Controlling our children with praise and rewards

It may be fairly easy to understand why some parents do not agree with punishment, in any form, because they believe it to be disrespectful to the child, damaging to a child’s self-worth, damaging to the parent-child relationship and ultimately, ineffective in the long run. Teachers will be familiar with the temporary compliance that punishment may bring but do the ‘troublemakers’ ever realise why their behaviour is wrong and start to make better choices? Or do they display anger and rebel further in the future? The child feels controlled and isn’t involved in their decision making, meaning they are less likely to make good ones in the future. In any act of defiance, any tantrum, any unacceptable social behaviour, there should be an opportunity for the child to learn. How can they do this when we work against them rather than with them? All they really learn is to do what they are told or suffer. These consequences only make the child interested in how their actions affect them and therefore do not learn to see other people’s point of view in order to become compassionate, moral decision makers. The research is clear as day; punishments don’t work. It seems obvious to me that we need to work with children, taking the time to understand them, and resist the urge to control these situations, if we want them to grow up to be ethical, confident, sociable adults with good thinking skills.

However, it might be harder to understand why anyone would think that offering their child praise, a form of reward, could be damaging in similar ways. After all, how can something that is intended as positive encouragement and often given with love, do anything other than boost self-confidence and motivation? I have been really interested in this topic since it was first brought to my attention during my Montessori studying and I have recently finished the book ‘Unconditional Parenting’ by Alfie Kohn, which puts a lot of emphasis on the negative impact of positive praise. I am sorry to say, particularly if you are someone who goes out of their way to avoid punishment but focuses instead on the ‘good’ behaviour, that verbal praise, along with tangible rewards, is actually just the other end of the same spectrum.

When we tell our children that they are ‘good’ for behaving in a certain way we are telling them that we approve of them for behaving in that way. Despite how we dress it up, we are making sure that we are still in control of their actions. Just like when we punish them for doing something we disapprove of, we are conditioning our children, in a similar way to how we would train a dog. We are giving them the message that we will only love them if they please us and do as they’re told. I know what you are thinking; of course I love my children regardless of how they behave! But it isn’t what you, the adult, knows. It is what the child hears. Being condemned when you do this and praised when you do that; you have to earn my approval, acknowledgement, attention…you have to earn my love.

Montessori disagreed with any form of reward or punishment and children were viewed as having the best intentions from birth; children are not born ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’. When we suggest that a newborn baby is ‘good’ – something that so many people said to me when Poppy was younger – we are saying that there is a possibility that they can be ‘bad’, which for a child who has no understanding of the world or social interactions and is only behaving on their most basic human instincts, is a ridiculous thing to suggest. Labelling a child as good or bad we are merely gauging how much of an inconvenience their complex behaviour is to us without understanding the reasons behind it. I find this baffling that we are not interested in getting to know our children better but instead want to tell them how to be to fit in with us. Being eager to learn about my daughter as an individual and unique person I agree with Alfie Kohn who advocates ‘working WITH’ strategies in favour of the ‘doing TO’ approach to raising children.

We should be cautious of manipulating children in any way to comply with what we want. Encouraging a child to be obedient, either because of a fear of punishment or a desire for praise, may backfire when they become old enough to be influenced by people other than yourself. Everyone knows of a teenager who had been good as gold all their life, until one day they got in with the wrong crowd. They might appear to have changed their behaviour drastically, but in fact they are likely to be complying, as they always have, to somebody else’s rules. They are basing their actions on someone else’s judgement and lacking the confidence to follow their own minds, because they have never learnt how.

But there are more reasons to avoid rewards and verbal praise and you may find yourself more able to relate to this information as you read and reflect on your own life. Humans are intrinsically motivated to learn. Babies and children have an overwhelming urge to explore the world and find out how things work. They do not need anybody to tell them that they are doing a good job at splashing in puddles or that they are a good boy for putting the puzzle piece in the correct hole, the discovery they have made is satisfying enough. If we offer them rewards they get the message that what they are doing is something that they wouldn’t want to do, otherwise we wouldn’t have to bribe them. Instantly, their interest in the task declines. Thereafter the effort they put in is a means to an end, the end being praise, because unfortunately, the more a child gets the more they will want. That means that despite their innate desire to learn independently, if they are constantly being told that they are doing well – a quick, easy and satisfying assurance- they will become reliant on this reward and act in order to gain more approval rather than being driven by their intrinsic motivation. This is a key aspect of the Montessori approach, where concentration on their work is fundamental to their development and praise of any sort is seen as an unnecessary distraction. Both Montessori and Alfie Kohn suggest, and it has in fact been proven, that work motivated extrinsically is of far lower quality because the person becomes more focused on achieving recognition than they do on the task in hand. I notice this in Poppy already and when she is really focused on something I daren’t say a word for fear of breaking that vital concentration that is visible evidence that her brain is developing as I watch her. A quick ‘well done’ is enough to draw her out of her own learning and suppress her ability to think for herself. A child who is being conditioned to behave according to their parents or teachers standards, simply notices how the adult perceives their work or play and then alters it to suit the adult. True child-led play is an incredibly valuable, natural part of growing up that we cannot afford to interfere with.

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We can apply this degeneration in quality of work to the workplace as well. Alfie Kohn cites very interesting research that shows how incentives in the workplace do more harm than good whilst intrinsic motivation improves the quality of work being produced. And what happens when the rewards are no longer there? In a workplace you might see employers disengaging because they don’t see the point if they aren’t being acknowledged for their hard work and at school grades are a fine example of where rewards fail to encourage long-term commitment. I myself worked very hard short-term to get top marks at school, and yet didn’t internalise any of the information, nor did I feel genuine interest in anything I was studying. I took the easiest route to what I had been conditioned to think was success, which meant cramming in information, memorising it as if it were lines for a play, regurgitating it all under exam conditions and having nothing but a piece of paper with a meaningless A on it to show for it afterwards. Similarly, if a child becomes confident of how to gain rewards, even verbal ones, they are likely to take the easiest, most tried and tested route to do so. They won’t take risks or think outside of the box, because they see no point when they only have one end goal in mind – reward. This results in them missing out on a lot of learning opportunities considering exploration and discovery are key to learning. For example, imagine a child takes a drawing of a rainbow to their teacher who instantly says “Good girl! Clever girl! You drew a rainbow!” The teacher ends up with a picture of the same rainbow for a week. In the meantime the child could have been exploring how to draw different objects or use different materials. But moreover, is this the sort of adult we want our children to grow up to be? Taking the easiest route to self-gratification?

