When we stay out of the way while babies play and allow them to interact authentically, we can expect the unexpected. Over the years, as both a parent and RIE class facilitator, I’ve made a conscious effort to observe sensitively, keep an open mind about what play should “look like”, and intervene only minimally (when babies might hurt each other). I’ve been rewarded with more surprising, enlightening moments than I could ever count. But the scene recorded in this video was a first for me, and it completely blew me away.
From early infancy onward there will be occasional moments when two children connect — play “together” — for a few moments, rather than alone or side by side as they usually do. This begins to happen more often toward the end of the second year and into the third. (Our classes generally end when the children are 2 ½ to 3 years old.) “Together” play might begin as an exploration of another infant’s face, hair or body and evolve into giving and/or taking toys, imitation of one another’s activity, or a spontaneous game of chase. Very occasionally, I see toddlers playing in a cooperative manner – for example, stacking blocks or working on a puzzle together. It’s usually the older toddlers and lasts only a minute or two.
So when I spotted these 1 year olds (!) playing cooperatively and peacefully, and it continued, I was thrilled to have my camera handy. These babies played together for a whopping 7 minutes (though I’ve edited this video to 1 ½ minutes to show just some highlights.) Just thinking about this scene fills me with hope (for future UN delegates, among other things).
Cooperative play is possible when we…
Trust babies to self-direct play and interact freely. Adults shouldn’t nudge them to play together (or even give them play suggestions), insist they “share”, play “nicely”, “take turns” or “give the toy back”. Stay out of their way, observe attentively and intervene only if a child might hurt another. Allow children to resolve minor conflicts (over toys, etc.)
Model gentleness and patience when we need to intervene, rather than scolding, blaming, separating babies, reacting angrily (Here’s a great video example)
Provide social opportunities in familiar play environments when possible (same place, same people, same rules, similar time of day)
Make it a safe play space so that children feel secure and interruptions for safety reasons are rare.
“Children raised with respect and inner direction tend to play well in groups, at times quite peacefully, each involved in her own project or involved with the other chidren.” –Magda Gerber
“When we adults think of children, there is a simple truth which we ignore: childhood is not preparation for life; childhood is life. A child isn’t getting ready to live; a child is living. …we have forgotten, if indeed we ever knew, that a child is an active participating and contributing member of society from the time he is born. Childhood isn’t a time when he is molded into a human who will then live life; he is a human who is living life.” -Professor T. Ripaldi
“When we make a child share, it is not sharing.” -Gerber
Learn more about this respectful and effective approach to socialization in Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting