is used to the glass she would also offer first mashed vegetables from a glass (a little more on the liquid side obviously);
  • Only when the child is used to glass AND the new taste and consistency of food would she introduce the spoon;
  • And once the spoon is a well-known companion, the food would get more solid, the position of feeding would slowly change to be a little more upright;
  • Once the child is used to the new food, the spoon and the position he would be placed on a little chair and by a small table (by then his motor development would allow this)

In terms of positioning the baby when offering solid foods Emmi Pikler suggested a slow transition process too. From the arms of the caregiver the children would move to a half-seating position on the lap. And then, once they were (i) able to sit up by themselves, and (ii) used to something other than breast or bottle, would she allow placing them at a little table. The chair was matched for size, so the child could get on and off by himself.

When I first saw this little table – apart from finding it lovely and cute – I thought – I don‘t want my child to sit in there while I have dinner with my husband at our table. It felt like leaving him all one. Little did I know that at an age where a child is sitting at a table that small there is no common family meal. There is no „having dinner together“. 

We didn‘t buy this table but got a high chair that he could climb up himself (obviously much, much later). Only after a few months and „disturbed“ meals where I had to take care of him and go back to feeding him on my lap instead of us all just enjoying a meal together I realised that children not only take food at meal times. They take our attention. It‘s nourishment for the body as well as for the soul. (Nadine)

Pikler‘s thought was the same as with the diaper changes – when a child has had our undivided attention and full presence during those feeding times, he would be able to engage in play on his own while we – the parents – enjoy our meal together.

This sounds like a lot of work. Much to think through before starting with solids. And a long walk from breast- or bottle feeding to the meal at the family table. But in the end – this is what it is. A long journey. A big transition. From being closely cuddled up with just mom or dad while enjoying some warm milk – to sitting at a table with plates and cutlery, a variety of foods and the constant inner question of being full or not.

„Family meals are very, very rarely pleasurable when babies are included. Not only do babies not have any table manners, they need constant attention, create a mess, and I cannot see why such a tense atmosphere is desirable.

I prefer that the parent feed the baby ahead of time (and maybe even for the baby to be in bed) by the time the parents enjoy a well-deserved, peaceful meal. When children can participate in table conversations, they are ready to join the family at the table.“ (Magda Gerber „Dear parent: Caring for infants with respect“)

This may seem very „old fashioned“ to many of you as it did to us too. Now that our boys are 2,5 years old, can mainly eat by themselves and talk (sometimes A LOT), those family meals are finally becoming pleasurable and fun.

But I have to admit that until a few weeks ago it was rather stressful – to have the meal ready on time otherwise Leander would be impatient, 

  • to constantly have to check if he is eating or throwing the food
  • to have him change places (his chair, my lap, my husband‘s lap)
  • to not have a conversation or simply being able to EAT. (Nadine)

During those many parent evenings Nadine attended in the past two years, and the number of talks Anna has had with other parents, feeding and mealtimes were a constant topic for many parents. Most of it has to do with our expectations, our own experiences as a child and our impatience.

We are not denying that there may be problems and not all babies are happy to accept this whole transition at the moment we think is right. And not all babies accept the food we offer straight away. Or the spoon. Or the change in position. But what we are trying to offer here is a little food for thought. So we can understand our babies and lead and accompany them through the whole process mindfully and respectfully. To set a strong foundation for all those future mealtimes that are still to come when our children grow older.

“‘When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,’ said Piglet at last, ‘what’s the first thing you say to yourself?’ ‘What’s for breakfast?’ said Pooh. ‘What do you say, Piglet?’ ‘I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?’ said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. ‘It’s the same thing,’ he said.”

The beginning of weaning: guilt, pleasure and information overload

Sometimes the internet does not seem the perfect invention when being a parent. There are too many decisions that have to come from within you and your family. Starting the weaning process is one of them. There is the when, what and how. And many many more questions you surely did not think of before giving birth to your little baby.

And then there is us – mothers – with our own thoughts, feelings, fears and worries, that emerge every time we face a new phase, a new challenge, a new step ahead. Weaning is just another one of them.

