See Baby Learn – One Boy, Many Experiments (On Video)

Babies are natural self-learners. Well-rested, fed, emotionally nurtured, and in the absence of intense teething pain or other discomfort, even the youngest infants are curious explorers. All babies need is a safe, peaceful environment, some basic objects to examine (unnecessary until they are 3 or 4 months old) and many opportunities throughout the day to move freely and make their own choices without our interruption.

In a recent RIE Parent/Infant Guidance Class, a 10 month old infant presented vivid examples of self-directed, active learning through independent play and, thankfully, I had the camera rolling. Watch this baby developing gross and fine motor skills, problem solving, experimenting with objects, movement and sound (notably endearing vocals in this case). You see his long attention span (each play segment was edited for length) and sense him taking pride in his accomplishments.

Here are some things to note in the video…

Problem solving

The boy solves the first problem successfully when he realizes he needs two hands to pick up the blue ball. Later he struggles to separate two plastic baskets and isn’t able to, but notice how unbothered and unstressed he is! He just moves on to something else. Children are not easily discouraged and don’t expect to resolve every issue unless they are accustomed to adults fixing things for them.

Motor skills

Babies need plenty of opportunities to initiate the natural development of motor skills as this boy does through manipulation of the ball, car, jar, bottle, etc. You also see him crawling, sitting, practicing standing (and getting down again) and taking some first steps (!) by pushing the chair and the bottle.


Babies experiment with vocalizations and sounds they make with objects, and often mimic or echo sounds they hear. If you listen closely you’ll notice this boy repeating the tapping sounds another child is making.


There is only one unsafe item in the RIE classroom, and the babies are (of course) drawn to it. It’s a floor seat (called a BackJack) with a metal frame that can fall on a baby when a parent isn’t sitting on it. Watch how a mom (not the baby’s) sensitively and respectfully handles the floor seat issue, validating rather than discouraging the baby’s exploration. I have the most amazing parents in my classes!


While observing children engaged in independent play, my goal is to be responsive while taking care not to interrupt. The way I usually gauge a non-intrusive response is to wait for the baby to initiate it. So, when the baby looks towards me or talks to me I say something about what he’s doing. In this video you’ll see some examples, including me starting to say “I hear that sound”, but then changing my mind midstream and inventing a new word, no doubt causing linguistic confusion for this adorable boy for many years to come.

Okay, on with the video…

Please share your observations!


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. I just tried to submit a comment, but I’m not sure if it worked so I’m going to try again. Thanks for posting the video. I loved watching it.

    I noticed that you use a normal, quiet voice when you speak to the baby instead of the singsongy voice, often called parentese, that many adults use with children. Is this intentional? Why? I’m curious because I recently read in the book Nurture Shock, by Po Bronson, that babies and toddlers learn to speak faster when adults use parentese.
    Thanks again for sharing the video.

    1. Hi Caitlin,

      I have to moderate comments and I’m not sure if the system lets you know that, but I apologize for any inconvenience!

      Thank you for bringing up a great question… This is an area where the RIE Approach suggests something a little different. Personally, I feel much more comfortable speaking in my authentic voice, and it’s easier to remember that I’m talking to a real human being when I do. Magda Gerber’s suggestion to speak normally, just more slowly, felt ‘right’ to me.

      In Your Self-Confident Baby Magda explains, “I believe in talking to your child in a genuine and loving voice. It isn’t necessary to talk baby talk. Baby talk is not our language but an artificial one created for what we think children like. Why be artificial with your own child? Why not use your own voice, way of talking, and words?

      Perhaps we use baby talk because we don’t know how to relate to a young baby. I feel the earlier we are genuine with our children, the better. Show your child you believe she can understand you. It’s been shown that an infant reacts to her parent’s face and smell. Remember that a baby is a human being who responds to a soft and gentle human voice.”

      I don’t know about mother-ese helping babies speak faster, but I know that Magda Gerber never believed that babies doing something sooner was better… And all three of my children developed very healthy language skills without ever hearing mother-ese.

      1. Hi Janet,

        I wanted to jump in on this line of thinking here because it’s been something I’ve been thinking about lately a lot, too…a couple of different books I’ve been reading have referenced the use of “parentese” or “motherese” to aid in language learning. As with all research I read, I weigh it against what I’ve learned in RIE, and while I am still reading about it, I’m coming to some of the same conclusions you have…speaking in my authentic voice with children is what feels more natural to me and I’m certainly in no hurry to rush development.

