At the 24th Annual RIE Infant/Toddler Conference entitled PROTECTING FREE PLAY IN THE EARLIEST YEARS: WHAT WE CAN DO, I was asked to present on the Role of the Adult at Little Learners Lodge during infant play.
The RIE philosophy of play can look very different from other approaches where the adult role is centered on the teacher as the educator with a planned agenda for the day’s learning. Or where babies are viewed as needing adult initiated stimulation or entertainment. Or, perhaps, where crying or frustration are things to avoid or solve for the child.
Adults facilitating PLAY using the RIE Approach take on the role as Play Facilitator rather than that of orchestrator. When adults attempt to teach play, with the best of intentions we interfere with the infant’s natural and intrinsic play process.
While not centered physically, the adult’s role during play is central- focused first on cultivating a rich and securely attached relationship between baby and her preferred adult. The adult’s play role further includes:
- preparing the environment
- understanding child development
- maintaining play objects
- handling disputes as needed
- being a frame of reference
- being emotionally present in the moment, and
Sometimes you don’t even need to see the adult to observe the Educarer’s (Magda Gerber’s term for the infant educator) presence in the child’s play. Take a few moments to observe Baby G at play. What do you see happening? Why is this possible?
When infants move freely during what Magda Gerber referred to as “Want’s Nothing” time, they do what they know best. They play. This baby is intentional and persevering.
Although not visible in the video, the adult (Alysse) plays a central role in the quality of this baby’s play. Baby G is in a state of well-being having been re-fueled under Alysse’s sensitive and respectful care. G’s play objects have been carefully chosen by her Educarer, simple but increasingly complicated cognitively based on her individual development. Baby G’s parents have been included in the discussion of free play and she is clothed in a way that allows for unrestricted and comfortable exploration.
Observing Baby G at play under the facilitation of her primary caregiver Alysse, we can see she is secure, comfortable, and balanced physically and emotionally. She is able to develop meaningful connections with her play objects as she explores her environment which has been thoughtfully prepared with her individual interests and developmental readiness in mind. Through her self-initiated action, Baby G connects physically and cognitively seemingly teaching herself as she constructs her world.
“A child needs to be in a state of well-being in order to play.” -Beverly Kovach, Author of BEING WITH BABIES