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2009 September | Child Development | giggle Blogs

Archive: September 2009

September 21, 2009

Parenting 2.0 — Principle #1: Keep it real, everyday world

Conventional wisdom used to be that to really give our children the best possible start or a learning advantage, we had to buckle down and become an “Education Mom” (or Dad) where we were supposed to have an arsenal of flash cards for drill and kill memorization games among a host of parent-directed educational activities. There was even a popular Better Baby Institute championing this. We had to take on the mantle of first and most important teacher and sacrifice for our child. Today there is the realization that there is a different approach that is much more effective and actually a lot more enjoyable — Parenting 2.0 — 21st Century playpartnering & learning through open-ended exploration. Yup, you can have your cake (enjoy your baby and yourself) and eat it too (provide the best possible start). Decades of research tell us that just getting down on the floor and mixing it up having fun with your baby is actually the best way for them to learn and develop. There are a few key principles to make this approach as rich as possible:

1.         Keep it real- Explore simple everyday stuff your little one shows an interest in-

We have figured out that we do not need an elaborate plan or some “amazing curriculum”. The world provides all the stuff we need to explore and play with. While playing with the objects, animals and people of the world, our little ones are figuring out how the world works, mastering the skills emerging at the time, and setting the foundations and dispositions useful for life. Play really is a child’s work.

a.         You are your child’s favorite toy–  Try to give your baby heavy doses of your own time; for the first several months almost all you need is just you and your baby.

b.         Stuff around the house (everyday objects)— as babies begin to sit up around 6 months, they begin to free up there hands to explore any object they can get them on. We can now use bathtime to experiment with water; use trips to grocery store to explore fruits, vegetables, foods; playtime with lots of basic materials such as balls, blocks, light & shadow games, etc. for her to figure out how her world works

c.         Life is the curriculum- The best way to learn about the world is to pay explicit attention to the everyday scripts of your life —kitchen and eating experiences, errand/travel experiences, even the youngest babies pick up on the various roles and scripts of life.

September 17, 2009

Water Play

If your summer was anything like mine, you probably spent lots of time with your little one around the water – either playing in a puddle, pool or by the sea. And you probably noticed just how much children are drawn to and love playing with water. Whether in the bath or in a pool, they can be mesmerized for hours.   Water is what child development experts characterize as an “open ended” material – or something on which a child can have an lots of effects and that does not have any set path for play.  As discussed in the Open-Ended Exploration post (8/24/09), children love open ended materials, like paper, boxes, air, sand and water; these are the solids, liquids, gases and elements that make up our world.  And it is through play with them that our children develop the rich understanding of, and relationship to, their world. Our babies are naturally curious and want to master these materials so we just need to follow their lead and join in.

Every day we run across lots of opportunities to explore water with our babies– at the faucet (washing hands, playing with stopping the flow of water), in the bath tub (sinking /floating /pouring /making noise), or by creating our own water basins. Water is a classic opened-ended material that our babies love to explore. And we should jump on these opportunities to discover the personality of water while exercising lots of the important skills of our little ones.

For infants who are just sitting up after 6 months, it is usually enough for them to use their hands and their feet to slap and splash the water. Watching Whitney’s face light up as she created splashes revealed her amazement at how water behaves so differently than solid objects. When she tapped the bath wall nothing happened. When she tapped the water; her hand moved through it like magic and created all these neat effects of water drops traveling near and far (see video at www.RaisingWhit.com, 7Mths Wk4). I also noticed that when she would try to grab it, she looked surprised that it was not be there when she opened her hand like a block or rattle would be; instead it had seeped out of her fingers. We take these discoveries for granted but for a baby these properties of the stuff called water are truly fascinating.