So it seems that there are many reasons that praise and rewards are detrimental to a child’s development, and on top of that they have been proven to be as ineffective as punishments in what they supposedly set out to achieve. Of course, there are times when you feel that you naturally want to give your child encouragement and the good news is that you can offer something constructive that will not only help the child to reflect and feel proud of themselves but also ensure that their intrinsic motivation remains as strong as ever. It might seem difficult to get your head around, and impossible to change a habit passed down through generations, but instead of focusing on the details and what not to say, try to focus on working with your child and avoiding all elements of control. If this is in the back of your mind at all times it might be easier to banish the praise forever because it starts to feel so wrong.

There are plenty of ways to show children that you are interested in their actions or efforts without showing judgement. Asking them questions is one of the best ways to do this whilst allowing them to reflect on the situation and learn about themselves. For example, “How did you paint those animals? They are really detailed!” or “I noticed that little boy appreciated your help just then, how did that make you feel?” You are simply observing but inviting your child to think. It might not feel natural at first but soon it becomes a part of everyday conversation and brings you closer to your children. For the big achievements there are phrases that can be used to share your child’s happiness and boost their confidence. For example, a simple, “You did it!” allows the child to reflect on their achievement, keeping their own goals as the motivation for their efforts. It says, “You did what you were trying so hard to do for so long. You must be really proud right now” in one little phrase. When your child has behaved in a way that is convenient to you and you would usually shower them with “Well done!” and “Great job!” try commenting on the effect their choices have had. For example, they are ready to leave the house on time; “You are ready to leave, which means we will be on time to collect your brother. He will be so happy!” Again, the child is able to reflect and learn how their actions have consequences on others. There are many alternatives to praise and rewards, and I have included some links below to help you get started. But one thing to also consider, is do you need to say anything at all? What are your reasons for saying it, and will it benefit the child?

If this topic has made you re-evaluate your approach to parenting then I urge you to read Alfie Kohn’s ‘Unconditional Parenting’ which highlights many aspects of what it means to show your child unconditional love and why you should relinquish control. One thing is for sure, verbal praise is not something to be used to enhance a parent’s unconditional support and love for their child, because in reality it equates to completely the opposite.

Read more here:

Montessori rewards and punishment

Alfie Kohn – Punished by Rewards?

Alfie Kohn on praise

Alfie Kohn – Five reasons to stop saying “Good job”

Alternatives to praise:

What to say instead of praise

Alternatives to “Good Job”

 

 

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Clarity.

As you will have noticed, I have been on a bit of a blogging break. And, like any good break, I have come back with a clear mind and having learnt a few things about myself. As this blog acts as a sort of diary on this journey of self-discovery that is parenthood, I thought it was necessary to write it all down. It might seem a little over-analysed to you, but that is because it was, and that’s OK.

I recently went to visit a couple of Montessori nurseries, with the view of completing my dreaded 420 hours work experience in order to gain my full diploma that I have been working so hard towards for what feels like forever. I had been putting this off knowing in my heart that I didn’t want to leave Poppy, but with the 2016 deadline for completion on the horizon I thought I had better face reality if I wanted to reach graduation day. I decided that maybe it was a good thing to do something for myself now that Poppy is getting that bit older. The idea was that she would attend the same nursery I worked at (in a different room) and seeing as I am passionate about Montessori I started to tell myself that perhaps this environment would help her to thrive even more. I convinced myself that I was excited about the extra work I would be subjecting myself to. I started to imagine how much Poppy would love it and that maybe by the end it would be hard to leave the wonderful place we had grown to love.

Montessori is a method of education, but I believe it is so much more than this. It is respect for the children, love of nature, trust in the human mind and body and it’s natural ability and overwhelming urge to learn and a focus on hands on experiences to satisfy those innate driving forces. Parents and teachers alike can adopt all of these principals, and much of Montessori’s philosophy fits so perfectly into our home environment, even though we are planning on going down the ‘unschooling’ route of home education. So I felt hopeful, despite our choice to stay away from school and our ‘alternative’ approach to parenting, that a Montessori environment might just be the only place I would be happy to leave Poppy. Perhaps all of my worries about how often she still breastfeeds, how accustomed she is to having me near her every minute, every day, how well I know her better than anyone else could and how when she isn’t with me I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach that something is missing…perhaps all of those worries would just fade away when we walk through the doors of that beautiful, idyllic, understanding and gentle Montessori environment. Of course they didn’t.

I was open-minded. At least I tried to be. But it dawned on me pretty quickly that a classroom, Montessori or not, was still a classroom, and a teacher, loving, caring and gentle or not, was still not Poppy’s mummy. The picture in my head of the perfect Montessori setting quickly disappeared when I noticed some fundamental ‘rules’ being broken. The baby rooms full of plastic, a teacher reprimanding a child in front of the whole class, the shelves cluttered and verbal praise being thrown around left, right and centre. To the untrained eye this might seem like no biggie, it happens all the time in regular nurseries and schools, but it goes against the most basic of Montessori principals. Being so passionate about Maria Montessori’s work – her methods and the reasons behind them – I hated to see it not being implemented in these well-regarded schools. I started to feel disheartened; my own efforts at creating a Montessori home environment weren’t looking too bad at all! But I tried to remain open-minded and told myself that it was unrealistic to expect everything to be perfect.

