Category Archives: Play

Baby Play: What Does Learning Look Like? Being an Observer

Yeah yeah, babies play! With rattles and blocks; and pots with loud lids, and maybe Daddy’s glasses. Well… is there more? What are they really doing? What does authentic, baby-led play look like? What happens when we direct less and observe more?

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Babies are fascinating Players! They’re scientists and explorers from the start. Do we need to teach babies how to play? How to learn?

Many would say yes, it’s our job to teach them how, our responsibility to make sure they’re “learning” and that their activities are “educational.”

Yes, it’s a cat toy. Or, it was. What will the baby learn about tunnels and tracks and things that roll?

Yes, it’s a cat toy. Or, it was! (There’s a green ball inside it.) What will the baby learn about tunnels and tracks and things that roll?

I say not necessarily. Babies are expert “learners” already! They come that way. Learning is required for survival. When given time to respond and explore, typically-developing babies can’t not learn.

Our role? To provide loving presence, interaction, availability, and support. To provide an appropriate environment–maybe a play area, maybe outside, maybe the scenes of your everyday life. Yes, to sing, dance, and converse! To make creative options available—but not to continuously stimulate.

Enjoy this tour of playing babies! Notice in these pics how play is not a different activity than learning, or even functioning. It’s all the same thing!

Peekaboo! Or is it really that simple?

Peekaboo! Or is it really that simple?

He saw a space and was curious. His brain “measured” the size of the space (can I fit?) and the distance, and he set out on the adventure. He got through—and confirmed his test of perception!  This is the same baby that, a few months ago, was investigating the cat-toy-tunnel (above). Only now the investigation is on a different scale, and he’s the one “inside.” Perhaps he will build trains; or have an easy time learning the subway; or be really good at devising creative ways through obstacles in his life when he’s 30.

He saw a space and was curious. His brain “measured” the size of the space (can I fit?) and the distance, and he set out on the adventure. He got through—and confirmed his test of perception!
This is the same baby that, a few months ago, was investigating the cat-toy-tunnel (above). Only now the investigation is on a different scale, and he’s the one “inside.” Perhaps he will build trains; or have an easy time learning the subway; or be really good at devising creative ways through obstacles in his life when he’s 30.

Sometimes, when we’re quiet enough, babies “read” to us! Listen for her vocalizations, even if she’s not saying words you recognize.

Sometimes, when we’re quiet enough, babies “read” to us! Listen for her vocalizations, even if she’s not saying words you recognize.

If we wait, will this 3 month old work it out?

If we wait, will this 3 month old work it out?

I’d wait for him, myself—he looks pretty serious about his business. “Play” or “work”? “Effort” in what sense? Innocent play or intense mission?

I’d wait for him, myself—he looks pretty serious about his business. “Play” or “work”? “Effort” in what sense? Innocent play or intense mission?

He is determined, concentrating. Is play always happy? Are effort and work only for grown ups? Sometimes play just “is.” In our society, we’ve separated work and play: 5 days for work, 2 for otherwise; we spend our lives working, and then in retirement we play. What if the two were objective, interwoven, natural parts of daily life, no matter our age? What if we kept on playing for the rest of our lives?!

He is determined, concentrating. Is play always happy? Are effort and work only for grown ups? Sometimes play just “is.” In our society, we’ve separated work and play: 5 days for work, 2 for otherwise; we spend our lives working, and then in retirement we play. What if the two were objective, interwoven, natural parts of daily life, no matter our age? What if we kept on playing for the rest of our lives?!

Both play and functional movement (in this case, rolling) grow out of motivation, desire, attention, and intention. Can we even separate “play” from “function” in this case?

Both play and functional movement (in this case, rolling) grow out of motivation, desire, attention, and intention. Can we even separate “play” from “function” in this case?

Just playing… And… This is also a significant developmental pattern of movement, with her weight shifted to one side, one knee bent, and the “free” arm reaching/grasping. It’s “play,” but it’s also preparation for belly crawling!

Just playing… And… This is also a significant developmental pattern of movement, with her weight shifted to one side, one knee bent, and the “free” arm reaching/grasping. It’s “play,” but it’s also preparation for belly crawling!

This baby had just reached for a toy but didn't get it. Notice your urge--would you have gotten it for her? We can see her thinking about it. Perhaps she's problem-solving. The next thing she did was reach again for the toy!

