J was about 10 months old, when we started visiting a Pikler Play Room and it felt like being finally born into a whole new world of understanding. These Play rooms are led Persons who are qualified to mindfully and confidently accompany children with the philosophy of the Hungarian pediatrician Emmi Pikler. It is a rather great contrast to baby groups where there is lots of singing, colorful toys and where the mothers play for their children rather than letting their children play.
At first it was quite awkward. We arrived and were told to sit on a mat like the other mothers and just to watch the children play for 60 minutes. After that there would be 30 minutes time to have a conversation together and to share our thoughts and feelings. The babies were all about the same age. It was a calm, nearly intimate atmosphere without talking. The room was filled with beautiful wooden waldorf toys and different wooden units that were developed by Emmi Pikler and her successors. At first I felt a little uncomfortable, thinking that J would surely be falling down if I don’t stand behind him and that it would surely be boring for him, if we don’t play with him. Oh I was so wrong.
Children are great at playing on their own. Indeed they are born to play on their own at least for the first three years. They love to explore and touch everything around them and are fascinated by things like empty flower pots, wooden spoons or any nature objects. They don’t need help 90% of the time!
- They DON’T need to be told how toys work as it is much more satisfying for them to find out themselves. And even if they use things in a different way than you would- be tolerant and patient and don’t push them. Who says that a pencil is made for drawing, when a 10 month old would rather stick it through that hole in the flower pot? Who says wooden bricks are made for building, when your 6 months old rather likes to lick or throw them? Be open-minded to see the world with your child’s eyes.
2. You DON’T have to stand behind them, to prevent them from falling. This way they will only stand up, when they are really ready for it. And if it really happens that they do fall down, then it is no drama. My grandma always said, children have a head like a tennis ball: As long as they fall from their own height it’s no problem.
3. You DON’T even have to be careful with small objects. As long as you stay relaxed, your child will be focused on his actions. He actually won’t be able to swallow them, because of his gag reflex. Children do have a much stronger gag reflex than we do. It already starts at the middle of their mouth. Meaning that when your child is gagging, he is NOT choking, but just gagging because a small object has reached the middle of his mouth. It is a simple reflex that mother earth has invented for them that enables us parents to stay relaxed while they play. You can give them any small object to explore. Trust your child- you will be astonished about the abilities and knowledge about the world he already has. (Our Pikler teacher even said:” In my 20 years of experience not a single baby swallowed a glass marble.”)
We continued letting him play since that age and at the playground or at family festivities people often mention how autonomous he is and that it is unbelievable that he busies himself for 1-2 hours at a time. The only thing you have to do is being present. Hold his eye contact, so he knows you are there.
Now that he is nearing the age of 2 we suddenly realized how much our play times changed. J is still playing a lot on his own. But during that time I sometimes write Emails, read a magazine, run household errands or cook in the kitchen. I don’t take that time anymore to actually sit down and watch him.
So several weeks ago I had to remind myself to reestablish that wonderful routine in our family life: To prepare a smoothie (or now rather a hot mug of tea) and to sit down at his eye level on the floor, snuggled under some blankets. And then to watch him for at least 30 minutes.
It changed a lot between us. J really enjoys his mindful playtime. He smiles a lot, reassures himself, that I’m still watching and comes to me once in a while to touch me or kiss me. He also shows me his toys or paintings and we talk about them. I don’t praise him (that is another topic ;-)), but just enjoy that time with him and soak it up deeply into my heart.
Children grow up so quickly and it is worth to really get to know them at that age.