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Poppy playing in her Montessori inspired bedroom

As I spoke to the teachers showing me around I tried to gauge how similar their views were to my own, whether or not our alternative parenting style would fit together with the way they ran their nursery. I didn’t really care about where I did my teaching placement, but if it wasn’t right for Poppy, it wasn’t going to happen. I smiled and nodded when they said things that I didn’t agree with. I tried not to recoil in horror when I looked at their menu and saw junk food and a lack of wholesome nutrition (unfortunately true for many settings these days it seems). They answered my questions about things that they knew I felt strongly about, and their friendly voices and sympathetic eyes almost made me feel like they really did know best and I was living in cloud cuckoo land. After voicing some of my concerns over leaving Poppy, one of the teachers introduced me to the staff as somebody who was ‘very precious about her daughter, and her daughter is probably very precious about her’. Wait a minute, aren’t all Mum’s precious about their children? She said it in the nicest possible way but I have worked in childcare; she didn’t realise I knew that it was code for ‘This woman is an over-protective psycho and is going to make our lives very difficult’. The thing is I remember telling anxious parents the same thing once upon a time, that their very attached child who cries every time they leave them will be just fine, as soon as you are gone they won’t even remember why they were sad. I believed it, and sure, it may have appeared to be true. But how do we know how they are really feeling inside? Especially when we hardly know the child. Don’t get me wrong, Poppy is confident and increasingly independent and very sociable. She would be fine. And the comfort she would have gotten from a member of staff would be fine. And the reduced milk feeds would be fine. And the way that people would have spoken to her, in a tone that I wasn’t quite comfortable with, would be fine. And the fact that she would have had a biscuit as a snack everyday instead of her usual green smoothie, would be fine. It would all be fine. I suppose. But what if ‘fine’ just isn’t good enough?

I came home from the second nursery almost feeling convinced that I was being an over-the-top, paranoid, too-hard-to-please, obsessive mother who absolutely had to relax if I wanted us to fit in and be classed as almost normal. But then I realised that spending just one hour in an environment that was so far from what we now consider our normal, I was being sucked in and questioning myself where I never had before. I am so happy with our parenting choices, our life is amazing and Poppy is thriving; why should I change that to fit in somewhere we don’t even belong? The fact is, being in a nursery even for just four hours without me is most definitely not the best possible situation for Poppy right now. I knew it I just couldn’t quite acknowledge that my reasoning’s were important enough to ignore the influence of others. I had to speak to someone who would tell me I wasn’t crazy before I started to believe I was. I messaged one of my lovely friends who I know completely ‘get’s’ me when others might not. And after I had spoken to my wise friend everything was clear again. No matter how many nurseries I visit, I will never find the right one, because as she put it, Poppy and I are still one. No one can ever love and care for her like I do, understand her needs entirely, or accept and work through her overwhelming frustration and tears when her sock is just ever so slightly bunched up by her toes which means she feels it every time she steps down on that foot (this happens everyday). Most Mum’s will relate to that, and yet we are constantly given the message that we need to break away from our children, give them the opportunity to be independent or they will never learn how to be; stop holding them back, smothering them, spoiling them, molly-coddling them and learn to let go. Stop being so ‘precious’. But this isn’t a natural way to teach independence. Why is attachment so feared in our society? Since when was it so terrible to love your child so much that it hurts to think of leaving them with someone who won’t do it as well as you can. As my friend pointed out, it is human nature to protect and nurture our young, and that protection covers all manner of things, including the emotional stress of separation and all of the things in the world that you, as a parent, decide might be harmful, in any capacity, to your child, their development or well-being. Yes I go above and beyond to make sure I am doing this at all times, from the diet I feed her, to the medicines I choose to use, from the techniques I use to teach her to the way in which I communicate with her. And I will avoid anything that I believe could be detrimental to these efforts, to the most important years of her life and to our strong, secure relationship. If this means that I come across as an obsessive weirdo at times, then so be it. These little details, and the niggling issues I had with the nurseries, may be small and seemingly insignificant to others but to me they make up the beginning of my child’s life, and that is huge.

And so it was decided. I am completing my exams to be awarded a certificate but I won’t be graduating and gaining the full diploma. It was difficult for me to accept that this is not failure but another turning on our journey. I have learnt so much, and will continue to do so, and it will enrich Poppy’s childhood for sure. But for now, I need to focus on family, and just be a Mummy to Poppy…because I am the only person who can be.

As I am sure you can tell, this post isn’t just about deciding not to send Poppy to nursery. It is about the realisation that it I do not have to compromise in any area of my parenting. The truth is, I often feel awkward or embarrassed when voicing yet another opinion, or explaining to family why we don’t do things this way, or requesting that they try to do things that way. I spoke to my Dad recently about why we don’t use verbal praise like ‘good girl’ in the same way we don’t use punishment or any other conditioning techniques (I will write a post about this soon). I found myself feeling a mix of guilt and defensiveness before the words even came out. I don’t want people to feel like I am criticizing them; especially people who I know love Poppy so much. Incidentally, my Dad was, and has been with many things, very understanding and open-minded, which made me realise that I didn’t necessarily need to feel so worried. I am no longer going to protect other people’s feelings or indeed my own feelings of being judged as over-reacting, if it compromises Poppy’s chance to the best possible start in life. I have taken on that label of being a bit whacky or weird because we do things differently, but in reality I am simply passionate, dedicated and motivated to do the best I can. There is nothing wrong with that. I need to realise that so that other people can too. This post is about realising that you are perfectly entitled to be unconventional, you are allowed to want complete control over how your child is raised and you have the right to say no. This post isn’t about anybody else’s choices; it is about me not apologising for mine.
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Thank you to my friends who are there when I need that clarity, who give me the confidence to write things like this, who I would be lost without. You know who you are.

Poppy is 1!

A few days late, but here are some photo’s from Poppy’s 1st birthday on Monday. I can’t believe how grown up she is looking! I think it is about time I changed the photo at the top of my blog, and I have the perfect one in mind.

We had a lovely day with Poppy on Monday, although she was very grumpy in the afternoon due to being over tired!  We spent the morning opening cards and a couple of presents (including the chair in the photo’s and the gorgeous koala boots from Nana!), but she is having most of them on Sunday. We went to the cafe for some lunch and Poppy got given a birthday gingerbread man which she demolished! Then in the afternoon we went to the park with Poppy’s friend whilst Daddy was at work. Looking forward to Sunday and plenty more pics to follow! Thank you to everyone who wished her a Happy Birthday! Where has the time gone?