This baby had just reached for a toy but didn’t get it. Notice your urge–would you have gotten it for her? We can see her thinking about it. Perhaps she’s problem-solving. The next thing she did was try again!

He’s learning to walk! Actually, he’s doing the exact same investigation process he’s done all his life while playing—motivation, curiosity, sensing what’s possible, and making attempts. Only now the reflexes are different, and we’ll end up celebrating what is commonly called a “milestone.” He was not taught to play, he just did that naturally by himself. This baby also was not taught to walk, he found it completely on his own; and here he goes! Play = function!

He’s learning to walk! Actually, he’s doing the exact same investigation process he’s done all his life while playing—motivation, curiosity, sensing what’s possible, and making attempts. Only now the reflexes are different, and we’ll end up celebrating what is commonly called a “milestone.” He was not taught to play, he just did that naturally by himself. This baby also was not taught to walk, he found it on his own; and here he goes! Play = function!

How To Foster This Beautiful Baby-led Learning?

TTtogether2, 5mopr sm enh high-medI invite you to be an Observer. Discover—with joy and wonder (sounds cliche, but I’m serious!)—the intense, amazing, curious, and brilliant little natural explorer that you know is already is your baby!

Tips for “active” observing:

  • First, watch for signs of engagement. Before calling his name or rattling a toy to catch his attention, notice: is he already interested in something? Is he already looking, listening, planning, or doing? If so, he is learning something! Hold off for a moment and see what he does. You may find he has a longer attention span than you realized!
Take her perspective. If we were looking at her from above her, we might have called her name to engage her, not realizing she was enjoying such a spectacular scene!

Take Baby’s perspective. If we were looking at her from above her, we might have called her name to engage her, not realizing she was enjoying such a spectacular scene!

  • Interact fully when Baby initiates it . . . 
  • . . . but allow Baby to turn away when he’s ready. If he disengages, pauses, or looks away from you, his brain is likely processing something. Give him this space. He’ll probably turn back to you on his own or get interested in something else.
  • Follow Baby’s lead. When you put him down, let him decide where to go and what to play with.
  • Let Baby set the pace and choose when he’s done or not.
  • Provide non-battery toys and objects he can manipulate himself, like balls, bowls, measuring cups, rattles, and other easy-to-handle toys.

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  • “Good job!!” less; celebrate along with Baby more (“Yes, I saw you crawl under the table and get that ball!”). Or, simply observe, say nothing, and witness pure discovery!
  • Trust that the level-in-space Baby can get to on his own is just right for him. What can he do on his own when he’s not propped up higher than he can get by himself (like in sitting or standing)?
  • Get down there with him! Observing doesn’t necessarily mean you’re passive. He knows you’re there. He may look at you or come to you at some point, and you can share in his delight!
Might as well get down there and do what he’s doing! The world looks different from down here. Did you know that when you’re belly-crawling age, the grass is about 1/3 of your height?

Might as well get down there and do what he’s doing! The world looks different from down here. Did you know that when you’re belly-crawling age, the grass is as tall as 1/3 of yourself?

Of course there are times when you may want to initiate a song, game, or interaction. Be sure to also build some observing-with-presence into your daily life with Baby.

Why This is Important NOW

“Educational” videos for babies, flash cards, discomfort in tummy time, pressure to achieve and look “normal,” and popular images of “good parenting”: these are just a few factors parents and caregivers face. But these factors can limit babies’ innate abilities to be movement-literate, learn on their own motivation, be at ease in their environment, and fully process what’s going on around them.

Enjoy your youngest scientist!

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Eliza Parker is a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Aware Parenting Instructor, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, and has trained as a Feldenkrais® Practitioner.

© Eliza Parker 2014, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my writing in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)

 

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You’re a Human Jungle Gym! Playing With Your Mobile Baby

HumanJungleGym LOFDid you love jungle gyms as a kid as much as I did?

I like them because they’re “stable”—they stay in one place and allow the child to explore creatively on, under, over, around, and inside it.

But guess what?!

We, as parents/caregivers are natural-born Human Jungle Gyms!

Stable and Mobile

First, to clarify. By stable, I mean ‘stays in one place (ish),’ or stationary. By mobile, I mean ‘moves, locomotes, travels in space.’

