Tag Archives: allowing play at age and stage

Increasing Attention Span in Toddlers Through Purposeful Play

As you know, I love to create little activities that invite my girls to discover, investigate and explore in their own way and in their own time. I have learned not to have an ‘agenda‘ with these invitations, knowing that my children’s minds, unlike mine, are blank slates with no preconceived ideas or expectations and consequently they engage in activities far differently than I would even dare to imagine.

My imagination and creativity has been reduced as I have grown up through life but theirs is still blossoming and developing and I love to see where it takes them through these invitations.  The girls have always approached these activities with excitement and I have never had one overlooked or rejected.

Now, this sounds wonderful and amazing etc but the reality is that the average time that it takes my children (especially my two year old, Lucy) to discover an investigation, form a hypothesis, test it and then reach her conclusions, is roughly five minutes. And whilst I appreciate that age is not in her favour when it comes to attention span, I have often wondered whether there is something more to her seemingly limited one.

I have read and reread articles and examples from Janet Lansbury, Lisa Sunbury Gerber and a whole host of mothers who follow Magda Gerber’s RIE approach claiming that their (even younger) children are capable of playing for much longer periods of time on just the one activity. And, as I think about it, I realise that even my youngest, Penny (nearly 18 months) has shown more ability to stay focused on a task for extended periods of time. So what makes my eldest child become disinterested quickly in activities that I take a great deal longer to set up than she does to play them?

Deep down I have known the answer to this for quite sometime. Through my wonderful association with Kate from An Everyday Story, I have learned that in order for some children to become invested in their play, it needs to be something that they are already curious about or have initiated completely on their own. When providing them with opportunities for play and investigation, taking this into consideration can be the difference between them engaging with the task for prolonged periods of time (even days or weeks) and investigating it at a surface level only, skimming over the top and never truly wanting to do more.

Now, it can be very hard to really know what your child is interested in, especially if they are pre-verbal or still a little young to have obvious obsessions or interests. But the clues are there if you look. It could be that they have articulated an interest through asking a question or making a comment or it could be communicated in other ways such as through pretend play, an obsession with a particular book or simply showing delight during an experience they have had organically (ie through the normal course of daily play, outings or activities).

I have realised that whilst I was (and still am) providing my children with many fun and enriching experiences I was failing to involve them in the production of these. It’s like someone continually offering books for me to read on a topic about which I have no interest. I would probably start the book to see what it was like but would most likely turn away from it before it was finished if it did not tap into my own interests. This is precisely what my eldest child seems to be doing with my wonderful activities.

So, having had this revelation, I started really listening to my children; engaging them in conversations, watching them in play, looking for any signs of a deep seated interest or a curiosity that could be tapped into further. It came one day recently when we were walking through a little forest at the end of our street.

We often head down there of an afternoon as the kangaroos are out for their dinner and many birds are flocking, returning to feed and roost. We were sitting on a little vine that had grown into a U shape, perfect for swinging lightly back and forwards, when a bush turkey suddenly ran across the track in front of us and then flapped clumsily on a low branch of a nearby tree. Both girls sat captivated as it flew from branch to branch looking for a high place to safely bunker down for the night. By the time it had settled it was so high up that we could only just spot it.

It sparked a noticeable curiosity in Lucy and certainly seemed to capture Penny’s attention. As we were walking home, Lucy spotted a large, black feather on the ground, we picked it up and surmised about which bird could have lost this feather. We spoke about which birds were black including crows, magpies and pee wees as well as the most likely culprit, the bush turkey.

Increasing Attention Span in Toddlers ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

The next day, we had a magpie visit our backyard (as we often do) and Lucy was very excited to see it and asked if she could ‘give him her lunch’. Over the next few days and weeks, I thought about how I could keep this interest in birds alive through way of a project. I came across Kate’s lovely and inspiring bird project and was instantly struck by how simple, yet engaging and purposeful her ideas were. They were appealing to her children and allowed them to explore birds on many levels, in a meaningful and deep way. And thus began, our first project.

Firstly, as we had not a single bird book in our house, it was off to our local library to pick up some lovely child friendly ones the girls would enjoy, including a guide to Australian birds. Lucy really enjoys books so this was a perfect medium for her to learn more about these fascinating creatures.

