We’ve been blessed with a couple of beautiful sunny days here in Eugene. This is our first winter in Oregon, and I’m learning that sunshine should not be taken for granted. If the sun peeks from behind the clouds, I try to drop whatever dishes I was washing or laundry I was folding, bundle up BabyC, call the dog, and get outside. (Actually, Yuba the dog never needs to called; he’s always ready and waiting to go outside and perks up if I so much as put socks on, as I’ve written about before.)
We go to the park every day, rain or shine, because Yuba needs his exercise, and we all need to get out of the house now and then. Lately, though, our park trips have been short on time and fun because of the cold and soggy weather. I throw the frisbee for Yuba until he shows at least a little sign of tiredness or until BabyC’s hands turn purple from the cold, whichever comes first. But today, we all wanted to linger in the sun as long as possible.
BabyC focused her attention on a small slope of grass bordering the playing fields. She only started walking a few months ago but hasn’t tackled many hills yet. She started climbing up the hill but quickly fell down, face first, confounded by the slope of the earth and gravity pulling her towards it. She looked up at me but did not cry or seem distressed. She did a typical toddler maneuver to right herself: head down, plant hands, butt up (downward facing dog, my little yogi!), bend knees slightly, push back with hands to slowly transfer weight onto feet, and then carefully, carefully roll up to standing.
And then she fell again. She looked up at me and grinned, a little mud smeared on her cheek.
I thought about going to help her. I thought about taking her hand and walking with her up the hill to give her a little support. But then I saw that grin on her face, and I realized that she was loving this challenge. She hadn’t figured out how to walk up the hill yet, but she wanted to work on it. And she wasn’t asking for any help.
So I stood and watched her from a small distance as she struggled, falling again and again and getting up again and again. She went up and down that hill probably 30 times in the course of our sunny hour at the park. She often glanced up at me to make sure I was still close. Occasionally I narrated for her: “You fell down,” or “You got back up!” but mostly I just tried to step back and let her focus on her task. A few times, she ran over to me to say hello and then veered back to her work on the hill. With every trip up and down the hill, she grew more confident and fell less often.
(You may want to turn the volume down on your speakers when watching this video, because Yuba’s panting is awfully loud!)
Sometimes she would fall and stay on the ground for a while, looking up at the sky or examining a dried leaf or some exposed mud on the ground. After lots of practice on the hill, she had grown so confident that she let go as she was coming down, leaning forward a bit but able to keep her feet moving fast enough to stay upright. She laughed as she picked up speed.
I loved watching her work, and for a while, I let the time slip away. I forgot that it was past lunch time and even verging on nap time, which I consider sacred. And then I found myself wondering if maybe BabyC would like to go swing for a while or see if there were other kids to watch on the playground. (She loves watching bigger kids after all!) I stopped myself from sweeping her up to move on to another activity when I realized that these ideas came to me because I was getting bored of watching her. BabyC wasn’t bored at all. She was still focused on climbing the hill and collecting leaves, as she had done for almost an hour. I had to laugh at myself. My toddler had a longer attention span than me! Why mess with that?!
The instinct to intervene or to direct BabyC’s activities is strong. I know I have preconceived notions about how a child should spend time at a park (swing! slide! kick a ball!). It really takes a conscious effort for me to step back and let her follow her own instincts and explore something on her own. It is something I’ve been working on: being present, being supportive, but letting her choose how to spend her free time. The rewards are in days like today: when she happily entertained herself for an hour and all the while got some exercise and learned some physics in the natural world.
What has really raised my consciousness about this idea of trusting BabyC to direct her own play is my discovery of Resources in Infant Educarers (RIE), a philosophy summed up by this quote from the RIE website:
[RIE’s approach] encourages infants and adults to trust each other, learn to problem solve, and embrace their ability for self-discovery. When allowed to unfold in their own way and in their own time, children discover and inspire the best in themselves and in others.
I’ve written before about why I shy away from parenting labels and prescribed parenting philosophies, and I can’t say that I haven’t questioned some of what I’ve learned about RIE, but mostly I have found a virtual mother lode of wisdom in the words of RIE founder Magda Gerber and bloggers Janet Lansbury and Lisa Sunbury, who write and teach the RIE philosophy. If you have a young child and haven’t yet discovered these blogs, I encourage you to check them out.
As for our afternoon, the sun eventually slipped behind the clouds, and I took that as a signal to head home. I took BabyC’s cold little hand and Yuba’s leash, and we headed home for a late lunch and a very long nap – which is what allowed me to sit down to write this post! Fresh air and free play did us all a ton of good!