Tell me I don’t have the best job!
Each week I’m inspired by delightful interactions between babies as young as 3 months old during my parent/infant classes at Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE). Just when I think I’ve seen it all, they show me something new. This was a first for me: a 4-month-old boy perfectly echoing his enamored friend’s “hello”.
We’ll unfortunately never know for sure what’s going on in these little guys’ minds, but their mutual joy and fascination is palpable. We make these enriching and educational experiences possible by providing safe, emotionally nurturing environments and regular opportunities to engage in baby-led play. Here are some details:
1. Believe babies capable
After observing infants and toddlers engaging in play for close to twenty years, it stuns me to still hear parents (and even some experts) comment that independent play isn’t healthy, desirable or even possible for infants. When advisers insist that infants need to be in our arms or carriers for most of the day — implying that they shouldn’t initiate activities or engage with their environment without adult direction — you can only assume that these experts have never spent time observing freely moving infants.
2. Person-to-person communication and responsive care
But babies shouldn’t be just plopped down to play. They are only comfortable leaving our arms when they have gained the sense of security and confidence we nurture through our respectful communication and attuned care. Attunement during play time means observing and listening to our infant’s cues, asking questions and allowing our baby time to indicate readiness before we pick her up or place her down to play. If she’s obviously not in the mood that day (or moment), we ask if she’d like to be picked up again for a little break while we stay seated on the floor. We may discern a specific need (like gas or hunger), address it, and then afterwards try letting our baby play again if she seems interested.
3. Regular free play opportunities
For babies and toddlers especially, familiarity and predictability breed confidence, so offering play opportunities in the same place, at the same general time, and with the same children and adults makes it far more possible for play to flourish. Some babies are more sensitive to new situations and need plenty of time to look around from the safety of our arms. Trust their process.
4. Patience, acceptance, trust
Young children always do the best they can in any particular situation on any particular day. For our baby’s peer play to blossom, we must let go of our ideas, agendas, worries and accept whatever happens (safety permitting, of course). When young children sense something other than trust and acceptance emanating from their parents or caregivers, they’re far less likely to be comfortable venturing away from us. Again, be patient, accepting and trust.
5. Quiet observation
My favorite part of each of our 90-minute RIE classes is “quiet observation time”, because that is when the magic happens (or at least when we notice it). It’s easy to forget how overwhelming and over-stimulating even our “inside voices” can be for young children. Some days the children might seem a little cranky and out of sorts, and then we realize that the volume in the room is way too high. When we are quiet and observant, babies are more inclined to become intently focused on their inner-directed activities, and we are inclined to learn an incredible amount while enjoying and appreciating them immensely.
Enjoying these play experiences and discoveries with our babies is a brilliant way to bond.
For more details about forming playgroups of your own, please read The Baby Social Scene – 5 Hints for Creating Safe and Joyful Playgroups.
I share more about capable babies and free play in
(Thanks so much to the Floyd and Eckhart families for allowing me to share the adorable video of your awesome boys!)