We flicked through the books and looked for birds that were familiar. I was surprised by how many birds Lucy knew already by name such as crows, magpies and kookaburras. On our outings, we began noticing birds all around us, we spoke about colours and sizes and worked out the names of the ones we were not sure of using the guide book and the internet.

Keen to see more birds in our fairly sparse backyard, I spoke to Lucy about what would make them come down and visit us. Living relatively close to a small forest we actually get many birds flying overhead in the afternoons but they never stop to visit. Lucy thought that by calling to them they might come down so we tried but to no avail. It seemed they were not listening. I asked her where she thought they might be flying and she thought maybe ‘the park’. We then worked out that after the park they would head home for a bath and some dinner (as is our regular afternoon routine). So I took the lead for an invitation from this and decided on making a bird feeder so the birds could have dinner with us.

Increasing Attention Span in Toddlers ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

As luck would have it, amidst all our bird studies, my husband and I had come across a lovely old stump in a big dirt pile in a development across the road. In An Everyday Story’s blog, her children had built a simple bird feeder to encourage more birds into their yard using a similar stump. I set up some tools and materials in an engaging yet simple way to ensure the girls were not only involved in the project but could take some ownership and responsibility for it. It was exciting for them as they thought about all the birds they might see coming for dinner.

Increasing Attention Span in Toddlers ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

Lucy was responsible for building the feeder and then both the girls worked carefully scooping, pouring, carrying and filling the bird seed using cups and scoops.

Increasing Attention Span in Toddlers ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

Increasing Attention Span in Toddlers ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

Increasing Attention Span in Toddlers ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

Increasing Attention Span in Toddlers ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

It took about a day before we saw our first bird visit the bird feeder and although it wasn’t a beautiful or exotic one the girls were so excited to see a peewee eating their seed. It must have felt so fulfilling for them to have been through the process and  then seen its purpose come to fruition. To help with our bird identification, I made small laminated cards for the girls (a set each) using only the birds I knew were in the area. These have been wonderful for the girls as they have watched a variety of birds come to feed and then used the cards to identify each one.

Increasing Attention Span in Toddlers ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

To further our study into the birds we collected more feathers on one of our walks and then did some painting using them as brushes. We also regularly use the little laminated cards in matching games which Lucy is becoming very adept at. She is now able to articulate the names of most of the birds that come into our yard including currawongs, peewees, house sparrows, blue fairy wrens (our favourites) and willy wagtails.

Increasing Attention Span in Toddlers ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

Increasing Attention Span in Toddlers ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

The girls continue to feed the birds on a regular basis and have since added a bath for them to wash in. I am hoping that by planting a few more native shrubs this spring we might entice some more colourful birds in through the warmer months. It has been so wonderful to see my children learning in a meaningful way and although I will continue to offer them invitations to explore in a variety of mediums and contexts, I am now more open to using my children to steer the investigations based on the interests that they develop along the way.

Increasing Attention Span in Toddlers ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

Our Weekly Play: Week 5

Lots of photos and not so much writing in this episode of our week in play. We were lucky enough to visit the Ipswich Art Gallery twice this week. There we discovered the Light and Play Exhibition as well as The Wonder of Learning: The Hundred Languages of Children exhibition which detailed the story of Loris Malaguzzi and how the aftermath of World War Two inspired his revolutionary approach to early childhood learning in the Northern Italian City of Reggio Emilia. Each of these exhibitions was so inspiring. I got so much out of the Reggio Emilia exhibit and am now keen to learn a lot more. The Light and Play exhibition drew both girls in immediately and invited them to interact, explore and discover reflections, shadow, projection, magnification and a whole host of other dimensions of light physics. If you live in or around Brisbane I would highly recommend taking your children to see this display. It ends in a couple of weeks and is well worth the trip. Here are a few of the highlights plus a couple of extra things we did during the week.


This light panel was built into the floor so it could be walked over, crawled over and fully explored. It changed colour every few minutes making all of the objects on top change appearance.


This simple activity was quite inspired. It was a line strung between two points with pegs scattered along and a couple of baskets full of random objects nearby, ready to peg up. Children could then use torches to shine at the objects and watch as the shadows were cast on the walls. I am going to try to set something like this up at home this week because Lucy was really fascinated with the torch and loved making the shadows.


