RIE in Real Life…Guidance

One lovely things about teaching in the great outdoors is the exposure this unique parenting approach gets…setting up in a public park brings the Educaring Approach to people who’d otherwise never know it existed. Of course, many people don’t know what they’re seeing:

Is this a birthday party?

Are you training dogs?

(Or, my favorite): is this a baby crossfit class?

*Magda did always say that if you thought babies needed exercise classes, you should get down on the floor and do what they do for an hour or so!

Not to brag, but I understand the allure of the simple set-up: the wooden structures and boxes, the carefully curated toys set out in an organized and attractive manner.

That’s deliberate: as humans, we’re drawn to organization and simplicity, as well as novelty. So, a fresh play space, with clean lines and toys arranged just so is very inviting. I always consider it a compliment when children of all ages are drawn in to explore.

And then you add children to the mix, and people really can’t help but watch…but I think what really draws onlookers closer is the relaxed energy of the parents. When adults are able to sit back and peacefully observe children’s play, it gives children the freedom to go deep into their own explorations. It is a different tableau than what you  typically see on a playground , and it is unique, refreshing, and inviting.

I came across a good explanation of why, oddly enough, in a book about  organizational culture :

We experience our deepest happiness when we connect to ancient human pleasures. Communal meals, campfires, watching a thunderstorm, snuggling with children, and storytelling are some of our primal pleasures. Dipping our toes in a lake, walking through a forest or observing a meteor shower help us keep our lives in perspective; we are a small part of something vast and universal.

I think that is what people feel, not only in class, but when they slow down and witness class…slowing down to watch children is a simple human pleasure…it reminds us that we are, indeed, part of something vast and universal.

Is that giving away the secret sauce to my classes? Oh well. I like knowing a little more about why I get the warm fuzzies when I teach…and it’s still magic, even if it has a name.

To be fair, not everyone is compelled to stop when they see my gorgeous set-up, and some can even resist the allure of watching children peacefully play…but almost no one can resist pausing when they see me start snack. Seeing a flock of toddlers assembling the table, choosing washcloths and bibs, waiting patiently for their piece of banana, and taking turns pouring their own water into glass cups…well, that is hard for even the most jaded to pass by.

Of course, when I’m serving snack, I’m hardly aware of what’s going on anywhere off my checkerboard snack mat. This ritual is about giving children agency and allowing them to demonstrate their competence, but it is also a meal which means that it is a caregiving moment for me and the children…and when caregiving moments are present, connected, and intimate (even when there are 6-8 children!), they foster connection and attachment. So, I don’t want to split my attention to notice what onlookers are experiencing (that and, well I can’t: snacktime eventually becomes a smooth ballet, but it takes months of barely controlled chaos to get there, and I can’t let my attention wander for a moment!).

But there was a moment a few weeks ago when I noticed a presence hovering just slightly behind and to the left of me, so I chanced a glance…sure enough, there was a woman there, hesitantly leaning in and watching…she gave off serious Jane Goodall vibes…someone who desperately didn’t want to interfere with what she was witnessing, but who at the same time, couldn’t help but ask…she leaned toward me slightly and in a stage whisper asked “what is this?” I didn’t have much attention to spare, so I briefly said “this is a parent education class.”

I can’t tell you exactly what she said, but I saw her relax with approval, saying that she’d taught parent education for years and was glad to see it out in the world. She kept watching for a few minutes, but then went back to the walking path and continued with her day.

I didn’t really give it much thought until one of the parents from the group spoke up about it later. She said she’d never really considered it to be parent-education…for her it was simply “RIE.” And that makes sense to me…you hear ‘parent education’ and you maybe go to an image of remedial education: something to correct ‘bad’ parenting. It’s not a term that’s usually associated with a proactive approach to parenting.

These classes are for the children, most assuredly…to learn from one another and to practice socializing and connecting with each other…but they are absolutely for parents, too. Yes, for connection and support…for sharing ideas and tips and tricks…but also to learn how to slow themselves down. To learn to see children differently, and to get some education on child development along the way. That’s why Magda called them ‘parent-infant guidance classes’…for parent and child. And that’s how I see myself: as a guide for parents. Not a teacher or educator. You won’t get graded or evaluated in my classes, but I hope you feel supported and guided.

Here’s hoping you find a moment this weekend to tap into an ancient human pleasure, and find solace in knowing we are all part of something vast and universal.