Routines and responding respectfully

For those of you who missed my recent post, we decided that it was time to make a few changes to our night time parenting in order to ease the pressure on myself. Poppy is essentially being taught to self settle. It is tiring, but it is a gentle approach designed to respect Poppy, it is not a quick fix. We had a couple of wobbly nights but things are back on track. I said I would post about exactly what we have done to change Poppy’s sleeping habits so here goes (the “sleep training” element is at the end):

Routine: WP_20140604_023I know it is the oldest trick in the book, and considering the number of books I scanned through during pregnancy I really should have been a bit stricter with this one. I am talking about the bedtime routine; bath, massage, book, breastfeed, bed. We started off well, but gradually we dropped one thing at a time until it was just bath and feed to sleep. No wonder she was still pretty wired and wouldn’t instantly go to sleep! No more skipping steps. It has been amazing how quickly this took effect, and even when she still seems wide awake during the story, as soon as she is in my arms feeding she starts dropping off. Sometimes it takes longer than others, but she isn’t getting that second wind just as I think she is falling asleep, which seemed to be happening so often before.

Black out blinds: I told myself this was the reason for her difficulty in realising it was bedtime, and maybe it played a part, but I think the routine was more important. The blinds have helped, but they don’t quite cover our windows!! Even so, there is enough of a transition from lights on to lights off that helps reinforce that routine.

Introducing a lovely: Poppy now sleeps with the same teddy (cat actually) every night. I put it in her arms as she feeds, and she has started to grasp it, so I think it is working. The cat is currently nameless – ideas on a postcard please!

Moving her into her own room: This was the saddest change, as it came way before I thought it would. But realistically I knew that I was unlikely to make the other changes, like reducing her feeds, without it. We wanted her to learn to settle with Tim, and eventually alone, but when she is at arms length and we are half asleep I act on auto pilot. Tim wouldn’t have had the chance to even try to settle her, he probably would never have woken up at all. Amazingly she didn’t seem to protest to the move, I think she realised very quickly that we were still there for her, all she needed to do was ask.

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Cutting down the feeds: This was my main aim of the transition. I didn’t make a plan, not really. I told myself I would see how she reacted if I just didn’t feed her, and to my surprise it was really not that bad. She grizzled a little but then dropped back off. So I tried to resist a few times. I realised her cry was different when she was really hungry…more about that in a minute. I found she needed a feed at around 3am every morning, sometimes earlier, sometimes later, I am still being led by her in that regard. At the moment we are down to a feed to sleep at 6pm, a top up ‘dream feed’ before I go to bed (although I am sure she wakes up for this) and then the 3am fed.

Listening to the cry NOT cry it out!: You know that study about how stress hormones wash over a crying baby’s brain? The one that makes us AP mums feel guilty every time we hear our pumpkins sob? Well did you know that when they are being held or even if they are next to you that the stress hormones could be almost non existent? Just being there through the tears makes your baby feel safe and by the end of that crying session they could have even learned a thing or two; that they are able to regulate their emotions and that their feelings valid because you stuck around and showed them love when they felt sad. That is very different to leaving them to cry themselves to exhaustion on their own and eventually give up on anyone coming to them. We knew that Poppy would cry to start with. She had no idea why she was suddenly not getting what she had been used to for 8 months! But I honestly thought it would be much worse than it was. We agreed to be with her when she cried and try to comfort her but not desperately try to fix it immediately. First we would listen to the type of cry and ask ourselves what Poppy really needs. Just like other stages in development learning to fall asleep on your own can be frustrating, and we would be there to support her through that. If this was the sort of emotion she was expressing, what does feeding really do? I am all for comfort feeding, but I can’t do it whenever Poppy faces something challenging or when things don’t go quite the way she had planned or hoped. We quickly learnt the difference between her cries and when it was frustration we lay with her, stroke her head and talk to her calmly and lovingly. She falls asleep within minutes. And if she doesn’t, we know that she really needs me instead of Tim or she needs a feed. If it is getting towards 3am and her cry is intense and builds I feed her straight away, and some nights she does still refuse to settle without feeding, but those nights have been few and far between. She is sometimes able to fall back to sleep during the night with no more than a quick rub on the back to know we are there, or even a ‘shh’ at the door. There are still times when she needs more and we are with her for 20 minutes or so, but the point is we know that she can do it. She is only waking once or twice, tops before her early morning feed, which is an improvement, and Tim is able to share the responsibility. I think this is good for their bond as well, although not so good for the dark circles under Tim’s eyes!

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There have been a few downsides to this change. The biggest being that for some reason she is waking up earlier, 5am most days, and I don’t really know why. I have even tried to feed her back to sleep despite my better judgement in a desperate plea for a lie in, but she enjoys the feed and then wakes up anyway! It means we have all started napping at about 7.30am, which is a nice way to make up for the lack of cosleeping. I am also finding it harder to switch off knowing that I might have to get up at any moment to go into her room. But it is getting easier to relax as time goes on. We are quite tired from going back and forth to her room, but it has lessened. Even if things stay as they are for the time being, it means I have my evenings without interruption, the nights are becoming more predictable, I probably have longer chunks of sleep even if the waking up is more effort, and Poppy has come a long way which is great. I have loose aims of what will happen as we go forward, but I am not going to put any pressure on Poppy or get my hopes up too much. I might try this weekend to drop the dream feed before my bedtime, because I don’t really know how long she would go into the night if I didn’t give it her. If it turns out she doesn’t really need it then that would be ideal because it would free up my entire evenings! (oops I said I wasn’t going to get my hopes up!) If that doesn’t work and she wakes up at midnight each night, hungry, then I will revert back to the original plan and perhaps aim to gradually push the 3am feed later and later, until she is going through from our bedtime until her ridiculously early waking up time. That sounds wonderful! Of course the biggest bonus would be if she decides that other than the hungry feeds, she doesn’t need us at all to help her settle, and we could go to sleep every night knowing that we will get ‘x’ amount of hours In before she wakes. But that sounds far too structured for otherwise chaotic lives, and I am sure those babies don’t really exist.