There were several raised tables with a selection of objects set aside in bins for the children to add and explore.


Another light table with mirrors to add a new dimension.


This table had a webcam that was hooked up to a projector which projected the image onto the wall. The children could explore how objects change in size when projected in this way, although Penny was happy to just stack the cups for about 30 minutes 🙂


A little triangular house with Mirrors on each side kept Penny enthralled.


And Lucy investigated with all senses!!


Back home and we continued to explore the local birds using these laminated cards. Lucy did some matching and recognition with this activity. Throughout the week she was able to identify and name many of our backyard birds.


Pouring remained a favourite activity for Lucy as she got more adept at pouring from a variety of different containers.



This souvenir from the art gallery was a huge  hit. Lucy loved seeing shapes form in 3D and I am now thinking of some ways to incorporate this into an art invitation. Any ideas?


Ever thought of bringing your outdoor furniture inside and setting up a playground wonderland in your lounge room? No, me neither! This invitation to play was set up for the children by my dear husband whilst I was at work. The children can’t get enough of it but I am looking forward to having my lounge room back 🙂

So another week has past and for us it was one very much dominated by our gallery visits. I am going to leave you with a beautiful poem written by Loris Malaguzzi who has inspired thousands of people world wide to take the time to listen to our children’s need to play, to create, to investigate and to imagine. It is up to us to foster these inherent qualities in our children so that their inquiring minds blossom rather than shrivel. I truly hope that I can rise to the challenge set by Loris!

The Hundred Languages

The child is made of one hundred. The child has a hundred languages a hundred hands a hundred thoughts a hundred ways of thinking of playing, of speaking.

A hundred.

Always a hundred ways of listening of marveling, of loving a hundred joys for singing and understanding a hundred worlds to discover a hundred worlds to invent a hundred worlds to dream.

The child has a hundred languages (and a hundred hundred hundred more) but they steal ninety-nine. The school and the culture separate the head from the body. They tell the child: to think without hands to do without head to listen and not to speak to understand without joy to love and to marvel only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child: to discover the world already there and of the hundred they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child: that work and play reality and fantasy science and imagination sky and earth reason and dream are things that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child that the hundred is not there. The child says: No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach




Our weekly Play: Week 4

Play is such a wonderful thing. Play to a child is like work to an adult. It is serious, it is important and it is highly valued. As parents with ‘real’ jobs and ‘real’ responsibilities it can be easy to overlook just how significant play is to a child. While we go to sleep at night thinking about our busy day ahead, cooking, cleaning, getting to work, completing tasks, meeting deadlines, you can be sure that children have just as many thoughts: what am I going to build? Will I be able to master that skill? What am I going to do if somebody takes my toys? Where am I going to take my dolly for a walk in her pram? And the list goes on.

There is no shortage of research that supports the importance of play for children. It helps develop their learning, their creativity, their problem solving and their perseverance whilst at the same time providing them with a sense of accomplishment, joy and fun. I love watching my children play and noting the different angles at which they approach play objects and tasks. I can genuinely see learning taking place on a daily basis and I love that they are in charge of what they learn, when they learn it, and how they learn it. My second job (after being a mother) is a teacher and it has taken me some time to separate my role as a teacher from that as a mother but I have now become more accepting that my children at ages 1 and 2 years don’t need to be taught explicitly. They have an innate desire to seek out learning experiences and are learning the perfect amount for their individual age and stage. I simply try my best to offer experiences and opportunities for learning, through which I hope that they not only develop the aforementioned qualities  but also a love of learning and an inquiring mind.

Having said all that, here are a few snapshots of what the girls got up to this week. We had fewer ‘new’ invitations this week as the girls were happily revisiting ones from last week such as the dirt pit as well as creating their own play experiences 🙂

4 hedge maze

This fabulous arrangement of plants in a garden outside the church we take the girls to for music, provided them with so much fun and excitement that they happily played for ages; exploring, chasing each other and using problem solving to work out how to get back to each other when they ended up split between the rows.

