Tag Archives: learning to walk

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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The Importance of Measuring (or, The Importance of Not Propping in Sitting, Standing, and Walking)

It’s something we do automatically. It’s how we know where the floor is; or gauge how much to move our legs when going up and down stairs. If we didn’t have a chance as infants, or we have other challenges with balance, it’s part of why we feel clumsy or uncertain about our movements.

This mysterious activity? Measuring. Babies are masters!

We can see this baby feeling what she's doing. She's starting to push up to sitting. In the process, she's "measuring," or sensing where she is in space and in relation to the ground.

We can see this baby feeling what she’s doing. She’s starting to push up to sitting. In the process, she’s “measuring,” or sensing where she is in space and in relation to the ground.

When babies learn to move, they begin lying on the floor. Over time, development brings them up off the floor, from lifting head and chest to crawling to walking. Pushing off the earth comes before, and leads into, being able to reach into space. That is, measuring comes before, and leads into, freedom of movement and innate trust in our own movement abilities.

So what is measuring?

This brilliant design of the human nervous system gives infants a chance to “measure”—to experience their distance from the floor. It allows their brains to read gravity and know where they are in space.

Imagine this. You (your adult self) have been picked up by someone strong and set on your feet on a 5-inch-wide wall several feet above the ground. (And you happen not to be a gymnast or tight-rope walker.) What do you do? How do you feel? What happens to your breathing? Is this familiar? What’s your sense of heights and distance from the ground? Did you want to be put up here? Would you have been able to get here on your own? How will you get down? Do you know yourself and your abilities right this moment?

Imagine this. Perhaps you’re hiking and you have come upon this stone wall. You’re curious. You touch it, lean on it, and want to get on top of it to see the view or to get to the other side. You have desire, intention, motivation. You make attempts at climbing it, try a few things, discover what works, and make it to the top. How do you feel? What are you thinking about, or not? What’s your sense of heights and distance from the ground? How well do you know yourself and your abilities right this moment?

In the second scenario, you measured. YOU experienced the journey from the ground to the top of the wall. You know where you are in space. You got there yourself, and you’re likely to be able to get yourself off of it.

In the first scenario, you had no opportunity to measure. You were dependent on someone else to get you up there, and because you didn’t experience how to get up, you may also be dependent on someone else to get you down. You weren’t given a chance to know your own ability; rather, someone more powerful has done something to you. While it may be thrilling, you may also be apprehensive.

Watching your amazing baby: How do babies measure?

Watch for:

  • The nose-bob or nose-to-mouth. At the breast or on her tummy, you may see Baby bobbing her nose, then latching on with her mouth. If she’s holding something, you may see her bring it to her nose, then slide it down to her mouth. This is one form of measuring or orienting—setting herself up to know where something is and where she is and how to make the two meet.
  • From tummy, lifting head and pushing up on hands. Get on the floor with Baby and try it yourself too! Lying on the floor > pushing up > down to the floor > pushing up. Clock some time doing that, and you understand how to “be” at that distance off the floor. You know where you are in space.
  • Baby spots a toy and either pushes backwards on belly or belly-crawls forward. She has spotted what she wants and sets up her movement to attempt to get it. She gets feedback from the outcome—did her actions get her what she wanted? Please don’t move the toy, as she won’t get correct feedback about measuring what she had set herself up to do.

    Spotting what he wants, figuring out how to get it, trying it out, discovering the outcome: measuring.

    Spotting what he wants, figuring out how to get it, trying it out, discovering the outcome: measuring.

  • From sidelying, watch Baby push with her hands into sitting. Try this one too. Here I am lying on the floor; and feeling each moment of the journey up to sitting; back down, back up; measure, measure; ah, now my proprioceptive system (inner ear) knows where I am in space, and I know how to get back down.
  • Pulling up to standing—it’s all about measuring! Up, down, up, down. Reading distances, feeling gravity, knowing her own ability. “Down” may be falling or plopping at first, but she’s not afraid because she got herself up there. Her brain is reading this distance and what she needs to do to move within it.

The truth about propping

When we prop babies in sitting, standing, and walking before they are able to get into it and out of it by themselves, they don’t get this experience of knowing themselves and measuring. They become dependent on us to get them up higher and to get them down again. We put them into the situation of the first scenario above.

In a society so focused on achievement, allowing Baby her full time and space necessary to discover movement on her own takes trust! But we are designed to be able to do the next thing when we are ready.

Sometimes there are stressors that prevent babies from finding milestones. But in general, each milestone will happen by itself once all (ALL) previous and necessary preparations are in place.

It’s a common myth that we need to teach sitting, standing, and walking. Baby will benefit the most from finding these on her own. It’s also a myth that babies learn it by practicing it. She’ll learn because she did all the preparations and ends up in the new milestone.

Remember that Baby is a master at measuring and knowing her own abilities, and you can point this out to all the people who come along and say “your baby isn’t sitting yet?????”!

Eliza Parker is a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, Feldenkrais® Practitioner, and Spiritual Counselor. She also uses Aletha Solter’s Aware Parenting.

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

The 14 (at least) Milestones Between Crawling and Walking

Did you know there are several fun “milestones” between hands-and-knees crawling and walking? Really, development is an unending string of new reflex after new reflex, but popular perspectives tend to break it up into the major highlights. But then we loose the whole picture. Let’s put part of that picture back together again!

Babies who are not walked (and some that are) will typically discover most of the following movements. It’s both a progression–not necessarily in this exact order–and overlapping waves.

  • Starting with crawling on hands and knees…

Kneel-sitting (sitting back on both forelegs)

Kneel-standing (“standing” on both knees)

  • “Pulling up” by stepping on one foot
  • “Pulling up” by pulling with both arms
  • “Pulling up” by pushing with both legs

 

 

 

Bear-standing and bear-walking (on hands and feet)

  • Cruising with two hands, side-stepping
  • Opening outward  with one hand/foot out while holding on with one hand

Stepping forward and backward while holding on with 2 hands

Cruising with one hand, forward-stepping

 

 


  • Letting go to stand hands-free
  • Squatting while holding on

 

 

  • Standing from squatting, and squatting from standing, hands-free
  • Toddling (like a penguin) while holding something in both hands
  • Walking cross-laterally (forward-stepping)
  • Running. Flying?

That’s a lot happening between crawling and walking that is not often talked about! All of these in-between movements prepare the lower back, hip joints, ankles, foot arches, and core support for being upright on two feet. They also support necessary brain connections and the ability to integrate the new sensory information and stimulation they’ll be taking in.

This is part of why babies will walk best if they are not “walked” by bigger people. Their bodies are attempting to put all of these important pieces into place, so walking them can interfere with this process and cause compensations that make the natural developing reflexes/movements more difficult or even inaccessible.

Once a baby has explored all or most of the above preparations, and when he is allowed to do so in his own timing, you will see a very confident little walker emerge with great balance and poise!

If you are concerned about developmental delays, professional support may be needed. Please follow your gut feelings if you have a concern and speak with someone who is familiar with the details of first-year development.

© Elizabeth Parker 2012, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my post 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®, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, Feldenkrais® Practitioner, and Spiritual Counselor.