BabyC Explores Gravity, and Mama Learns to Step Back

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!

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15 thoughts on “BabyC Explores Gravity, and Mama Learns to Step Back

  1. Kenzie loved the video, she kept pointing and laughing……I think she wanted to go play with Baby C!! She also loved hearing Yuba pant, she started panting along!! It is so fun to see our girls, learn and explore and grow!! Let’s get the girls together soon!!

  2. I love this – from the fact that she is properly dressed for outdoors to the way you allow her to try it all for herself. I can just imagine the feeling of achievment she must have felt when she go to the fence. Brilliant post & I’ll be sharing it, it’s so good. I host an outdoor play link up with 2 other bloggers & would love if you would link this post up for all to see, here is the direct link & you can think about it. Thanks Kierna
    http://nosuchthingasbadweather.blogspot.com/2012/01/outdoor-play-link-up-sand-wonderful.html

  3. Brilliant post! Apart from your excellent approach, what I noticed when watching the video is that not once does your daughter cry when she falls over. I care for 2 little ones who look to be about the same age as your daughter and their first instinct when they fall over is to cry for help regardless of whether or not they are hurt. It looks like you have already instilled in your daughter a strong belief about her own abilities and the determination to continue with her chosen challenge – well done! If only more parents adopted your approach instead of rushing to help their children when they don’t need it.

  4. Thanks all for your lovely comments. I learn so much from BabyC when I step back, but I have to constantly remind myself to let her lead. We’ve been back to that slope several times, and she’s getting stronger and stronger on the hill! And she is so proud of herself!

  5. What a great post! I love that you were able to step back and just let her do her own thing. The same thing happens to me at the children’s museum that we go to in town. I am constantly getting bored with where we are in the museum and so I encourage the girl’s to move on, even though they are perfectly content and probably could have stayed in that area for a long time. One time it occurred to me, that the museum is NOT about me. I need to bring something to occupy my time while they are happy playing and not worry if we don’t make it to every part of the museum on ever visit. A lot of parents need to discover this same hands off approach that you have figured out.
    Thanks so much for linking this up to the outdoor play link up! It would be great to have you share one of those rainy days at the park sometime too! Lots of parents hesitate taking little ones out in the rain and it is good to show them that it can be done.

    • I’ll definitely think about a rainy day post. These days BabyC does pretty much the same thing in the rain as she does in the sunshine: toddle around, pick up leaves from the ground, etc. She is fascinated by mud though:) One thing I’ve found interesting is that it is hard to find good solid rain gear for this age. What she is wearing in the video is great – though clearly too big for her. I bought those from LL Bean – one of the few new pieces of clothing I’ve bought her, because I couldn’t find anything like it in the consignment shops here. I still can’t find any good rain boots that fit her. Does nobody expect toddlers to splash in puddles?

      • Alice, Bambini got some toddler rainboots in. They start at size 5 but Kenzie is in a 4 and they fit her fine, they have no handles on the top of the boot and are shorter and super flexible. They have frogs and ladybugs. You might want to go check them out!!

        • Hi Sarah. Thanks for letting me know. I have yet to make it into Bambini. I’m too afraid of how much money I’ll spend! But I think a good pair of boots are worth investing in. BabyC is still in size 3 but may be ready to move up to 4s. Thanks for the tip!

  6. Fantastic post!! What a wonderful video of your daughter learning – to climb hills, to persevere, to independent, and to be confident in her own abilities to solve her own problems! So glad Kierna found you and invited you to link up to the Outdoor Play Party, and I do hope we’ll be seeing more of you wonderful posts there.

  7. Pingback: Dear Cee: Celebrating the Two-Year-Old You | Science of Mom

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