4 sidewalk chalk

Who doesn’t love sidewalk chalks? It writes so easily, is vibrant and is so powdery and textural that children are drawn in by them. We love to play on our front footpath in the afternoon. The neighbours children often join us and the kids love meeting and greeting the neighbourhood walkers that stride past our house each afternoon. This week I brought out the sidewalk chalk for them to use to brighten up the footpath. Penny was so taken by them that she settled herself into a comfortable position on the footpath and proceded to draw, place the chalk sticks in and out of the tin, explore the powdery consistency by rubbing her drawings after she had drawn a line.

4 shared drawing

I came across this little table in a local op shop and immediately thought of the possibilities for the children and with its overly cheap price tag it didn’t take much to convince me to buy it. It was an instant hit and has been used regularly all week as a drawing table, a step to get up on the higher table, a platform to jump off and a table to eat from. I love seeing my daughters bonding, learning to share, cooperating and negotiating over this versatile table.

4 car washing

Despite being in the middle of winter here, we have been enjoying some unusually warm weather this week. Now, our car used to be my husband’s pride and joy but with the arrival of two children in quick succession not only has the car been relegated from the garage to the driveway to make way for a childrens play room, it has gone from having a weekly clean to a biannual clean!! This week it was bath time for the car and the kids had so much fun helping us do it that I think the poor old car might get some attention a little more often now. The girls love to be helpful and this gave them a fantastic outlet to play in water and bubbles whilst utilising a gross motor skill and feeling authentically useful. The only minor issue we encountered was that Lucy continually wanted to tip the water out to watch it run down the driveway. 🙂

4 Lucy pouring

This was one of the few invitations I set up this week. Not only was there limited time to set them up, I found that the girls seemed happy to find their own play ideas especially as the weather was so good and we could get outside. The girls really enjoyed this little pouring activity though. Lucy has just started asking to pour her own milk and drink from a cup without a sippy lid etc. so I wanted to tap into this interest and I thought this might help build her confidence in this area at the same time. She really enjoyed the funnels although it did take her a while to work out what they did. She would pour the water into it and then suddenly realise that it was coming out the bottom into nothing. We went through a few containers of water before she made the connection.

4 Penny pouring

I simplified the invitation for Penny and found that she was initially more interested in the cups themselves and placing them on and off the tray. She had a few attempts at pouring the water into the cup but kept tipping the empty cup up and leaving the full one down. Lots of spilling but I loved watching her brain tick over as she tried to work why it wasn’t working.

So that was a snippet of our week. I hope you had a lovely week with your children and as always I would love to hear from you or answer any questions you may have.

Our Weekly Play: Week 3

It has been a busy week here as I had to work four of the five working days meaning Lucy (2.4 years) and Penny (1.3 years) were in daycare for three days this week. On weeks like these I always feel particularly guilty for not spending much time with the girls so I try to make up for that by being extra present with them when we are together. We nearly always (weather permitting) go to the park when I pick them up from daycare and run off any ill feelings that may have crept in over the course of the day. It has become a favourite time for the girls and I as we explore different parks around our beautiful city and seems to make the guilt of leaving them in care for the day somewhat lift.

3 Lucy tractor

Because anything that’s not working, Daddy fixes 🙂


3 Penny park

I love the tranquil nature of my one year old. She seems to take the time to stop and absorb all around her, fully examining and investigating everything before she is satisfied to move on. I often wonder whether this is just her personality or whether it can be attributed to her RIE upbringing. She has never been made to rush through a playground or plopped on one object after another but rather left to determine what she would investigate, when she would investigate and for how long. When she was much younger this often meant she literally hung around just one very mundane seeming piece of equipment, content to use it in her own way and in her own time. I never found this ‘boring’ to watch as some people complain. It was always such a joy as her Mum to see her little cogs ticking over as I picked up the deep thought processes she was going through in this time.

3 potato peeler

I have always been fascinated by the Montessori approach to learning and although I am by no means a fully committed participant, I am beginning to take on more and more of its philosophies in the girl’s daily routines. Apart from the enormous developmental and learning benefits it provides the girls, I made a conscious decision recently that for sanity sake I was far better working with the girls than against them. So now when they are pestering me and hanging off my legs at dinner time, instead of trying to redirect them to their toys or use the TV, I put them to work on a task suitable to their age and stage to help me get the dinner done. Penny is great at pouring and putting things into bowls or on plates etc whilst Lucy enjoys the physical tasks such as peeling, grating or chopping. It has certainly reduced the stress levels around meal times and we all really enjoy working cooperatively together.