For Ones and Twos, a whole host of “tools” makes their water explorations as rich as possible. Containers of different sizes and shapes, sponges, cups, tubing, funnels and plastic colanders are all great fun and excellent learning tools (see video at www.RaisingWhit.com, 23Mths Wk1). I always needed to restran myself overwhelming Whitney with too many tools at once and slowly introduce new tools at her pace. For example, if Whitney was fascinated by dumping water out of the cup, I would continue to help her fill the cup if necessary, so she could master this skill. But after many repetitions, and when I felt she was ready for something new, I would vary the tool – and provide something new like a funnel or strainer for her to try and pour with. I would offer this by holding it out for her, or merely getting two of these tools and then setting one in front of her while I modeled using the new tool myself. I never knew if Whitney would take me up on these invitations; sometimes she did, sometimes she didn’t. I  kept trying to be creative with ideas but never forced it.

Children never seem to tire of exploring and figuring out water. The more experiences they have in tubs, sinks and pools, the more our babies get to know the personality of water and develop a strong and positive relationship with it. While they are running their experiments in understanding water, they are also exercising all sorts of thinking, communication, social & emotional and physical skills. This is how the richest learning works. In the context of figuring out something they care about, show an interest in, they challenge and exercise all the budding skills of development from the physical skill of twisting their wrists to pour the water to the cognitive skill of trying out, remembering and employing the tactic that delivers the desired result. So try to be as creative as you can based on what interests your child. In fact eebee’s adventures currently has great water play ideas in a full DVD coming out next spring and currently available (at www.eebee.com, itunes, youtube or on cable such as Comcast).

September 9, 2009

“Quality Time”- Defining Our Own

Ever find yourself in the rut of comparing your parenting to someone else’s and beating yourself up about it? Geez that Sally: her kids never seem misbehaved; what’s her secret? That Charlie: he really spends a ton of time with his kids; I wish I was as responsible and selfless as he is.

Sure we can always learn from others but we really need to find our own way and style that works for us and our children. The popular term “Quality time” where we maximize whatever time we spend with our child has proven to be quite the elusive concept. It has taken me years to begin to find that right balance for myself; in fact, my approach is still evolving; I have realized I don’t have to and won’t ever be “perfect”.

Having studied child development theory for decades and having spent most of my career trying to apply the theory in practical products and services, I knew that parenting does make a difference – - and I want to do it right. I thought I could take all the great knowledge of what we know about child development and parenting and apply that to raising my own children. I had an ambitious agenda for the quantity of and the quality of time I would spend with my children. However, I kept disappointing myself as my first child, Kenly, proved it was easier said than done. The months seemed to go by so quickly I felt like I was always behind. One of the first things I realized is that there was no way I could focus on and keep up with all the great age & stage content from the research shelves, not even the weekly milestone newsletters I got via email. What a blur those first years were.

Sure we all relax some after our first child but I did not want to relax too much. With the second and then third child instead of trying to do everything, I decided I had to figure out the big picture of what mattered most. Luckily the research was clear about what was important. Instead of worrying about the narrow skills of ABCs, 123s, or shapes or colors or naming every object– which seemed to be the emphasis of every baby product I received — what I needed to focus on  was simply transforming everyday play and simple moments into learning explorations that would help build the broader foundations for thinking, communicating and social & emotional intelligence. These are the fundamental building blocks that lead to the most fulfilling and happiest lives. I would try to balance the top down ideas about what was most important with the bottom up moments that presented themselves throughout the day.

It is these ordinary moments that we can build upon and use to create more rich learning opportunities for our children. So bath-time became a joyous exploration of water during which my daughter could learn how water behaved differently than solid objects like blocks. She could hit the water with her hand and learn that her hand actually went through the water making splashes and other effects. And my narrating to her what she was doing helped her to see the differences. A bright sunny winter day became a wonderful opportunity to discover how our shadows move and change so that she could begin to see how light works. My website www.RaisingWhit.com shows videos of these examples as well as hundreds more. What seemed right just naturally flowed from the simple moment. It would just arise; I didn’t need to force it.

The question we each individually have to figure out for ourselves is: How do we as parents most enjoy our babies while taking on the awesome responsibility of raising them? How do we help our little ones realize all the hopes and dreams we have for them and that they will eventually have for themselves? How do we enjoy providing the best possible start? There is no simple answer but we can learn from each other as we figure it out.