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The Importance of Play

I have been learning all about play, and I wanted to share with you some of the reasons why it is so important to the healthy all round development of children. First of all it is worth saying that there are so many different types of play, too many to mention here, and lots of ideas surrounding exactly it means to play. It is difficult to define play because it is context dependent, ever changing and personal to the player. Play is not the same as being playful. True play is always chosen and controlled by the child and is characterised by a deep concentration. This is important because adult led activities are not the same as free flow play!

P1020365Every child in the world is born with an innate desire to play. I have already written about the benefits of treasure baskets for babies, and of course babies also benefit from interaction with their caregivers. That is the first way the learn how to be sociable! Poppy enjoys playing on her own too, and no one has taught her that, it comes naturally, just like sleeping and eating. As babies get older they are interested in finding things out for themselves, and ‘heuristic play’, a step up from treasure baskets, is beneficial at this stage. Children make their own discoveries spontaneously and there is no right or wrong way, giving them the confidence to make decisions and learn. Heuristic play enhances physical and cognitive development as children use fine and gross motor skills to manipulate and explore. If play is always adult led however a child’s natural motivation to play will be crushed and they will not be able to think for themselves.

Early physical play builds strength, coordination and skill and also offers a break from cognitive tasks, with school break times improving children’s attention during lessons. Rough and tumble play is a safe way for children to develop emotional control as they fight with friends and self-handicap. This is a normal part of development and can help children to manage their emotions and maintain friendships. Physical development is at the centre of a child’s overall development and so all of that seemingly silly activity you see in the playground is of great importance to every element of the child’s growth!

During this time children actively interact with each other, learning social-emotional skills that give them confidence and build their self-esteem, which will encourage positive relationships throughout their entire lives. The conversations they have during play, with each other and adults, not only help children expand their vocabulary and understanding of language, but are also thought provoking and encourage children to work together to solve problems. Playing with people of different ages increases the child’s scope to develop as they help each other learn, which is actually one reason that I find the typical classroom set up so unnatural. It is not realistic of true life, to have children of all the same age working together. By home educating Poppy I hope she will have friends of all different ages, expanding her learning potential and opening up a social world that school perhaps cannot offer. Anyway…back to play! We all remember playground games – I loved polo polo and stuck in the mud, but there are hundreds and children make up their own games with rules too. These games introduce morals to a child and increase social awareness. Social concepts are formed as children take turns, share and listen to each other. They face disagreements, and learn how to effectively deal with them, and start to learn about consequences (if they do break the rules!) They start to manage their own behaviour and feel that they have their own place in society, or at least in their own small society, but this is just the start of their sense of identity in the bigger world. Social lessons are much better learnt through experience than explanation, and disagreements, falling outs and preferences over friends is completely natural and true to real life. An adult who tries to keep the peace by forcing children to get along at all times is addressing the problem very artificially and temporarily, with the children learning little negotiation or communication skills in the process, and often being left confused.

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Credits Image: Maciej Lewandowski (CC)

A well-recognised type of play is fantasy play, something I am sure you can all remember. You probably acted out your own experiences, and copied things that you had seen your parents or older siblings do. The whole time you would have been making new links between your knowledge, gathering information, putting everything together in your mind so that it could become embedded and understood, without overwhelming you. There is so much for a child to take in, playing is the best possible way for them to consolidate their learning and deal with that amount of information, which they simply couldn’t process any other way.

Children rehearse the future during fantasy play, and in doing so they function in advance of themselves, reaching the very top of their skill set and extending it further. They prepare for the challenges of life, and this practise run makes them more confident and able to deal with real situations as adults. Their role-play allows them to see life from new perspectives and learn about human interactions. Communication and listening skills, cooperation, empathy and understanding – these are skills that you could easily see on a CV or college application aren’t they? Life long skills that open up opportunities and contribute to a person’s social life and therefore their happiness! What if a child doesn’t have the chance to practise them whilst they are young? Do they just appear from nowhere? No, they are skills just like any other and they need to be refined.

So now imagine two children playing families. One child is the Mummy and the other the Daddy, and they are pretending that their dolls are their children. They care for the dolls like they have seen adults doing, they talk to each other in a grown up way, they have an argument about whose turn it is to go to the shop, they decide to go together and when they are there they recite things they need to make a cake and use wooden blocks and beanbags as eggs and flour. A typical childhood scene, that may be seen as simple fun, and yet those two children are learning more than ever and enhancing every single area of development. How? Acting as mummy and daddy teaches them about relationships and the imagination involved in becoming someone else promotes creativity and flexibility of thought which is vital for learning. As they care for the dolls they begin to gain a sense of responsibility and care, unlocking new emotions and an empathy and understanding towards others. The argument they act out may be something they have overheard themselves, and by re-enacting it they begin to understand the complicated emotions involved in human relationships and that they are normal. They see different points of view and learn how to manage their own emotions and understand other peoples. Perhaps the argument reflects a difficult time in their home life, and through role-play they are working through their own difficult emotions and easing their pain. They solve a problem together by deciding to go to the shop together. They are learning to work cooperatively, as well as trying out new ideas, adapting their thoughts and thinking outside of the box. As they shop for the cake ingredients they use their current knowledge of baking and it becomes embedded in their minds, and they show their creativity in using different items to represent to food. This ability to symbolise is the first step in developing abstract thought. Perhaps they build on their knowledge further as one child suggests that the cake could be made with brown sugar instead of white and the other suggests it is a lemon cake and so they choose a yellow box to represent the cake. They may even be exploring a scene from a favourite book about baking a birthday cake, helping them relate to the language within that book so that it is more meaningful to them and the next time they read it they notice new things that they hadn’t before. The whole time they are talking and listening and using their bodies. The children are also in deep concentration, completely engrossed in their play. This concentration is vital for a child’s development; it is the single most important factor in learning.