In her first months, Baby is stable and you are mobile. Of course she wiggles! But she can’t yet traverse distance on her own—you move her. Her experience is of being picked up, moved, held, and put down.

Once Baby, on her tummy, begins pushing herself backward on the floor, spinning in a circle, and belly crawling forward—and later hands-and-knees-crawling, sitting, pulling up to standing, and sidestepping—she is mobile! She’s traveling short or long distances, going up and down in space (tummy to sitting to standing), and she’s curious!

Her mobile-ness (during safe playtime) is an invitation for you to be her “stable” partner. It’s a wonderful way to interact and play with your baby in a way that supports development and fosters connection!

How to be a Human Jungle Gym

When you’re hanging out on the floor with Baby, you automatically have built-in levels and ledges for climbing upon. It’s really quite wonderful how nature provides!

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Lap: Your lap is the perfect height for a belly crawler to climb up and over. The “up” part encourages her to coordinate her legs and push with her feet; the 
“over” part requires use, coordination, and strengthening of her arms. Both give
HumanJungleGym kneel lapher experience with a variety of territory. It’s also a perfect height for Baby to kneel (“sitting” on forelegs and “standing” on knees)–very important and wonderfully integrating positions!

Knees: Tunnels! Sitting (perhaps leaning back) with your feet on the floor and knees bent toward the ceiling creates a combo tunnel/climbing mountain! Great for belly- and hands-and-knees- crawlers.

Shoulders: Yours are the perfect height for the baby who’s pulling up to standing. Pulling up on furniture is fun too. But to discover your way to standing and find Mama’s face when you get there?! Or perhaps your hair was her motivation in the first place…!

Arms and hands: A sidestepping (“cruising”) baby may pull up on your lap and shoulder and then hang on to you while circling around you. Your arms can make creative ledges too.

Climb5 HumanJungleGymLying down: This can be a great “play gym” position for the mobile baby who’s not yet standing. Try lying on your back, your side, or even on your tummy for different heights. Baby can climb up on you; then to get off, she has a wonderful opportunity to explore balance and different relationships to gravity as she reaches off with her hands or her feet.

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On an incline: Do you ever sit down and lean back, with Baby on you chest-to-chest? This is a wonderful relational event that allows Baby to experience herself in a different way in gravity (other than upright or lying down), and it’s even “tummy time”!

These are some ideas that have you sitting or lying on the floor. Perhaps you’ll discover other ways in these or other positions!

A Word About Your Hands

When Baby climbs on you, it can be very tempting to use your hands to pick her up, prevent her from falling, “walk” her around you, or hold on to her. Unless she’s asking to be picked up or held, be curious if she actually needs your hands on her.

  • If she’s belly-crawling toward you and reaches your lap, do you pick her up? What if you “wait and see”? Does she actually want to be picked up, or is she curious and exploring, and would she continue climbing up and over you if allowed?
  • If there’s clear danger and she could hurt herself, obviously please help her! If she’s learning a new skill, like belly crawling forward off a ledge (off your lap), you might be surprised at how safely she navigates it by herself and how a slight, small “fall” doesn’t scare her. (I do mean “small” fall, and I don’t mean neglect)
  • The more she’s allowed to do only what she’s ready to do, without being propped by devices or by hands (e.g., stood or “walked”), the safer and wiser she’ll be. Think stable/mobile: if she’s mobile and you want to offer a hand, offer it as a strong and stable ledge, rather than as something that moves along with her and holds her up. This way she’s in charge of her own weight and her own experience.

Being a Jungle Gym—Benefits for Baby

  • Relationship and connection while playing, moving, and exploring
  • Balance
  • Creative problem solving
  • Over, under, through, around, on, off, toward, and away
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Strength-building all over
  • Reflex and brain development requiring 3-dimensional use of space
  • Spatial orientation
  • Inner ear health
  • Safer falling because she knows herself in different positions in gravity
  • Autonomy and empowerment—she gets to choose how she wants to relate with you and she does only what she can do herself

Go forth, get down on the floor, and have fun playing with your baby!

© Eliza Parker 2012, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my writing in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)

Much of my work comes from Infant Developmental Movement Education®, part of the Body-Mind Centering® Approach to Somatic Education, and Dr. Aletha Solter’s Aware Parenting. I am a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Aware Parenting Instructor, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, and Feldenkrais® Practitioner.