RIE in Real Life…Freedom to Explore

That’s one definition of “freedom to explore”

Did you know that there are seven basic principles to putting RIE into practice? I generally don’t go over all 7 all at once, especially when I’m introducing RIE to someone new: even though there are just 7, it can be a lot to take in at once. I can feel people’s eyes start to glaze over. Instead, when I’m telling people about RIE, I tell them it is all about slowing down and observing what children can do. Taking their points of view into consideration. Worrying less about hovering and teaching, and more about observing and allowing.

But here’s the thing…I started to write about one of my absolute favorite principles today (allowing children the freedom to explore and interact with other infants) because I’ve seen so many beautiful examples of it, just this week alone. I started to write about how RIE classes are designed to allow for interactions between children, and then I realized that actually, RIE classes are designed to demonstrate each of the principles…in every class. At the risk of boring you, let me run through them quickly:

We start with an environment that is safe and challenging, but emotionally nurturing. We bring in children, allowing them time to play with toys and equipment in ways of their own choosing (we don’t show them how to play with toys and we refrain from directing the play) …and time to play and explore with their peers in ways of their own choosing (we may delight in some interactions and despair in others, but we let things unfold (safely!)). We practice our observation skills, learning to look with wonder and curiosity and practicing separating what we see from what we feel. During any interactions with children, from feeding them to helping them resolve a conflict, we invite children’s cooperation and participation (and they rise to the occasion every time). We hold boundaries around safety and comfort. And above all, we trust that children will be happy to explore simple toys and equipment; that they are ready to jump in, to explore, and are driven to learn.

All of these elements come together to make a RIE class.

Maybe that all sounds simple, and it is…but simple isn’t always easy. It isn’t easy to let go of your own anxieties and trust children to play safely, to allow them to make mistakes, to tumble and bump, and to sometimes push and hit. Of course, we don’t want children to hurt one another, but if we prevent every potential bump and conflict, we miss out on the potentials for connection. And oh, that connection is so very sweet.

Just today, I had an extended class with just two children…14 and 16 months old…these two have known each other for months, and have come to class regularly for the past several weeks. They were clearly delighted to see each other today, and we got to see them smile at one another, feed one another, follow one another, hold hands and hug…all because of their own interest in the other…not because it delighted us (though it did, of course!). And yes, there were a couple of times that it didn’t all go smoothly, but there were fewer of those missteps today than there were last week, and they were quickly forgotten. One child felt comfortable going farther out than the other did…believe it or not, there’s a toddler in the cover picture…but toward the end of class, his comfort in moving far away drew his friend to join him. She went out of her comfort zone because she had the comfort of her friend.

Of course, you expect that kind of connection from older toddlers and preschoolers, and I do see that…but I see it bumped up a little in RIE children who know one another. For example, this week I learned that the child I wrote about last week (the one with the broken leg) had returned to school. Her friend from RIE classes goes to the same school…and spent her first day back sticking close to make sure her friend was comfortable and happy.

At the other end of the spectrum, I started a young baby class earlier this week. Their mothers and I watched as these 7- and 10-month-olds, who were meeting one another for the very first time, carefully observed one another, and were drawn to come closer to one another. We practiced letting them come close and learn about one another’s reactions, and we got to see children connect over toys…passing them (well, trying to pass them) back and forth.

It was the first step in a long and beautiful relationship…since the mothers in the group are dear friends, odds are these children will be in one another’s lives for a long time. But even if these children don’t stay fast friends through time, they are learning how it feels to be in relationship with others and how to make connections. And that’s something we all need, throughout our lives…Magda just taught us that it starts sooner than you might expect…if you just make space for it to happen.

Hoping you, too, can find some time to connect with a friend this weekend.

With care and respect,


PS…it’s getting to be that time of year (at least in Southern CA) where the temperatures are dipping. In the past, parents have asked me for suggestions on where to get good winter clothing for their babies and toddlers. Since I am still s-l-o-w-l-y updating my website, I don’t have that article up yet, but I’ll here’s a link to the pdf from last year: winter wear for toddlers.pdf. And if you have any go-to stores or ideas, please email me and I will update the list!