3 Penny bakes

Penny is just over one but still enjoys being involved in helping with daily chores. Both girls routinely help me unload the dishwasher in the morning and then load the dirty breakfast plates afterwards.

3 cutting watermelon

Lucy cuts things for me everyday using both sharp and blunt knives and we have never had a cut finger (touch wood). It always amazes me that her sense of self preservation kicks in here and prevents her throwing the knife or using her frantic hands that she frequently uses in most other tasks.

3 shaving cream bath

Penny rarely gets to engage in creative play by herself. Lucy will often do painting and craft activities whilst Penny in sleeping and if the girls both do it together, before long the activity is being monopolised by Lucy with Penny regularly having her paintbrush taken or swapped or directed to try something different to what she is doing by her big sister. This can be incredibly frustrating for Penny who, as I mentioned before, is quite deliberate in her actions and seems to have certain plans and goals of her own that she can not verbalise and is not quite strong enough to follow when these alterations to her schedule occur. So, I decided to give Penny a chance to express her creativity freely this week by giving the girls separate baths and giving each of them their own tray of shaving cream paints and brushes to use as they’d like. I believe I could have left Penny in that bath until all heat had dissipated and her lips were blue from cold. She loved it! Will definitely be figuring out some more ways to allow her some independent craft and paint time in the future.

3 dirt pit

I decided to incorporate some dirt play in the girl’s play this week. I had read a quote somewhere recently which stated simply ‘A dirty kid is a happy kid’. This struck a little cord in me because I know my children are happy playing in dirt and getting as messy as they can. Normally, however, they are trying to do it as we walk through a park or are on our way out somewhere and they start digging in someone’s garden which can often be stressful as I worry about them pulling up plants etc as they explore. So as I mused over this during my lessons supervising in a high school, I decided to set up a dirt pit in the backyard, dress the kids in their Sunday worst and then let them go for it. I was then really sadly shocked that my completely destructive and messy two year old played in the dirt for about 5 minutes before asking to have her hands washed. She started to get quite concerned about the dirt that was on her hands and feet. It made me think that maybe I have been a little restrictive in allowing them to get dirty over what has been a pretty hectic period of time here. I am determined to keep this dirt pit going and let the girls break through all hesitations and become complete dirt monsters. I’m on the lookout for a mud kitchen at an op shop that I could use as an accompaniment to the dirt pit.

So… an interesting and revealing week here. I am really enjoying this blog series at the moment. It is making me really analyse the girls’ play and look more closely at how I can tailor it to their personalities as well as their interests. Thank you again for following and as always I’d love to hear from you or answer any questions you may have.

Allowing Children to Play for Their Age and Stage

One of my most favourite and rewarding RIE practises centres around the notion that, in play, children are entirely capable of achieving their own goals at their own pace often without the need for demonstration or guidance. My understanding and appreciation of this has developed over time and as I have withdrawn my desire to show the girls what to do with an activity, toy or task, I have witnessed a lovely spike in confidence and countless beaming smiles as they have engaged in play in the way they wish to, without the expectation to do it right!

Although I could probably write a novel of short stories describing examples of how letting my girls discover their own play style has produced inspiring results, I have chosen just a couple of recent examples to share with you.

A few weekends back, my husband and I took our girls (Lucy, 2.4 years and Penny, 1.3 years) to visit their Granny in Brisbane (our nearest capital city). Being from a smaller town, we love taking the girls to see the amazing sights a big city has to offer so it wasn’t long before we had packed our bags and headed off for an excursion to the City’s cultural playground which houses an art gallery, museum, Science Centre and the State Library amongst other things. There is far too much to take in on one day so we settled for just the museum and the State Library on this particular day. Of course the children LOVED the museum with all it’s beautiful animal exhibits and lovely interactive displays but it wasn’t until we got to the Library that I was truly able to see the benefits of letting the children discover their own play.