        However, I do want to point out that there is no doubt that when you use a sing-songy voice with an infant or toddler (or anyone, really!), you will no doubt capture their attention and they will stop paying attention to what they are doing and focus on you and the sounds you are making…in a parent infant class, time for uninterrupted play, you don’t want to capture their attention! You want to let them focus on what they are doing. Also, I’ve found that when you are present and slow, and in relationship with children at other times when you do want their attention (for instance, a diaper change), you generally don’t need to use parentese because they are already paying attention to you.

        1. Melani, thank you for bringing up the attention-getting effect of motherese. I had never really thought of it that way, but you are so right!

          What I have noticed with my own children is that because they were used to hearing normal parent voices they were surprised when an adult spoke in the sing-songy way and it felt condescending to them, like they were being “babied”.

          1. I’ve read somewhere that parents intuitively, that is unconsciously and not deliberately, speak parentese. This means that even if you don’t think you speak parentese, you actually do it somehow. So not artificially forcing baby talk but just talking normally seems just fine to me, since most likely you will still speak somewhat more slowly, with a slightly higher pitch and articulating and accentuating more clearly, even if you don’t notice it. That should do the job.

            This being said, I have noticed that our boy since he’s about 3 months old is completely captivated when adults talk adult talk to adults. Like I would explain something very complicated in a long solo speech to my wife, and our 3 month old would stare at me with utter fascination. Same thing happened with the pediatrician at his 4 month checkup, who was astonished and irritated when he saw our boy focussing so closely on his lips and eyes while he gave us this long explanation on breastfeeding, vaccination or whatever. So I think babies learn in many ways…

  2. Great video, Janet! That baby clearly doesn’t need to be “entertained” by anyone. He’s developing his motor skills without flashing lights and electronic gadgets too!

    When my daughter was about this age, she and my son (he’s 27 mos. older) would have so much fun playing with just boxes and simple toys and objects like the ones in your video. Even now, at 6 and 8, they still have fun turning boxes and paper into playthings. I guess I was on the right track without realizing it! 🙂

    P.S. I never used mother-ese with my kids either and they both have excellent language skills.

    1. Not a surprise that you have wonderful instincts, Fran! Parents might not realize (I know I wouldn’t have before learning about the RIE approach) that the gadgets, gizmos, special seats, etc., actually make this kind of play less possible, since children are such creatures of habit. Active, independent learning is a habit well worth cultivating. It makes being a student in school (and of life!) more pleasurable, successful and so much easier.

  3. Thank you for this post! I loved seeing this child play, as he is the same age as my son. It helped solidify that I am on the right track! I’m never quite sure!
    A side note: An 82-year old family member came to visit this weekend and she was so delighted to see how curious and independent our son was, but even more so, how much we engaged him in our conversation. She observed that “in her day” conversations happened around and about the baby as if he/she wasn’t there. The RIE “way” was clear to her without explanation. It was a real point of connection for us, and so, I thank you!

    1. Pamela, that is a lovely story! Thank you! Yes, I’ve noticed that there are people who are open to and understand the idea of respecting babies right away. I’m very glad to know that you are feeling assured that you are on the right track. I know how important that is… It was for me, too.

  4. Love this conversation, this just came up at our center when a parent mentioned that EVERY direction or communication at a certain (unnamed) children’s franchise was sung. All of our staff felt this would be so uncomfortable and un-genuine. Janet . . . do I sense a blog coming on this one?? Would love to share it with our families 🙂

    1. Yes, Chrissy! I should write something (or you should…you’re a great writer!). The interesting thing is that the only studies I’m aware of show that motherese is so positive and helpful, but I think that’s the fact that those mothers are talking to their babies, period. I’ll have to look into it further (or you should!). But, no, nobody should have to sing unless they really feel like singing. 🙂 I’ve heard of preschools where the teachers sing over children having a conflict instead of dealing with directly. “La, la, la, we like our friends!” What are the children learning? Not to deal with conflict and not to be authentic, right?

  5. Janet, thank you for posting this video and for your thoughtful comments. I shared it with my family and my son’s babysitter. It created a really lovely dialogue regarding respectful interactions with infants and child-lead play. RIE reminds me to slow things down and notice the subtle nuances in my son’s play. For example you noticed his problem solving with the blue ball, and taking his first steps(!) which I had missed in class. I am remembering to use fresh eyes each time I observe him because I don’t want to miss anything else! Your presence is so calming and your interactions are so respectful. Thank you!!

  6. Hi Janet! Thank you for posting the video. Sometimes, I got confused as to what to do or give to my baby to play so that he will learn something…I hope you understand what I’m trying to say..hehe..I read many articles that parents should read to their babies, and I read to my baby but what should I do, when I read to him, in the middle, he wants to do other things…he doesn’t want to listen anymore..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More From Janet

Books & Recommendations