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October 8, 2009

Parenting 2.0- Principle #3: Master the art of playpartnering

So we’re exploring some part of the baby’s world (Principle #1, posted 9/21)- –  classic open-ended materials like water, sand, blocks, pots& pans; we’re tuning into what our baby is experiencing, seeing the wonder through their eyes (Principle #2 posted 10/1).  Now what do we actually do? How do we best get involved with our child’s play and exploration?

First and foremost, if we are fully present on the floor and having fun with our little ones, that is the heart of it. To go further and fully master the art of playpartnering, we are supposed to do what childhood educators call “scaffolding.”

Think of it as supporting the construction of your child’s knowledge, skills and character. The goal is to place your support at the right spot where you give the learner just the minimal level of support so that he can do it on his own. Your job is to either raise the bar– increase the challenge right at the edge of his competence so he does not get bored but continues to learn—or to lower the bar– decrease the challenge to reduce anxiety because it is too hard.

Easier said then done. The trick is to naturally bridge the play and exploration to richer more meaningful experiences and learning by embedding your agenda for learning into your child’s.  When I can relax and realize that it is about her and not about me and my anxieties about what she needs to learn, I become a much better partner to her.  What I am learning to do is to find  “teachable moments” where I can bridge to some learning objectives, building off of whatever she was doing instead of trying to force her to do something on my agenda and schedule.  I could keep my objectives in mind and then slip them in as the opportunities naturally arise. Based on my trials and errors, I culled together three notions that I think work:
1. Block out some time: Frequently I tried to multitask squeezing interactions in as I was leaving for work or unpacking when I got home or even during mini breaks when working from my home office. These moments are fine but I have come to realize I am cheating Whitney and myself if I do not carve out a real block of time just for the two of us. So I now combine a block of dedicated time with my more spontaneous interactions. The balance is great: I get a chunk of time just to focus on Whitney, our one on one time; and I still am on the lookout for those spontaneous moments where I can see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

*         Minimum of 20 to 30 minutes for a Whit session-

*         No distractions — turn off cell phone, forget about computer and checking emails

*         Slow down, clear mind, open heart. Let go of the usual daily scripts that run around in the head (eg What I need to do at work. Who I need to call).  Just be there with her, fully present. Pay attention to what she is doing and what makes her happy. When I catch myself off thinking about something, bring my attention back to her.

2.   Be the Provocateur & Partner: Our role is to expose our babies to lots of stuff and certainly invite them into explorations of their world (balls, blocks, water, sand) but they might decline our invitations. Don’t force things but certainly be creative about how to peak their interest. And once they dig in, we are their partner or scientific assistant and follow them extending as far as the exploration can go.
3.    Forget about “instructing” and think “cultivating”: As the parent, it is tempting to want to give your child some competence or character trait. However, at least from 0 to 5 years, that is not the way it works. Your child needs to construct her abilities herself; you can certainly help her build her competencies but only when she is interested and at her pace. You cultivate like a good gardener; you don’t preach or teach.

October 1, 2009

Parenting 2.0 — Principle #2: Keep it about your baby

Principle #2:  Keep it about your baby. Make a fun goal or even game of observing and making sense of what your baby is doing– tune into their agenda, enter their world, and see through their eyes as if them.  Child development research provides us lots of lenses to view our child’s behavior from what skills they’re developing, to what knowledge they are acquiring to what character traits they are revealing (more on this– the 3 Cs– in future posts).

As a child development guy, I noticed I had lots of ideas about what I wanted Whitney to be working on. I wanted our time to be packed with high quality learning experiences. These expectations and ideas were getting in the way. I needed to just relax, slow down and enjoy whatever Whitney was doing. I grew to appreciate her point of view and what she was trying to figure out or accomplish. I learned to better speculate about her goals, better notice what strategies she was trying out and what ideas or theories she held based on what she was trying. Here are a few things I found helpful:

a)   Learn to speak “baby”- without words or even with limited words, it is quite a challenge to comprehend what is going on inside that cute little head of our little ones. We have to observe their behaviors; see what they are looking at, see what they do; speculate about what they are feeling based on facial expressions and body language; speculate what they are thinking based on their choices for actions taken. Infer what they are learning from the experience and how it could be extended. Like any new language is does not happen overnight but takes lots of practice as you get better along the way.

b)  Have faith that your baby is wired to learn: Although the experts tell you that babies arrive ready and are motivated to construct their own competences, I found it really hard to slow down, let go of my objectives, and follow the interests and pace of my baby. We should marvel at their natural curiosity, their desire to master the world. It is amazing how skills beget skills. The more opportunities afforded to exercise the skills and abilities they demonstrate now; the more new ones grow from there.

c)  Take these small baby experiences seriously — The importance of these foundational first few years cannot be underestimated. Your child’s brain grows from 20% of adult size at birth to 80% before year five. More than 80 trillion connections are being formed among your child’s one billion neurons. These connections are being made with each experience of your baby’s life — as your child actively sets & meets goals, solves problems and sees the effects she can have. During these formative years, your child is shaping the set of mental tools that she will rely on throughout life.

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.