(Beginning in mid-March 2020, when the world shut down, I began a bi-weekly conversation with the parents who had been in my RIE classes. Since not every family could make it to these conversations, but each conversation touched on important elements, I would often write up a summary of the conversation. What follows is one of those summaries.)
As I closed the call last night, I said I wish I’d recorded it because the conversations we had crystalized this moment in time…covid…the protests…racism…uncertainty (in so many realms)…and the essence of some key elements of RIE. It was a profound conversation, and I’m grateful to have been a part of it.
More than that, I’m so grateful to be a part of such a thoughtful and present, caring community of humans. Whether you made it to the call or not, whether you have the time or bandwidth to read every email (and there are a lot…turns out, I’m verbose) or not, whether you’ve sat in a class with me yet or not…you are part of making a community of thoughtful and present, caring people.
So what did we talk about?
Well, we talked about covid. More precisely, we talked about the push-pull we are feeling right now. The pressure we get from society and friends and even family members to start opening up and coming out into the world more and more…balanced against the uncertainty of how to do so safely and healthily…balanced against the social and emotional developmental needs of infants and toddlers…balanced against our own social and emotional (or financial!) needs…and balanced against having no idea how long this will continue to impact us so acutely.
Ultimately, that choice is a balancing act for each family because there are going to be different needs and concerns in each family. I will say that I’m regularly asked if I think that children are being harmed by missing out on this ‘critical time’ for social development.
I don’t think so, but I don’t know for sure…this is new for me, too…and it’s new for Child Development…and Child Development has only been around for about 100 years, give or take…”Parenting” for only about 50 years. We haven’t really studied what happens to infants and toddlers that don’t get to play with other infants and toddlers, but who are otherwise cared for by attentive and loving parents…and given lots of opportunity for play and exploration at home.
Anecdotally, I know my nieces and nephews didn’t go to preschool, and they are all fabulous humans and very social. I know some adults who didn’t either, and I think they’re wonderful humans, too. I think there’s tremendous value in preschools and music classes, and playdates, and RIE classes*…I mean for pete’s sake, one of RIE’s Basic Principles is “allowing children to have freedom to explore and interact with other children”…but when you play the balancing game, how does that weigh against health and safety?
On the other hand, this is a balancing game, and each family has different needs and desires…and relationships with individual schools, teachers, and directors, who will each, individually address those concerns in ways that can make families feel safe, especially if child care is a necessity. And from being in the early care and education community, I can tell you that no one is thinking more about the health and safety, and developmental processes of your children (except possibly you).
*And yes, I’m one of those professionals also weighing the checks and balances. I’m working on possibilities for RIE pods…if there’s a way to do them in a way that is safe for children and families, and me. Still working out the possibilities. Look for an email soon, or write to me with questions.
We also got into a deep discussion on race and racism, on social justice and the protests. How one parent, who I’ve known now longer than her eldest child has been alive, used to work in the social justice field…and I just learned it last night because she didn’t talk about it in white spaces. We talked about the micro (and not so micro) aggressions that her caregiver (and herself) have experienced, and how my shock and upset at what happened was telling to her…because in my narrative someone dismissing or diminishing me hasn’t happened to me systematically and consistently.
We talked about what messages children are getting about race and racism…from the books we read to the messages they internalize from the interactions you have with others in the world around them. We talked about how there is little out there for talking about racism and diversity for children under two…and how when one parent was looking for a school with diversity or ‘anti-bias’ curriculum, she was told that it was addressed ‘when children asked.’ And how my memories of learning anti-bias curriculum many years ago was less a matter of exploring and celebrating differences, but emphasizing color and cultural blindness.
If you want more details on how to raise an anti-racist baby, I will point you to one of the very best webinars I’ve seen on the topic, to date. I plan to write up something on it separately.
And we talked about RIE…more specifically, how to RIE all day with a toddler at home. And you know, it’s interesting…as I mentioned a little while ago, I’m venturing more and more into the world of virtual teaching, and I’m close to wrapping up my Nurturing Nanny class…and that’s the same question I got from the nanny I’m training! He* is new to caring for infants and wondered…what does a full day with a baby look like?
*Yes, ‘he’…I assumed the nanny would be female, too. Hello, bias, my old friend…
The parents on the call reminisced about the franticness they experience/d over schedules and routines and activities…activities in particular! They talked about feeling overwhelmed from all of the resources and suggestions and guides they get, and then agonize over the fact that they didn’t have all of the necessary materials, and then worst of all, they would spend 2-3x the time setting up the activities (and their expectations) as the child would spend actually engaged in the activity (and likely exploring and engaging in a completely different way than expected).
But soon they started to realize what I told the nanny I’m training…the day is anchored by the caregiving…sleep, diaper, food…and when there is no caregiving time, open-ended play and exploration. For toddlers, too…if you simply set up your space with a couple of areas…maybe a cozy nook with books, maybe a gated off area for painting or markers, maybe a space with blocks, a space with dress up things. Let your child select what they are interested in and let them do their thing. Projects and activities are usually more fun when children are over 3 to 3.5. Children LOVE repetition and the opportunity to come back and again and again to the same activities…pick a few stations and sit back and let them play and explore. When you notice a theme or an interest, let that guide you for figuring out the next steps.
And simple objects really are best, especially for infants, but also for toddlers. I often tell the story about the time my (then) 3.5 year old niece visited me, and I was terrified because I didn’t have any ‘toys’ for older children…no matter, she occupied herself for HOURS with my simple RIE objects. A mother of a 2.5 year old and a 7 month old came to the same beautiful understanding when she watched the difference in his play with his “toys”…and the attention and depth he could give to his baby brother’s objects. With the more simple objects, his play became more complex…because he had to figure out the play for himself.
Lastly, for older toddlers, extend your definition of ‘caregiving’ to include ‘caring for home,’ and pull them into some of those routines…invite them into the laundry (they can toss clothes in, take clothes out, ‘help’ fold, carry stacks of clothes to various rooms…you get the idea), the cooking, the dusting, the sweeping, the table washing, the window washing…heck, if you have bills to write (do people still do that? We do…), give them some envelopes and a pen. They want to be involved with what you are doing.
And that’s the message that one parent stated so eloquently…when she was able to shift her focus from activities that would “occupy my child” to “how can I connect with my child,” everything changed for her. She let go of the goals for the experience, found security in the rhythm of the day instead of the rigidity of a routine, and found peace.
And like last week, I couldn’t let the call come to a close without a reading from The Parents’ Tao Te Ching. I usually pick one at random, but I confess to seeking this one out, simply because it summed up our conversation so beautifully.
I hope you enjoy it. I thank you again for being part of this community, and I hope to connect with you again soon.
47. Providing For
Your children will make many demands
upon your time and energy.
“Do this for us.
Buy this for us.”
They believe that these things
are what they want from you.
And you may begin
to believe it too.
But what they really want
is your innermost heart,
given in vulnerable, honest love.
This is not given
by doing or buying.
The more you do,
the less gets done.
The more you buy,
the less you have.
But if you reveal
your true nature,
you provide them everything.
Of course there are times,
when I do for my children.
It is often my great pleasure.
But the things remembered,
the treasured moments
of sacred time,
have occurred in the quiet
of gentle conversation,
and honest sharing.