Credits Image: Lars Plougmann (CC)

aloneAs well as learning about the world, children do a great deal of learning about themselves during play. They may use play to deal with traumatic experiences and feel in control of worrying situations. Play helps children become emotionally literate, increasing their resilience to mental health problems, which in this day and age is definitely worth noting. The processing of emotions during solitary play impacts other areas of development. It is often a very deep play where children are free to gather ideas, dwell on feelings, relationships and embodiment, all of which are at the heart of creativity. Art, literature and music may be created as a way of dealing with emotions that the child has come to understand during their play. I remember playing on my own at home a lot as a child (probably because my sister thought she was too cool for me!) and I was, and still am, a rather creative person. In fact I specifically remember writing poems when I was feeling angry, sad or confused, or creating art when I was happy or finding or changing my own identity. As a child play may be the healthiest and most natural way to deal with the plethora of inevitable emotions you are faced with.

During the first five years of life children learn more rapidly than any other time and opportunities to play contribute hugely to healthy holistic development. Of course well-rounded, healthy children, who grow up into stable, intelligent adults, have positive outcomes for the whole of society. Even adults benefit from play! In a technological world where I see toddlers playing games on their parents phones, preschool children being bought computers for Christmas, and TV’s being used as babysitters, I wonder if the next generation are being given enough encouragement to play? Children are not communicating with each other, they are not moving, they are not thinking for themselves, they are not exploring their word. Play is the most natural and effective method of learning; if we deprive our children of play, we deprive them of a wealth of developmental benefits that can never be replicated with technology.

So why not try a screen free week, get out there and play!

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Credits Image: David Robert Bliwas (CC)

Sunshine, socialising and selfies

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We have had a lovely weekend in the sun. Saturday we went to Milton Keynes and I met up with my good friend, Beth, who has just got home from traveling. It was great to see her and tuck into a vegetarian breakfast at Giraffe!

At home we played in the garden, enjoying the sunshine and taking a few family selfies!

Yesterday Dan and Charlotte came to visit which was lovely. The weather was on our side again, so after lunch in the garden we went to the bluebell woods in Ashridge for a walk. We almost didn’t make it though as we managed to get the car stuck, on dry land! It was rather embarrassing, especially as I was in the drivers seat, but under strict instructions to “Just keep going!” from Tim. I quickly got out with Poppy and fled the scene, leaving Tim and Dan looking less manly than they probably hoped as they got saved by a couple more experienced men! It gave us a good giggle anyway.

The walk was gorgeous, I loved discussing weddings with Charlotte, and we had a slice of cake midway to recoup – does a weekend go by that doesn’t involve cake?!

Unfortunately Tim has had to go in to work today, so not quite the long weekend I was hoping for. But Poppy is such good company at the moment, chattering away and laughing with me! She seems to have eaten quite a lot today, I don’t know if it is a one off, but maybe she is more ready for food now? She has had toast dipped in soup and managed to soak up all of the soup that was in her bowl! She ate homemade homous straight off the spoon! And she really enjoyed mango. Poppy also seems to understand the word ‘Mama’ and starts saying it if Tim carries her away from me, with her arms outstretched towards me! I am sure ‘Dada’ won’t be long! She is still pulling herself up constantly, I honestly can’t keep up with her energy!

Anyway here is our weekend in pictures! (click for slideshow)

I hope your weekend was wonderful ❤

Hooray for babies!

Yet another post about Poppy because I don’t have time for serious stuff! But my assignment is almost complete. I know that the family love hearing about Pops so I know they won’t complain. For the rest of you, stay tuned!

Poppy has been so happy today, it has made my studying much easier. I had plenty of breaks to play with her, and in doing so noticed a development which I hadn’t noticed before. We were playing peek-a-boo and Poppy started to pull my hands away from my eyes to find me! She has gone from looking away as soon as you cover your face, focusing on something else, to waiting and watching your hands, to understanding where I am hiding and knowing what to do to make me appear again! It might not be much, all babies do it, some much earlier, but I still think it is impressive. Not long after that I went to hang the washing outside, leaving the door half closed, meaning Poppy couldn’t see me. Within 30 seconds she had made her way around the door and was crawling into the garden towards me! It was the cutest. I disappeared from her sight but she knew I was still there. I like the idea that she can now picture me in her minds eye, maybe I am in her dreams right now!

Alongside this she is becoming more aware of cause and effect everyday. Yesterday she was playing a game with Tim; he put his head down and every time she tapped it with her hand he popped it up and and they laughed together! It was so lovely to watch as Poppy paused, smiled, tapped his head and then burst out laughing! Today she showed her understanding again when she copied me pressing the squeaky button on her toy telephone. Immediately after I did it she started bashing away laughing as it squeaked. She also has a toy that makes a funny noise as you shake it and she loves that she now knows how to do it on her own. And something she particularly enjoys is dropping food off of her high chair knowing and waiting for Oscar to come!

Sometimes it is these little things that we take for granted, we are so focused on the big milestones and physical abilities; when they roll, sit, crawl, eat, walk, talk…Babies are learning so much everyday, no adult is even nearly capable of processing the equivalent, and it all takes a lot of energy and brain power! I try to celebrate the smallest of achievements because for Poppy, it is huge!

After a busy day’s learning: I had to post this picture because I thought it looked a bit like she was rock and rolling in her sleep! 

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Poppy at 7 months

I thought my family and friends were due an update on their favourite baby (sorry about the first blurry photo!) I have an essay due Tuesday so blogging is taking a back seat but seeing as said baby is curled up asleep on my lap and all I have to hand is my phone, I thought it was a good time to write.

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Firstly I am completely cherishing this moment; after spending the best part of Poppy’s life telling everyone that she is not the sort of baby who just falls asleep in my arms, she has done exactly that twice this week. The first time we were at a friends too, so plenty to distract her, but she happily breastfed to sleep without the usual fuss when she is tired but too interested in what’s going on around her! I tried again yesterday at another friends with no luck, she got all squirmy, but to be fair to Poppy her boyfriend was watching so she just couldn’t relax!!

