The next two pieces of RIE@ go hand in hand with each other: a safe, challenging and predictable environment and time for uninterrupted play.
When following the RIE@ approach, it is absolutely crucial you have a designated section of your home that supports a baby’s natural desire to move. This inborn motivation should not be handicapped by the environment but rather supports the child so that she can best do what she is capable of doing. In addition, having this area be predictable by setting it up in a similar way every time makes it easier for learning and natural development to occur.
This play space should be 100% safe so if your baby was left alone because you were suddenly locked out of the house (unlikely but go with it for a second), the baby would be physically unharmed. Maybe they would be hungry, tired or thirsty but not in any danger. It is going a step further than just “baby-proofing” because more than trying to retrofit an adult environment to accommodate an infant’s needs. It most likely requires some kind of gate, removal of furniture and wires as well as careful selection of play objects. It can start off being small in size when the baby is young and expand over time as they grow larger and require most space to move.
The environment also needs to be cognitively challenging with some dynamic tension to facilitate learning. This means making sure everything is developmentally appropriate and not too advanced that baby ends up excessively frustrated but offers some opportunity for problem solving, spatial awareness and critical thinking. It also must be emotionally nurturing with a parent or caregiver nearby, responsive and attentive as needed but given plenty of freedom to explore and interact independently.
The best part about the safe space is that baby knows no one will interrupt and parent can relax knowing the baby won’t be harmed. Honestly, it is one of the best things I have ever done as a new mom because it has given my daughter her own space to do her own thing. I don’t have to worry if she is going to stick her finger in an outlet or climb on a table and fall off. There is a sense of ease and freedom that the area creates that brought me much relief, enabling me to take care of and honor my own needs, whether it was to go to the bathroom in peace or prepare a nourishing meal to enjoy.
Once the space has been created, uninterrupted play can become a daily activity. The baby is given time to pursue his own interests, curiosities and agenda without anyone’s direction or influence. We don’t “teach” the baby new skills but rather observe, respect and appreciate what he is actually doing even if that differs from our own intentions.
Honestly, it can be brutally challenging to hold back during uninterrupted play. But it is important to remember that intervening always means disrupting but NOT interrupting doesn’t mean ignoring. You can be around, available and present but not be intrusive by acting on the desire to rescue, teach or guide. We must practice stepping back so that we do not direct baby to our own interests or show baby how we “think” they should play with a toy. This means not dangling a play object in baby’s face or pushing an out of reach toy closer so baby can grab it, these seemingly benign actions we do all the time.
Uninterrupted play is incredible for developing inner emotional contentment, quiet, attentive, deep concentration and enjoyment of both independence and solitude. It also provides the space for baby to practice so she can develop any skills she can be working on. We complain all the time how kids have shorter and shorter attention spans these days but what are we really doing to cultivate this skill? It starts now, from the beginning of baby’s life.
Additionally, when babies are allowed to move freely, in their own way by their own faculties and in their own safe space, they gain self-reliance, problem solving skills, confidence, bodily and spatial awareness, tenacity and determination. And that’s just naming a few! What an incredible gift to allow them to cultivate this and how well equipped they will become when interacting with the world at large.
Just to note, there may be times when you need to intervene or interrupt but it is always important to provide just enough help so the baby can gain mastery on his own. Reflect and ask yourself, who’s need it being served by interjecting yourself and once you get clear on the answer, than act and respond accordingly. Remember to allow sensitive observation to guide this entire process so you are able to give the child freedom to move, to engage in open- ended play, to pursue their interests and have the opportunity to learn in their own way on their own accord.
Personally speaking, we have been practicing independent, uninterrupted play since my daughter was a young infant and it’s been amazing to witness the evolution. She is able to keep herself occupied and engaged without needing us to entertain or direct her. Let me be clear, there are SO MANY opportunities where we play together, where I am engaged in the back and forth dialogue and creativity of her imagination but equally, if not more important, is making sure she has the space, time and opportunity to play alone with a loving, present parent nearby. TOTAL game changer!
Rest easy, care givers everywhere. We don’t have to teach our kids everything. We just have to provide the right environment for the learning to be done!