It just so happened that the Library at the time had a fantastic sound display for children consisting of musical instruments fashioned from ordinary household goods as well as a mini dance floor surrounded by curtains. Among the amazing contraptions the children were invited to interact with was a vacuum cleaner trumpet, a xylophone style instrument made from hanging spoons and forks, a thong-a-phone and a washboard table with drumsticks. The girls were overwhelmed with the choices and possibilities initially. The first thing they discovered was the dance floor. With its flashing lights and cubby like set up, it was always going to be a big attraction. Lucy headed straight onto it, grabbing the head phones from the rack and donning them before ditching them in favour of ‘chasing the lights’ on the floor.


Penny walked tentatively across the floor, ignoring the headphones and the flashing lights and walked straight into the curtains where she played peek-a-boo, hiding in them and running through them for a long period of time. I sat nearby and watched them go. Whilst I did so I watched several other excited children enter the space with their parents in toe. They directed their toddlers to the headphones and popped them on their heads before standing with them and imitating their children’s bopping motion as many of them do.

I have absolutely no problem with this and in fact, pre RIE I was exactly the same, always wanting to show my kids what they are supposed to be doing. As it went on though, I sat there watching as Penny played happily in the curtains, exploring and discovering whilst several family groups came and went. I detected a pattern of behaviour whereby, those children that had been directed to do as the display intended, lasted in the area for less than a minute whilst those who were left to discover for themselves, played for a much longer time.

One particular incident had me feeling quite sorry not just for the child but for the parent too. This little boy, slightly older than Penny but less than two (I’m guessing) entered the dance floor with his parents and saw Penny hiding in the folds of the curtain. Ignoring the lights and headphones (much like Penny) this boy headed straight to another set of hanging curtains that encircled the floor but just before he got his little hand on one, his Dad grabbed his arm and redirected him back to the headphones, fitting them on his head and then bopping in front of him, showing him how to dance. The toddler, understandably was less than impressed and wriggled out of the headphones, throwing himself to the floor in objection when he was prevented from going into the curtains once again. The child was then helped from the floor by his Mum who then directed him out of the play area and out of the library.

Now, admittedly, I do not know any of the circumstances of this family which could have led to the decisions they made that day but I couldn’t help but wonder whether their need to provide their son with as many of life’s experiences as possible had made them overlook their child’s basic desire to explore and investigate in his own way, developing his own chosen experiences along the way.

Once Penny had left the dance area to delve deeper into the other delights on offer, I watched in fascination as she carefully considered her options. I repositioned myself so I was central to both her and Lucy and enjoyed several moments watching both girls move from object to object, gathering in information from each before they would eventually settle on the one that would resonate with them the most.

From my position I had a great vantage point for viewing the washboard table drum designed so children would run a drumstick along the board and tap the hanging metal plates like cymbals. The effect was lovely but as I sat I was amazed that not just some but all children who chose to climb onto the stool and partake in a little noise making were shown what to do by their parents. I’m not talking just little toddlers either; there were children there that would have had to be 5 or 6 who were not trusted to explore and play independently. Parents all over could not resist showing the children how to run the drumstick over the corrugated surface to make a sound. I pondered whether they might have discovered how to use it for themselves if given a little time. Interesting to note here was that the average lasting time at this particular display was less than 30 seconds.

After a little bit, Penny approached the this table and put her hands on the stool trying once to pull herself up before realising it was a little too high for her. So instead, she reached up and grabbed the drumstick. She then started hitting it on the stool, making little tapping noises. She then noticed that there was a little decorative hole cut out of the middle of the seat of the stool. She put her fingers of her free hand into it before peering in to have a look where it led. She then poked the drumstick into the hole carefully until it was almost all the way in and then removed it. She repeated this experiment about a dozen times before accidently (it seemed) dropping the drumstick into the hole. She peeked anxiously in after it and spotted it down on the floor. This started a whole new period of discovery for her whereby she would drop the stick in the hole then bend down and retrieve it before repeating over and over.

Her intense concentration was only broken by another child who came over to join in the game, peering into the hole after Penny had dropped the stick through. The girl’s mother was close behind and was careful not to let her daughter take the stick from Penny. Penny was finished though and happily offered up the stick to the girl who tried to poke the stick in the hole like Penny was doing but was promptly picked up and sat on the stool by her Mum and shown how to run the drumstick up and down the wash board.

