BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Origins of Free Play’

Guest post by Elena Marouchos of New Zealand Infant and Toddler Consortium

The Origins of Free Play, Kálló, Éva, and Györgyi Balog. Pikler-Lóczy Társaság, 2005.

‘The Origins of Free Play’ is a delightfully easy read and should be a companion reference for all who work with infants and toddlers. This book not only helps us to understand the value of free play; it eloquently describes the modes of free play, from the time an infant discovers his hands to the manipulation and experimentation of objects until the stage of building things. The detailed accounts and pictures show us that an infant’s need to play is fundamental. It also becomes evident that we can only see the child clearly once we stop prompting and sit back. Attentive observation is where we truly become aware of everything that happens at a physical (gross motor and fine motor) and cognitive level, until one block is placed on top of another. The sequence of how this play unfolds follows the natural development from infancy to young toddlerhood and provides valuable insight as to the learning that takes place, and hence the kinds of objects that are appropriate yet still challenging, for the child.

This book serves as a wonderful reminder that  “a child who achieves things through independent experimentation acquires an entirely different kind of knowledge than does a child who has ready-made solutions offered to him”.  ( Emmi Pikler )

Eva Kallo’s honest account of her own journey as a pedagogue makes this book read more like a journal that a text book …”activities conceived by adults supposed to animate children to play and learn, that mealtimes to be “gotten done with” as quickly as possible in order to make time for what was supposedly the most essential thing: play between teachers and children.  Time where it was thought that a teacher’s role was to demonstrate to children how they should play, to “animate” and supervise them”.   A subtle invitation…as one can’t help but reflect on our own pedagogy over time.

Aside from the valuable knowledge about modes of play, ‘Origins of free play’ provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our role as teachers, perhaps questioning how it is possible to support a child’s development if we do not ‘play’ with the children ourselves. ‘Origins of free play’ shows us how we can create a safe environment for free, uninterrupted play which permits the child to explore and discover the world in their own way and in their own time.     Throughout the book, photographs of very young children engaged in focused play remind us of the fascination that comes when children engage with the most ordinary and simplest of playthings. In its humblest form, this book details the way infants play, simple ideas for appropriate playthings, the play area, and, most importantly, the value of observing play. It’s value, however, lies in how it allows those who work with the very young to reflect, embed and thus articulate our practice.




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?