Observing children grow is both fascinating to watch and an affirmation of the innate abilities we are all born with.
One may ask, “If all babies are growing based on natural instincts, biological and genetic predetermined steps what role does an adult really have in raising the child? The child is going to grow up to be who he really is, does it matter what his parents do?”
Here we take the role of nature too seriously. Yes, there are many aspects we cannot control as parents. But the environment our child is growing in at home is like the soil to a plant.
A seed has all the in-built genetic information on how to become a plant. But without the right environmental support it cannot become a plant.
Children know how to do what is needed to grow and survive in a human society, they have all the natural and genetic capabilities but none of it can be done fully without the right support at home.
In-order, to thrive and fulfil his/her own genetic potential children need interested adults, safe spaces to explore through play, nurture and nourishment.
They take these experiences from their early years out into the world when they grow up.
Today’s post is dedicated to fulfilling for our children their need for autonomy and curious exploration.
Building safe play spaces early on provides them with both a sense of safety and independence. It frees up space in their brains to focus on learning new skills.
We do have a role to play as parents. We are the background, just like the soil to a plant, supporting the child as he grows into the world he was born in.
Related reading : How to raise internally motivated children
WHAT IS A SAFE SPACE OR YES SPACE FOR BABIES?
A safe play space can be any corner or room where the child can explore freely without interruption by the adult. The adult is mostly an observer sometimes a guide, sitting along side and watching the child use the space as he likes.
We don’t want the child to associate his space with being alone. Rather the presence of an interested adult is part of the safe space for the child. (especially during the infant years.)
Anything that the child should not be touching, should not be in these play spaces. The space is designed for free movement and built to be baby friendly.
WHY BUILD SAFE SPACES FOR BABIES AND TODDLERS?
Such spaces become the child’s base for exploration, the place where he takes his first steps in independent exploration away from his caregiver’s arms, a place that soon develops its own meaning for the child.
It is a space that feels like continuity, comfort and security and that sense of security now allows the child to take on his imagination without any hindrance.
Many of us are conditioned to think of the child as dependent on the adult for entertainment. This makes us believe that children will get bored if they are left to their own resources. We look for ways to keep our child in a constant state of activity and distraction. We build new activities every day or put on a T.V or iPad series for the child.
And while the adult does have an important role to play in this safe space building, it has nothing to do with being an activity coordinator.
How do we build these Yes Spaces?
Related reading : How to encourage independent play
THE PROCESS OF BUILDING SAFE SPACES THROUGH THE GROWING YEARS
1. Set up an open space in any room or corner in your home, with a box of toys or play things from the home, doesn’t need to be a lot. Here the child can move frely without any interruptions or safety challenges.
2. The adult is both observer and guide.
Never interrupting when the child is exploring materials, at the same time looking at the child’s needs, play trends, answering questions and joining in play when invited.
Start young, we created different safe zones in our home once our son could sit up as a baby. It started out on a mat, transitioned to a corner, and then different safe play areas in the house.
Once he was crawling, we went on to remove all chairs from our living area, put out a simple mat, removed any sharp-edged knobs from drawer units and the entire open space was his to explore. When our son was a baby he loved playing with plastic bottles, lids and boxes, cardboard boxes, bibs, rattles, steel bowls and spoons.
You don’t necessarily need toys for babies. Infants are explorers, they want to be able to touch and feel the world they live in. Everyday things are more fascinating than a toy at this stage.
3. All his play was monitored by an adult to ensure he didn’t fall or hurt himself, but he was never interrupted when exploring materials.
The adult’s role here is to ensure safe use and play and observe the developmental needs the child is exhibiting.
He learnt to open and close a box, arrange bowls by size, unscrew lids, the sounds and textures of different materials all through such independent exploration. Fine motor skills were not taught nor were any specific activities designed, all of this was freely and easily available to the child.
Each time you observe your child trying out a new skill, look around the house you will find some material that can match that need. We really don’t need all the toys in the market. Just a few to meet any gaps you note.
All of this play is essentially your child mastering his life skills. We need to provide these opportunities for the child to go about his own exploration and practice skills that his brain needs. These are all natural mechanisms going about like clockwork. All we do is support.
4. Change your perspective of how children learn. Learning is not a structured process, but, rather, complex process brought on by multi- sensorial experiences. What combination of events can lead to meaningful exploration is not something you can control by setting by activities.
Sit alongside. Really, enjoy your children. Sit with them, observe them, you will learn about many fascinating things about your child as you observe him in his play. The child too knows of your presence in the background and rests in that comfort.
From time to time, he will come to you with his new discoveries or seeking. Here he invites you into his world, join in. Interested adults are far more valuable than any combination of toys or activities.
5. As time goes on and the child has got used to the comfort of a known space (here I talk about both the adult and space) you will now observe how your little one rests in his sense of being. He will no longer need your constant presence.
He begins to enter the world outside with confidence. He uses what he has learnt from his time at home with you in different situations outside. It becomes very clear now, how and what your child has learnt in those early years.
You will notice this in how your child interacts with those around him, how he takes on new situations and how he feels about himself. All of these will connect back to his safe space. The base that you built years ago.
6. None of this is a one trick tip, humans are not built like that. We learn as we grow and each step of the way is teaching us something new about ourselves. Along the way all we need is an anchor, a place we call home. For our children that anchor is the loving and trusting environment at home. Building this safe space is our job as parents.
Have you built a Yes Space for your child to freely explore?
If you have any questions about building Safe spaces write to me in the comments below.
As I end this post, I will leave you with a quote by Janet Lansbury, “ Respecting the moments our infant is engaged in thought. Not interrupting, will encourage longer periods of play that can extend to hours as a baby grows. “