playtime

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.