Observing Children, Simple Toys, Respect, and Playful Adult Learning – A RIE Chat Summary

(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.)

Hello there,

Reaching out to you all on this quiet Saturday afternoon…oh, and at the start of a long weekend…in this house we call today “first Saturday”…tomorrow will be “second Saturday.” 🙂 Of course, this is the type of weekend that we’d normally look forward to because we’d both be home on Monday, and considering we’ve both been home every day now for over 2 months, it could lose its luster a bit…if we let it. But we’re both committed to looking to the good, seeking out the silver linings of this experience. I hope you are, too…I’ll tell you some of my silver linings, if you tell me yours…

  1. I’m rediscovering my passion for writing. I was really into writing when I was younger and that’s gotten away from me. I’m welcoming it back!
  2. I’m knitting again and finding creative expression in that even though I only knit one thing (dishcloths).
  3. I’m finding that I’m so much more connected to my family than I used to be…weekly check-ins with the family at large and so many more side-texts and calls with my sisters-in-law.

Please let me know some of YOUR silver linings!

Small call today…the morning session doesn’t seem like it will take off, but I’ll give it a go for another couple of weeks, just to see…after all, this is a holiday weekend! I did get to chat with a couple of new people, though, so it was fun to meet them! We talked about what a gift observing your child can be…to see how long their attention spans are, to see what fascinates them, and perhaps to get a new sense of respect, ourselves, at the beauty and wonder this world offers us. If you have a little time, just a few minutes, try a simple mindfulness exercise: Notice how you are sitting or standing…what part of your body is making contact with the earth? Maybe bring your hands to touch…which hand is touching the other? Which is being touched? Listen…what sounds are coming in your windows, trickling downstairs or upstairs…how do they mix and meld together? Look…observe the way the light comes in and hits the objects in your space, the angles and corners of the walls and ceilings (or floor), try to see without labeling. Inhale…what do you smell? Are your windows open, inviting the riot of aromas from Spring…or your neighbor’s grill? Or maybe there are some subtle scents inside. Just take it all in for a moment, appreciate the moment…and then reflect…how new this experience still is for your child, how fresh.

Speaking of how fresh this world is for young children, I also chatted with one Mom about the value of simple toys. So many toys are made with an adult’s idea of what would be fun or interesting for a child. Keeping in mind that children are wide open and exploring, providing them with the simplest of toys will allow for children to explore in ways we’ve never even considered. Think about your senses when you are considering toys…how will it feel, how heavy is it, what will it taste like(!), is it soft or hard, is it enormous or tiny (not too small!! Nothing that will fit through a toilet paper roll). Then think about what they will do…what sounds will they make, will they move or be stationary…will they move fast or slow, can you stack or nest them, can you fill it or dump it, does it balance…And of course we talked about a child’s first toy…their own body. In fact, RIE doesn’t recommend offering a toy to a child until they are done exploring their own body. Children are fascinated with their feet and their hands…but when you see them start to look beyond their hands, this is the time to start putting toys within reach…not into their hands, but near them, so they can choose to reach for them, pick them up, and explore them.

This leads me to another idea we discussed…sometimes people hear me say something like “put a toy out so a child can choose to reach for it.” Or, “tell your baby what you’re going to do before you do it.” And they might get the idea that children are in charge in this Approach…like you have to ask your baby’s permission to change their diaper or leave the room. When we talk about respect in RIE, though, we mean developing a reciprocal relationship…not a hierarchical one. We talk with babies to engage with them, to bring them into the conversation and make them partners…but ultimately, we’re the ones who are in charge…we decide when it’s time for a diaper or to leave the room, we just are taking their point of view into consideration, the way we would for any other person.

Of course, I want to leave space for humor in the learning process. Many parents…often fathers, but not always, make jokes and tease their partners (or me!) as they are learning about RIE. I get it…on the face of it, it might seem silly to talk to a baby or give them recyclables instead of real toys or let them cry when they get soap in their eyes…and further, this Approach can put people outside of their comfort zone. One way people handle that is by making jokes and being ridiculous. I love it, though…you can’t make a joke about something if you’re not paying attention to the material to LOOK for the jokes…so let them crack jokes…it just shows they’re listening.

That’s just about all for today…not quite…while waiting for chatters this morning I FINISHED my review/synopsis of The Opposite of Combat! I’m going to send that out separately…As mentioned previously, I recommend it to you even if you only have one child. Heck, even if you don’t have any children…it talks about healthy conflict, which is a topic I think we can agree much of the world needs a little brush up on. It’s my hope that you are raising a generation of children who are conflict competent.

And lastly, it wouldn’t be a Saturday if I didn’t leave you with a reading from The Parents’ Tao Te Ching

Wishing you all health and peace,


11. The Still Point

A wheel spins in a circle.
The still point at the center
gives it direction.
Be still.
And your children will see
the way ahead.

A pot has beautiful sides.
The emptiness inside
makes it useful.
Empty yourself of agenda
and you will be available
for your children.

A good house has strong walls.
The space within the walls
makes it a home.
Create space within your heart
and your children
will always rest secure.
Suggesting, guiding, teaching, and lecturing,
although well intentioned,
often creates confusion rather than clarity.
Are you filling the air with good advice
and helpful strategies
when you should be still, empty and spacious?