Safe Spaces, Video Chatting with Children, Connections, Why RIE? – 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.)

I had a short, but fun chat this morning with a Momma and her toddler, but just from that short chat, I got a wealth of ideas. That’s one of the things I miss about coming together in our classes: the ideas that parents share with one another, the community-building. I hope these summaries help to be a small part of continuing that community.

On to what I learned! So, as you all may know, RIE advocates for creating a safe place for your young child to play and explore. For the very young baby on the back, it is as simple as a firm, yet slightly forgiving surface on the floor (a thick yoga mat, wondermats, even a braided rug or carpeted floor) in a room that the child won’t be stepped on by you, her siblings, or a pet…but even for that baby that isn’t rolling yet, I suggest erecting some gates to enclose the space. (Yes, I know I linked to a dog gate…). You see, your baby’s eyesight is developing and growing as he is, and as he learns to twist and turn on his back, and then roll to his stomach…he’s eyeing that room. Eventually, he begins to scoot, to crawl, to pivot and move…and before you know it, he’s under the rocking chair, or in the fireplace, or pulling books off your bookshelf. Beyond the safety aspect, though, is also your sanity. You see, if you wait until your child is moving to erect those gates, your child will see them as “baby jail” (as one parent I know lovingly and hilariously calls it). But if you put those gates up before your child is moving, she will see them as merely part of the landscape, and will accept them. (Pro-tip…you also get practice opening and closing the gate).

This gated space will start small, but necessarily grow as your child gets more mobile, and you may get to the point where the gates go away and the safe space becomes a room…but hang onto them. You might want to repurpose them as the family from my morning call did. Even though she has a very capable walking and exploring toddler (and indeed, the other week we followed said toddler around downstairs as she played in several rooms), she kept this smaller gated area…for messy play (like paints or playdough or oobleck or sand or markers…that kind of messy.) It’s such a great idea! You want your child to have the opportunity to play and explore with messy things, both inside and outside, but you do not want your living room redecorated by a 2 year old! I’ve also advocated for using a smaller gated space for an older sibling and a younger toddler…with the older sibling (and their teeny tiny and/or precious toys) safely ensconced in the gated space.

I also learned a new tip for video chats! So, I was chatting with Mom and watching this toddler play a bit, but this young lady was becoming uncomfortable with me watching (I would, too!). So I offered to turn my camera off. I told her I was doing it, then kept talking, so she knew I was there…and she was able to move on and get back to playing. A bit later, she asked me to come back and I did. It got me thinking that this might be a good way for grandparents and other family and friends to ‘connect’ with your child. Let’s face it, the video is for them to see the child, right? So, turning of their video will prove to be less distracting and disturbing for them. You can always connect with the video again at the beginning or end of the call. Trust me… the child WILL remember them.

Just yesterday I was able to see, IN PERSON but from several feet away, two of the toddlers from one of my classes. It was so great!!! I pulled down my mask and they both looked and then looked away, and later looked back again. One smiled with recognition…the other just kept looking, but her Mom told me she looked at my picture last night with a funny look…making the connection, over 3 months of separation, in a chaotic and loud setting, away from RIE Class…she remembered me. Your children will also remember their grandparents, caregivers, and other friends. One of the best things you can do to help with those memories is to have photobooks or even laminated photos available for your child to access.

So yes, it’s hitting me that this is my 3rd month with no RIE classes. It makes me so sad because so much happens in 3 months of a child’s life. It’s a trimester! My goodness, it only takes 3 of those to go from 2 cells to a person. And while growth slows down outside of the womb, it still proceeds startlingly fast. New skills develop, maybe new words are learned, certainly new gestures and understandings; they become more proficient at things they once struggled with; their brains are growing in leaps and bound; they get longer and taller…their feet get bigger!!

Photo Cred: Aurora Gray…her 2 year old’s shoes from March to June

As many of you who have heard my ‘RIE origin story’ know, I got into this line of work because of all of that lovely and startling development. You see, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after college, so I explored… I can remember a handful of the various classes I took, and I will say that I changed my major more frequently than I changed roommates, but I vividly remember sitting in an introductory Child Development class and learning about object permanence. It blew my mind to think that that was something that we aren’t born with, but that it develops…and that, along with other very normal developments, might well account for some of the behaviors of children that drive parents nuts. Maybe if parents knew about development, they wouldn’t feel as stressed…but, I thought to myself, “what parent is going to take a child development class or read a textbook?” I decided then and there that I would be a parent educator!

Perhaps if I’d stopped to think a bit, I might have realized that there are tons and TONS of parenting books out there. And this was pre-googling days (think back…you remember those days, too…how on earth did we figure stuff out?!), but I probably also wouldn’t have stopped to consider all of the (too) many parenting websites and webinars and facebook groups and Instagram stories. No, I was young and cocky and was sure I would have all the answers for parents.

One problem…I was still a child myself (well, in the eyes of any parents that might want to hire me, if not in my own eyes). So I decided to work in a childcare center ‘for experience’ while I went on to earn my degree. To be honest, I grit my teeth a bit when I applied for the job. Don’t get me wrong: I liked working with children! I had been a bigtime babysitter when I was a kid…but it was EXHAUSTING. All that entertaining and managing and wrangling… I didn’t want to do that a moment longer than necessary.

That feeling changed very shortly after I started working for this center. It took me a little while to realize it, but I LOVED my job, I came in early and stayed late, asking for extra hours. And it wasn’t the fact that I was learning about child development, though certainly that helped, no, it was because the center was RIE-based. I was being taught, through the modeling of my co-workers, and later in formal training from the RIE organization, about how to develop relationships with the children in my care. Through the type of care I learned to provide, and the space I learned to give, I started to see children as true human beings. Not someone to entertain or distract or manage, but a person who I could connect and engage with.

I’m eternally grateful that I ended up at that special center and learned about RIE. It changed the course of my life, and I hope that it changes the course of yours, too.

With hindsight, I’m glad I was so single-minded in my focus and desire to be a parent educator (though there have been many twists and turns along the way) because there are still scads of books and even more websites and philosophies and, as Magda called them “prophets” out there. If I’d stopped to think, I probably would have said, well there are enough out there, I don’t need to do that, let me figure something else out. Selfishly, I’m glad because child development and the Educaring Approach truly is my passion, it’s what lights me up and makes me wonder. It’s what makes me joyfully spend a gorgeous Saturday afternoon at my computer. But more than that, I’m glad because…well, actually Magda says it better…

I’m hoping you spent this glorious Saturday doing something joyful with your family…with those whole humans of yours. I’m grateful to know each of you and glad to be a part of this journey with you.

I look forward to talking again soon, and as always, I’ll leave you with this week’s reading from the Parents’ Tao Te Ching:

66. Lead by Example
If you want your children to follow
along a certain path,
you must lead the way the ocean
leads a river home,
by remaining below it.

If you manipulate, coerce,
and bully your children,
you will have no power at all.
If you lead with humility, gentleness,
and by example,
you will need no power at all.
Power over your children
is the great illusion.
By the time they are six years old,
they will do what they want.
You can bully them
so that they think they want
what you want.
Is that what you want?