The End of a Year Long Study in Radically Following the Child.
A child changes a lot in one year. No more so than the first year of life, of which Sarah's is rapidly drawing to a close. During her pregnancy, I discovered natural motor skills development. The idea of no tummy time, no swaddles, no bouncy chairs or swings, no propped sitting, no walkers or hand holding adult-led steps appealed to something deep within me.
After 19 months of fighting for every milestone with Tomas, I just felt tired. In honesty, I think there may have been a streak of laziness that made freedom of movement sound like a good plan.
But mostly I just felt there had to be a better way.
Eventually I discovered that better way for Tomas, when I returned to my Montessori roots to observe him and discover where he was and work from there rather than applying him to a set of arbitrary guidelines. I was determined to do better this time.
And so began my year of radically following Sarah.
So what went well?
In the beginning I was very diligent about setting up our movement area with materials to promote natural movement (more ideas here and here). I think this was important because it set the habit for both of us to put her down! When she was about 9 months old, a friend commented on her incredible ability to play. She still likes me close, but she can play for very long periods of time if she is uninterrupted. I credit this to our early commitment to allowing her freedom of movement- even small ones!
Even as I was less intentional about her play spaces through our move and Lucie's tough winter, my existing experiences in observation were paramount to our success. I already knew how to make the best of observations about other developmental areas and with practice that transferred to motor skills as well.
I also had a network of like-minded moms, especially on Instagram, to rely on when I needed ideas and inspiration. This is such a counter-cultural way to support an infant it helped a lot to have others fighting the same fight, so to speak! My three favorites are Nicole @ The Kavanaugh Report, DIY Corporate Mom, and Mama the Explorer. All three are younger than me with fewer kids yet have taught me huge, huge lessons. They all have a toddler a bit younger than Tomas, but that has made their archives a gold mine of ideas for both him and Sarah. They are natural teachers and researchers and I'm glad I was able to tap into their wisdom! Just a caution- although highly compatible, this is not exactly a Montessori approach so don't assume that if you are following a Montessori mom that she is promoting natural motor skills development. Look for RIE or natural motor skills specifically. A year ago I wouldn't have been able to pick out the differences, but wow can I now!
What were the challenges?
The biggest challenge was, honestly in other people. Relatives who assumed she could sit because she could crawl and put her down on her bottom or people wanting to interrupt her play to hold her. I know that sounds mean, but it truly was the biggest challenge. I want to educate people on quality education facts but I was still learning this one and I was trying to watch Sarah so we could learn together. I could have done a better job with being prepared to educate and that probably would have helped me be a lot less frustrated.
Children's clothing is not meant for children to actually move in. I have had the hardest time dressing Sarah for our Minnesota weather and to be movement friendly. Its actually a lot easier now in the summer with just a diaper and a t-shirt or onesie, but as she approaches a year it gets less and less acceptable to go barefoot- and barefoot really makes a difference.
Temperamentally, Sarah is very low key so she wasn't terribly phased by going to appointments with Lucie or hanging out at the hospital. She was happy to move in whatever ways we could allow her, but that definitely took some creativity!
What did I learn?
This is really the fun part! I learned first and foremost that babies are so much more capable than even most early educators give them credit for. Seriously. I have been promoting the cognitive capabilities of the child for years but I had been selling them sort when it comes to motor skills.
Secondly, our developmental milestones are out of order. Seeing as I only have a case study of one, I could be wrong about this, but I observed Sarah crawl before she sat and stand up in the middle of the floor before she walked. She isn't walking yet and I find myself oddly unconcerned if she will or won't before her birthday Tuesday. So many things she succeeded in the first time she tried, like climbing up stairs and even sitting. One day she was just on her bottom and she could sit! Sitting for Sarah was extremely active. It was a position that she merely moved through for the first month or more she did it.
Even when I am watching her, she is watching me. This is huge. So many times when I was nervous about a situation and stepped in too close or too fast, she picked up on my anxiety and stopped trying whatever she was doing. Of course there were times I needed to step closer, but it has been a lesson not to step in unless it is clearly needed.
Now we keep going. We keep watching Sarah. We keep trusting her as she builds motor skills and awareness of her body. This has been an incredible year. For the first time (maybe because I'm older and know there are no guarantees in life) I feel pretty weepy about her birthday. She is my baby and I am so proud of everything she has accomplished this year!
But more importantly, so is she.
A year ago, I would have told you that the best way to build a confident child is through a close relationship with a trusted primary caregiver. I still believe that, but I have to modify it to be a partnership with a trusted primary caregiver who also trusts the child.
That's the kind of support no sit-up pillow can provide.