If I could have sent a subliminal message to all those parents that day it would have been to do some research into RIE. Whilst I know that there are many many lovely parents and styles of parenting which are far removed from RIE and which still produce beautiful children, I know that the joy and satisfaction I experience in allowing my children to play at their own level and to have ownership over their play has got to be greater than having to constantly redirect children to play ‘properly’.

Another experience happened here at home, just the other day. It was a cold and rainy day, one not really conducive to letting the kids run around outside. I decided to set up some sticky collage play for Lucy whilst Penny slept. Whilst she was ‘cooking’ in her ‘kitchen’ I discretely stuck some contact paper upside down on her art table. I added some containers of collage material including cut up paper, material, buttons, confetti stars and puff balls and left it all there for her to discover. I had seen this activity set up on an internet site and thought it would be a great one for Lucy who has a short fuse and can get quite frustrated when trying to use glue with loose parts for normal collage work. I had certain expectations (based on the site) and thought this might be an activity that would keep her engaged for a significant amount of time. (Just as a side note, Lucy is not really renowned for her attention skills, I believe, as a result of being ‘entertained’ a lot through her first 18 months of life, prior to my discovery of RIE.) So this is how things unfolded.

Lucy discovered the invitation to play.

IMG_3536She slowly investigated the confetti stars discovering that they stuck nicely to the contact.

IMG_3540She then upended each of the containers one at a time onto the contact making a big pile in one spot.IMG_3543

IMG_3545She then discovered that this pile was not all stuck to the contact so she grabbed handfuls of the loose parts from the pile and dropped them over the edge of the table, watching them as they floated to the floor.

IMG_3547It took all my strength not to leap in and stop her doing this; to redirect her back to the task I had so carefully prepared for her. But to her, at her age and stage, this was play, this was experimentation, discovery and fun all in one. It didn’t look how I expected it to but she didn’t know that, I hadn’t told her and she was very happy and proud of her achievement.

I believe the RIE road is such a rewarding one and I love to reflect on experiences such as this and feel that overwhelming sense of gratefulness that I am able to now enjoy such moments in parenting rather than stress that my children are not on the right track or experiencing the right things. I would love to hear some other stories like this from parents who have experienced the same thing. Feel free to post in the comments below.

Rebuilding a Child’s Confidence

As an infant, my daughter could have been considered a very confident baby. Not a lot phased her, she rarely objected to strangers holding her and in play group settings, was very interactive with other babies and seemed happy to explore her environment with plenty of confidence to try new things. She has always displayed exceptional intelligence and physical ability and has a beautiful heart, but somewhere along the way, my little girl’s confidence has been knocked.

Rebuilding a Child's Confidence ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

No longer is she always such a happy, carefree girl, and although this shift in confidence has been gradual and is peaking just as she approaches the age of two (a tough developmental stage), I can’t help but think that maybe there were some areas of my parenting that in some way contributed to my daughter’s change of nature.

I have decided to break it up into the four areas which I think may not have been ideal for supporting the confidence she was innately born with:

1. Putting her into situations she was not ready for:

Builing a Child's Confidence ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident KidsI used to have so much fun taking my daughterto the park when she was just a small baby. She seemed to love being pushed in the swing and being slid down the slippery slide. I would also help her climb up large structures by supporting and boosting her up. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that by putting her into situations that she could not get into herself, I was unwittingly conveying the message that her actual abilities were not good enough.

Then, it was a little like a perpetual roundabout that was difficult to get off. The more we did this, the more she wanted to do it and the more she would become frustrated when she couldn’t.

In a previous post, I spoke about my natural desire to want to see my child achieve her milestones. I would try to aide her rolling by helping her onto her tummy or back when she was clearly trying to do this herself but not quite making it. I believe this may have kick started her ‘frustration squeal’ as she learned to depend on me to get herself into positions she didn’t have the muscular control to do herself and in doing so made her question the confidence she had in her own ability to do things, as well as making her feel she was inadequate because she couldn’t do it.

The same happened when she was thinking about crawling. On hands and knees, I would gently guide her hand forward, followed by her knee to show her the motions. It wasn’t long before she realised that she couldn’t crawl by herself when she wanted to and so the screams continued.