P1020693She is in the process of dropping her late afternoon nap, completely of her own accord. Yesterday she was awake from 3pm and still had more energy than ever at 6.30, when she is normally exhausted! It changes often though, if she wakes any earlier than 2.30pm she doesn’t last until bedtime. She is coming to the village quiz with us tomorrow so I wonder how she will be! She did very well at Nan’s party, socialising until past 9pm (as you can see from the pic on the left she is going to follow in her Mummy’s footsteps!)

Weaning: Everyone loves to hear how the weaning is going, is she eating any more now? I’ll let you into a little secret: when we were ready to start baby led weaning, I thought she would just get the hang of it immediately…despite what I had read about it being a slow process. She was so interested in what we ate and she made chewing motions as she watched us, surely she wanted to gobble it up! But that hasn’t been the case at all! She plays with her food, although usually plays with the tray or spoon more, and she does put things to her mouth, but if she swallows even one teeny bit seemingly by accident I am amazed!

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I am making much more effort to give her two meals a day now instead of just offering her bits and bobs. She has porridge or fruit for brekky and whatever I have for lunch, or leftovers from dinner the night before. Her milk feeds haven’t reduced at all, because she really isn’t eating anything! But I am not concerned, I know she will get the hang of it sooner or later, when she is ready. I can already tell that she is very independent and will not be told what to do!

Anyway, here is a video of lunch yesterday, which pretty much sums up our meal times. If you are wondering where all the food is, it is on the floor. The bouncing lasted a good ten minutes at least.

 

On the move: Poppy has recently discovered that she can crawl to me, rather than just to retrieve toys or objects she shouldn’t have, such as my camera. It is really quite sweet when I leave the room and seconds later Poppy is frantically making her way towards me. I am sure the novelty will end soon! I have definitely noticed an increase in her separation anxiety in the last couple of weeks, but that is natural at this age, and a sign that she is securely attached… go us! Unfortunately it is very noticeable during the evenings after putting Poppy to bed on her own. I know that I should just continue to settle her back to sleep each time she wakes and she should learn that although I am not right there I am still there. But as we know from the last post, I can be a tad lazy at times and have ended up bringing her downstairs on several occasions to allow myself to relax!

She has been pulling herself up on anything and everything, the sofa, the printer, the stool, me and Tim, other babies…I have a bad feeling that I will be the mum constantly pulling my child away from poor victims at baby groups as she claws at their faces and tries to sit on their laps…in a ‘let’s be friends’ kind of way of course. She is constantly wanting to stand up and can get very grumpy if you insist it is sitting down time. I thought tantrums came much later?! She had to pause in this video to chew the sofa, and she is a bit whiney as she is tired and wants to get her hands on that copy of Juno on the sofa, which she has already eaten the corner of (she will eat that but not my delicious cooking?!)

 

Potty power: Today is the second day we have had a completely dry nappy having caught all wee’s!! (so far) I am so proud of myself and Poppy, but also feel a bit frustrated with myself that I am so inconsistent. Being home all day and focusing on Poppy so much shows me just how capable she is of cueing us, but when we are out and about I hardly bother trying. I am starting to wonder if this inconsistency is worse than not doing anything at all. Maybe she is cueing me on those busy days too and I just don’t notice? Or maybe she gives up because she doesn’t expect us to take her. This morning I started off taking her regularly to see if she needed it, and by lunch time she was clearly signaling by starting to fuss during her play, and sure enough I took her every time and she went, every time! I am going to start taking a potty in the car at least so that we can give her the chance to go more often when we are out of the house. At least I know that she definitely understands the concept, and I know that in the long run it is going to make life so much easier. Poppy isn’t the one who needs to improve, we are. But we are certainly heading in the right direction…

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Socialite: We have been busy meeting up with other babies and friends as most of you will have seen on my facebook, our social calender is always full! We know a few people with babies of a similar age to Poppy, and we still go to baby groups when we get a chance. We are also hoping to meet some more home educators soon as there is a good community around here. Yesterday we went to Aylesbury to visit Mia and Noah and Poppy and her (boy)friend Noah were properly chatting to each other. One of them would say something whilst the other listened and then either giggled back or responded with babbling! It was the cutest thing. I love this age, she is just becoming such a sociable baby, she ‘talks’ to me and Tim all day long.

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Pearly whites: Her first tooth seems to be taking things slow. It has definitely fully cut through the gum but barely noticeable still. Her gums seem swollen again, so I wonder if there is another on the way? Oh and for anyone who wonders what breastfeeding is like with teeth (I get asked what I am going ‘to do’ when she has teeth quite a lot!) – so far so good, despite the fact that the toothy peg is insanely sharp!

In other news she is blowing raspberries non stop and showering us all in spit. Happy Friday! ❤

Treasure Baskets for Babies

ImageThe Montessori assignment I am currently working on is all about play, and part of it focuses on play in young babies. I always knew the importance of sensory play, but this reminded me of how to get the most out of a treasure basket and inspired me to make a new one for Poppy. Before now she has had the same few sensory items in a small basket, which no doubt she was getting bored of.

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When babies reach the stage where they can sit up unaided but not yet crawl about, you may notice that they begin to show signs of boredom, although sometimes these are mistaken for teething or being clingy as they sit and fuss. In fact even very young babies show an instinctive need to play; it is a vital factor in their healthy development. A treasure basket offers a rich variety of stimulus, that the baby explores with all five of their senses. They grasp, shake, kick, lick, chew, watch, feel, listen, bang, laugh, squeal and are learning every second. It does not contain toys, the purposes of which are of little interest to babies of this age who usually just put everything in their mouth! You may find yourself showing your baby the ‘correct’ way to hold a rattle, or stack blocks on top of one another, but really this is for the satisfaction of the adult as the baby has not yet reached the ‘What can I do with this?’ stage and is much more interested in ‘What is this?’