(This is the first of a three-part series on weaning and feeding small children in their early days of adventures with eating. Please let us know what you think, and if there is anything else you would like us to focus on in the two (or more?) posts that will follow)

Both of us mostly breastfed our boys, but regardless of what decision you made in the first months, there comes the day – dreaded or long-awaited – when milk is not the main meal anymore, and when the time comes to move on to something else. There is a moment when you start thinking about it for the first time, and you realize (perhaps) that the number of questions you had in mind is nothing compared to the number of possible answers, and the amount of information about everything that is to do with weaning: when to start? what to give? how often? cow’s milk? gluten? fruit or vegatables? iron supplements?

The old-school version (at least how we know it) said wait until 6 months, then slowly start with one small meal a day and see how it goes. This, as far as we’re concerned, is about enough to know about weaning (if your baby is healthy and does not have any allergies). But, unfortunately, both of us also love the question and answer game. And finding information. More often than not, it is useful, good, and once you get the hang of where to look you’re fine. But that, very often, is not a calm and collected way in which new mums look for information, especially not online. Ask your doctor, if you have one, or a nurse. Aks your friends. Look fort he information you need once. And then just move on – you have what it takes. And you have all you need.

So of course, there is the 6 months mark. But then there are new studies coming in. And of course there is also Annabel Karmel or any other influential celebrity of choice.

When Leander was about 3-4 months old a new study was published that suggested to start weaning at the age of 4 months already in order to avoid the risk of allergies. Before that all I heard was that breast- or bottlefeeding until the age of 6 months would be best for the child. Mothers. Pediatricians. Midwifes. And everybody else who thought to know all about it led long and painful discussions about what is best for a little baby‘s long term health.

It was dreadful to read or listen. But something told me that neither nor can be stated as right or wrong. It‘s a decision you as parents and your baby have to make privately. Whatever advice you want to keep in mind. So I decided to see how the breastfeeding went and how his interest in food would develop. (Nadine)

What we tend to forget is – every child is different. When we speak about gross motor development or play this all seems logical to us. But why should it be different when it comes to food? So how can we listen to a university professor who wants to tell us that we should do it this way or that? And the pediatrician, who looks at hundreds of little kids in a week, how could he know that our child is ready? Or not?
It is dificult to know when your baby is ready, the overall general guidelines are helpful. But YOU are the one who knows your child. And also YOU are the one who knows yourself. Weaning is the beginning of another part of the journey. For some of us it is easy, for some it comes with a feeling of loss and fear. The most important thing we learnt – trust yourself, and remember you are weaning your baby but also… yourself. Give it time.

The simplest, easiest advice we can offer, based on what we learnt with our sons is this:

When?

  • Roughly around the time when most of the health guidelines suggest, but don’t be too strict – every baby is different, it does not have to be on the day your baby turns 6 months.

What?

  • Easy food. Easy fort hem to digest and for you to prepare. Milk is easy. Whatever comes next will be different. Don’t give them anything you would not eat (I remember a friend of mine repeatedly giving her daughter mashed apples with green peas. ‚She won’t eat anything’ the friend complained. When I asked i fit tastes nice, she replied: ‚I’m sure it’s fine, I don’t really want to eat this’ – Anna)
  • Try to give a range of choices after a while, once you know they are used to the taste (and there are no allergic reactions). Try not to suggest what is good and what is not, even without words your baby is fully aware of how you feel about things (if you really hate something, maybe skip it for a while?)
  • Don’t prepare a feast only to later be disappointed that your baby is not keen to try the new wonderful thing you have so lovingly prepared. Leave the amazing dishes for later, when she is so used to the taste of your kitchen she will really really appreciate it. Put the time into being with her, rather than in the kitchen. Make it simple – for you and for her.

How often?

  • Once a day, small portions.

How?