Then came the walking and so on. To her, it seemed that what she was capable of doing in the here and now was never good enough and my pushing her into things she wasn’t ready for was only fuelling this thought.

2. Playing too well with her:

When she was younger, I loved playing with her. It was like I was reliving my own childhood. I loved to build her towers that she could knock down and then help her to build her own.

Rebuilding a Child's Confidence ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident KidsWhen we played with play dough, I would be right beside her playing too. I would make lovely shapes and figures and tell stories with them whilst my daughter looked on with her big ball of mushed play dough.

When she would colour with her pencils, I would enjoy colouring in myself, being sure to stay neatly inside the lines. Little did I realise that  by engaging with her play in this way I was undermining her confidence. She would see what I was doing and when she realised she could not do it as well as I could, she would give up.

In hindsight, she communicated this to me well before she could speak. If she was building blocks beside me and was having trouble stacking more than three blocks, whilst I was easily building a great tower she would aggressively knock both hers and mine over with a yell of frustration and move onto something else.

Her reaction with the playdough was very similar and when we would colour, if she stopped to look up at mine, she would see how neat it was and then quickly scribble over the top of it and tear her own page or throw her book on the ground. She knew there was no way she could complete the tasks to the standard she thought she had to, so she would vent her frustration and then destroy my creations, maybe trying to tell me I was expecting too much.

I was teaching her how to do things properly but I hadn’t realised that, in a child’s eyes, there is no such thing as properly until you show them there is.

3. Helping too much when frustrations set in:

It is so instinctive to want to jump to the rescue of a child who is crying out for help. It is an easy fix. You solve whatever problem is ailing them and then they’re happy, you’re happy because they’re happy and everyone can go on happily playing. Problem is, when you do this, you are giving them the message that they can’t do it on their own. Therefore, when the same or a similar situation arises, the child will continue to cry out for help, lacking their own confidence to work it out for themselves.

When I think about it, I helped my daughter from early on by handing her the toy she was searching for, just out of her reach. As she grew older I helped her with puzzles, shape sorters and other toys that required problem solving. I would unhook her pram when it got stuck on something as she pushed it in an effort to prevent her shouts of frustrations and turn her posting cards around the right way for her so she could post them into the box easily.

I thought I was helping her through her struggles; I was showing her how to do things so she would quickly learn and not have to struggle anymore. Problem was, she wasn’t given the opportunity to work things out for herself and by helping her through her frustrations, I  was conveying a message that she was incapable of doing it on her own.

4. Providing her with too many electronic toys:

Rebuilding a Child's Confidence ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident KidsComplex in their design but simple in their operation, electronic toys gave my daughter a false sense of her ability. With many of her electronic toys, she could simply press a button or pull a handle and something amazing would happen. It was so easy for her that when given an inert toy that did not have a button to push or lever to pull, she had unrealistic expectations of what should happen with these toys. When she could not get something to perform for her easily, she would give up and question her ability to work it. She had little perseverance for problem solving type toys. preferring the cheap entertainment of the flashy toys.

Where to From Now?

Following RIE philosophies, I am now in the process of re-building my daughter’s confidence. As I undertake this task, I am mindful that this is not a quick fix and will take a great deal of dedication, patience and reassurance.

I now refrain from my own desires to play with my child and when I do, I am always careful to allow her to guide the play and tell me what to do, rather than the other way around. Electronic toys are a thing of the past and she is now able to engage in skill building, problem solving and open ended toys for longer periods of time.

If she cannot climb it, jump it, get into it or on it then she doesn’t get any assistance from me other than gentle support with comments like: “I can see you’re trying really hard. It’s difficult to climb over that climbing frame. If you’d like to keep trying I will stay right beside you for support.”

By substituting the old methods for these new ones, I am slowly starting to see a return in the spirit of my little girl and I hope she will go on to climb mountains, full of confidence that she can achieve anything she sets her mind to in life.

You might also enjoy reading

Allowing Children to Play For Their Age and Stage ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)

Could Young Children be Better Served by Not Teaching Them ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)

Toys Fostering Creativity and independence in Children ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)