ImageYou might be pleased to hear that the items in the treasure basket, which will provide your baby with a lot more learning opportunities than conventional toys, are usually very cheap, if not free, as they can be found around the house! It is important to use natural materials such as wood, metal and fabrics, which provide more interesting sensory experiences than the cold hard plastic that many modern day toys are made from. Of course you need to consider the size of the items; make sure that they do not present a choking hazard but are small enough for your baby to grip and manipulate themselves. Another important consideration is the quality of the items, for example I have found the cheaper wooden items may be more likely to splinter, and anything that is made up of small parts should be sturdy (such as screws on a nutcracker or beads on string). I have listed a few ideas below to get you started, but the possibilities are endless!

The amazing thing about treasure baskets is the way in which they develop a deep concentration in the baby, fundamental to later cognitive development. It is not uncommon for babies to sit and play happily for an hour or longer (the nutcracker alone kept Poppy busy for ages!) However, you must not think that your baby will be happy to sit alone and explore the basket whilst you see to the dinner or catch up on your favourite soap. Like any new experience at this age, your baby will feel comfort in the fact that you are close by, reassuring them that it is safe to continue in their new discoveries. To give them this confidence you do not need to do much more than just be there, within their sight, their safe base. By not interfering with what your baby is doing (although obviously if they interact with you then you should not ignore them!) you are allowing them to take control of their own learning, developing the ability to make decisions as they pick and choose the objects rather than being offered objects by an adult.

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Lastly, and probably the most important thing to remember, is that your baby will become bored if they never find anything new in the basket. Have a look for interesting new items on a regular basis and make sure that the treasure basket is constantly evolving. I have already started to collect a few bits ready to have a change around in a few days, and it is actually a really fun project to do! Grannie Sally has even put one together for Poppy when she visits, and she said she loved putting it all together!

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As your baby gets more mobile their play needs change, and they enjoy transferring objects from one place to another. Providing them with plenty of receptacles for doing this will help them to continue their development of deep concentration and satisfy their natural inclinations.

Idea’s for Treasure Basket:

(The basket should be strong, shallow (roughly 4-5 inch in height) and large. It can be round, square or rectangle but should be at least 14 inches in diameter and width.)

  • Wooden spoonImage
  • Wooden egg timer
  • Wooden lemon squeezer
  • Nutcracker
  • Avocado pip
  • Large feather (peacock)
  • Large pine cone
  • Natural sponge
  • Make up brush made with natural materials
  • Loofah
  • Flannel
  • Whistle
  • Pebble
  • Pumice stone
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  • Bells
  • Bottle brush
  • Leather ball
  • Metal eggcup
  • Wooden nail brush
  • Silk scarf
  • Cotton scarf
  • Ribbon
  • Beads on a string or leather shoelace
  • Small tin
  • Metal teaspoon
  • Mini metal whisk
  • Pastry brush
  • Paint brush
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  • Velvet
  • Shells
  • Ball of string
  • Beanbag
  • Small containers filled with rice
  • Keys
  • Small muslin bags
  • Corks
  • Fruit (Apple, orange, lemon)
  • Pegs
  • Curtain rings
  • Chain
  • Large buttons
  • Wooden napkin rings
  • Drawer fragrance cushion

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If you have some great ideas Poppy would love to know about them!

 

 

Christening the high chair

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Poppy is very happy with her new high chair. It is a Hauck Beta, a cheaper alternative to the Tripp Trapp, and it ‘grows’ with the child. It was pretty easy to assemble and I love that it is wooden, it feels really sturdy. At first I thought maybe we wouldn’t really need a high chair, she could just sit on my lap. But actually this means that when it is just me and Poppy I can’t interact with her as much as I would like to, and she also tends to just grab my plate and send it flying.

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The first foods we tried out in the Hauck were pear, nice a clean, and brown rice with kale pesto and beetroot, not so clean! I have been struggling a little bit to think of what to give Poppy aside from fruit and veg. I wanted to just give her whatever we are having but have realised that even our healthy meals often contain something that I am not ready to give Poppy. Yesterday we had home made quiche and salad, but I don’t want to give Poppy egg yet and pastry isn’t really the most nutritious of things. She liked the lettuce but it doesn’t mush up in her mouth so she didn’t really do anything with it and I must admit I panicked a little when it was just sitting at the back of her mouth. Other regular meals I make have stock cubes in them and I don’t know if this would be too much salt? Our favourite curry would be too spicy for her. And I wasn’t sure about introducing meat for a little while either? Even my everyday breakfast of organic porridge oats made with almond milk and dates, I am worried that the dates contain too much sugar and she shouldn’t have nut milk until she is at least 1. Maybe I am worrying too much but it is early days so I want to keep things simple. So I had a bit of a challenge in coming up with a lunch we could both enjoy together and using the little amount of food we have left in our fridge! The rice with kale pesto and beetroot was a success, it was very simple, yummy and filling for me, healthy and fairly easy for Poppy to scoop into her mouth. I have posted the recipe below. I gave Poppy a preloaded spoon, but she preferred sucking the other end. She did put quite a bit in her mouth compared to other foods we have tried, and even swallowed a couple of bits, but most ended up on the floor, high chair cushion, Oscar’s tummy and somehow even on the inside of Poppy’s nappy?! I must remember the naked baby tip! 

We had lots of fun though, especially when Poppy realised that the lovely bowl with the suction bottom that Auntie Ashley got her, wasn’t as suction-y as we had hoped! I love the subtle changes in the photos….first no bib, then bib, sleeves rolled down, sleeves rolled up, spoon available to Poppy, spoon disappeared, bowl on high chair, given up on bowl…..and Oscar is left picking up the pieces…

(Click an image for slideshow)

Brown Rice with Kale Pesto and Beetroot Recipe:

Blitz a large handful of organic kale with sundried tomatoes (I used just 1 in Poppy’s pesto as they are quite strong and salty. I added a few more for my pesto) Add a little rapeseed oil if needed (we didn’t as the sundried tomatoes were in oil already). Add this mixture to cooked brown rice along with grated beetroot. That is it! It was really lovely and I think it is going to be a new favourite baby food in our house. Kale and beetroot are super healthy and the texture is great for exploring. As your baby gets used to this you could try adding more flavours and vegetables.

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