  • Explain first. Maybe a day or two before you think you might start with the first meal. Tell your baby what will happen. Communicate. Show them the spoon, maybe the food. Next time, it won’t all be new and unfamiliar – making things familiar is a very important part of any change. Remember, you would want to know why the desk in your office looks different, and what happend to the coffee machine?
  • Slowly. Very very slowly and patiently – it is a big change, allow it to happen rather than rush through it. Every day is different – one day mashed carrots will be great, the next they will be on the floor. That’s fine, don’t take it personally. It’s not about you, or the carrots. Leave them and next time try something else. Allow your baby to try somehting more than once so they can get used to the taste. But also – allow them to decide they don’t want something. Surely there are things you don’t like to eat.
  • With a full understanding how difficult this might be, and no expectations of what will happen. It is a big change, but you are there to help him. This is another step you are taking together – both of you. It can be another wonderful adventure, another step in developing your relationship. Food is important, breast or bottle-feeding is important, so is weaning. This is the continuation of the relationship with food – they will learn now how to think about food, and this will set them up for life. The trust in your child that he can do this on his own time, will later pay back with his trust in you. That you will be there when he needs you, but also that you will let him take as much time as he needs. Be respectful of your child by letting her lead the weaning process. Observe to see how she feels about it’ (Magda Gerber)
  • With patience. This is never said enough. With enough patience, so that you are not waiting for another step – enjoy this moment, enjoy the here and now. The moment you are showing your baby what food is. Soon enough they won’t need your explanations. The most difficult part for me was realising that the beginning of weaning does not automatically mean we can bring out the knives and forks, our best plates and carefully prepared meals – That it is a long, long way between this first taste of food, and the time when my son will enjoy his meals knowing full well what he likes and what he doesn’t. When we started giving him food, and when he tried to eat it the first day, I was almost ready to prepare a feast the next. Of course, the next day no food went anywhere near his mouth… One of the hardest things for both my husband and me was not to take this personally. The food is good. It’s healthy. This whole process is so new to him, that we had to just let him do it, so that finally he could enjoy it – in his own time, not on our schedule. It is paying off now, when we see him willing to try new foods at two-and-a-half, happy to experiment with a fork, asking for more when he is not yet full, and giving the bowl back when he’s had enough. Letting him learn the relationship with food on his own terms has definitely paid off – but those first months were a true test of patience. (Anna)
  • With a lot of love also for yourself. Giving up those precious moments when you snuggle together for feeding might be hard for some. Not for everybody, but a lot of us have felt this tiny tiny sadness that this is the beginning of the end of something, and there is no going back ( http://sydneysteiner.com/2012/07/01/let-him-live-his-life-a-weaning-story-of-loss-and-separation/ ). There are many moments like this along the way. Admit that you’re sad, or whatever feelings you have. All those feelings are fine. Admit, so that you can move on. We have felt it. Both in the beginning of weaning and in the end – the last moments, when you know these are the last breast- or bottle-moments for the two of you. Cry. Buy yourself chocolate. Go for a walk. Admit to whatever you’re feeling (guilt, sadness, relief – it’s all normal, natural, and it’s so good that you have these feelings, you are a wonderfully emotional human being!), and get ready for the rest of the big adventure. But also – listen to yourself and your baby. If it‘s too hard for both of you – slow down. Starting the weaning process, starting to eat solid foods does not mean there is a deadline to be met to stop bottle- or breastfeeding. Give both of you the time you need. May it be months or even years.

Maybe one of the problems we see with weaning or starting solids is the wording. In the English speaknig world it all relates to weaning your baby. Stopping the milk supply no matter if breast or bottle have been given. In the German speaking world it‘s called „starting solid food“ so it‘s all about your child finally eating instead of drinking.
What if we call it a big transistion in your child‘s life? Where the aim is to make it as smooth and comfortable as possible. Not to replace morning, lunch or evening feeding session. Not to eat at the family table. But to go with the flow of nature, that milk at some point might not be enough, that interest in solid food grows and the path is a process. No handbook available. Only then can we go back to our inner feeling, observing our child and realising what he needs most right now.

We should not forget – food is about relationship as well. The relationship with our own body. While eating we try to constantly listen to myself. Am I enjoying this taste? Is it too cold or too hot? Am I still hungry? We as adults have almost forgotten to eat like that. Our children haven‘t. This is a huge gift we can give them – the ability to listen to their bodies when eating. To Stop when they’re full, say no when they’ve had enough (surely we all want our babies to be able to do that once they’ve grown up).

So when accompanying them during this big transition – there are more things to keep in mind than when and what. There is how and how much. And many many nuances in between.

 

Is there anything you found particularly difficult when you started the weaning process? Or particularly helpful? Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!