The Baby’s In Charge: a look at baby-led scheduling

After Stella was first born, I spent hours Googling “stay at home mom schedule.”  Most of the results that came up seemed unattainable (translation: those moms were way more motivated to do housework than I am), or they otherwise just weren’t quite what I was looking for.  Then, I started comparing my stay-at-home-mom schedule to the schedule I had for my infant/toddler classroom when I worked in Manhattan, and it looked nothing like that either.  I started to feel like I was failing until, finally, I realized I was being a little bit ridiculous.

If any other parent were to ask me what their schedule should look like, I would tell them that their family is unique and their routine should be, too.  It should fit the needs of their particular family and it should be whatever works for them – not necessarily what works for another family.  I decided I should probably take my own advice.

One of the most important things to me as a parent is following my baby’s lead.  That’s why instead of having a specific daily schedule, we have a basic routine which is eat-play-sleep.  That’s the definite part of our routine that we follow every day; the stuff that happens in between each of those basic categories depends on how I’m feeling, what plans (if any) we might have for the day, and, most importantly, Stella’s cues.

We know that babies thrive on consistency and stability, so it can be overwhelming and stressful when you feel like maybe you’re not being consistent enough by, say, sticking to the same rigid schedule every day.  I’m here to tell you that you can relax, because rigidity (does anyone else have a hard time pronouncing that word?) isn’t what your baby wants either.  Babies want their needs met.  Plain and simple.  If you try to stick to a very rigid schedule, but your baby gets hungry an hour sooner than you planned, she’s not going to be a very happy camper if you don’t let her eat because you don’t think she’s “supposed” to be hungry yet.  She doesn’t understand why, despite her attempts to communicate, you aren’t meeting her needs.  Your baby’s sense of stability and consistency isn’t fulfilled through a strict schedule or routine, but more so through the consistent meeting of her needs and the love she feels from you, both of which help her develop a feeling of general well-being.

Sometimes I hold Stella while she naps.  Sometimes I feel like I need to get things done, so she naps by herself while I do laundry, shower, or pick up the house (or write this blog post).  Usually, she wakes up at 7:30 a.m., but sometimes she doesn’t wake up until 8:30.  Her morning nap can range anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours.  Sometimes she loves playing on a blanket on the floor, and sometimes she would rather be held.  My point is, there are a lot of variables in our day.  The consistency of Stella’s day lies in knowing that I will always meet her needs and also in her eat-play-sleep routine — when she wakes up, I nurse her and change her diaper, we play or otherwise go about our day (but, I do try to save cleaning, etc. for nap time so most of her awake time is spent playing), she sleeps, and then we start the process over again and continue it until bedtime.

Stella happily playing with a ball after having a nap and getting a full tummy!

Stella happily playing with a ball after having a nap and getting a full tummy!

Basically, a baby-led schedule simply involves watching for and responding appropriately  and consistently to your baby’s cues — that’s what works best for us and what I believe is best for my baby.  What kind of schedule or routine do you find works best for your family?  Do you have questions about a baby-led schedule?

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Supporting Development Through Rice Play

One of Stella’s favorite things to do lately is play with rice.  In fact, it has even solicited giggles the past couple of times we’ve done it!  In case you’re new to sensory play, I thought I would give you an idea of what this experience typically looks like with my four month old.

I don’t have a sensory table yet (though the hubs is working on building it!), but she would be too small to reach it right now anyway.  For now, I’ve been just keeping the rice in the tub that I store it in while we play with it. I usually set up the experience while she’s napping.  All it involves is spreading a blanket on the floor to catch the runaways and setting the tub of colored* rice on it. Pretty easy.  Sometimes, I place a mirror nearby which just adds another level to the play by letting her see what she’s doing as she explores.

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A few minutes spent playing with dry rice in a plastic tub covers all of the following aspects of development:

-Language and Communication – narrating the experience during play supports baby’s language development; responding to baby’s noises and facial expressions helps baby learn how to communicate her needs

-Social and Emotional – watching for and responding appropriately to the baby’s cues lets baby know she’s important and facilitates a trusting relationship with the caregiver

-Cognitive – babies use their senses to explore the world around them – this particular sensory experience provided stimulation by way of touch, sight, and sound

-Physical – kicking her feet in the rice and grasping it with her hands works on motor skills

When she’s ready to play, I sit down on the floor with her, show and talk to her about the tub of rice, and then help her touch and play with it.  These are the things I would typically say as I help her explore the rice (and, yes, I sometimes feel a little silly, but all of the conversation/explanations are important in facilitating her development):

– “Do you see the red rice in the tub?  Would you like to play with it?”

– “Let’s take the lid off so we can touch it.”

– “Oh! It feels kind of cold and grainy!”

– “Would you like to touch the rice? Do you like the way it feels in your hands?”

– “Would you like to see how feels on your feet?  I’m dropping it onto your toes! Oh, that made you smile!  You must like the rice on your feet!”

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– “I wonder what it sounds like when we drop it.  Oh, it kind of sounds like rain, doesn’t it?  That’s neat!”

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– “I see that you’re starting to get upset.  Are you all done playing with the rice?  Okay, we can do something different.”

At this age, I obviously facilitate the play and guide her through her it, actually doing most of the things myself and for her.  As she gets older it will be easier to follow her lead during play. It’s still important right now, though, to read her cues and try to follow them.  For example, if she seems to like feeling the rice on her feet, I keep doing it (and talking about what I’m doing) until she seems disinterested.  If I do something that she seems to dislike, I acknowledge what she’s doing that tells me she doesn’t like it (i.e. “You’re making a mad face, so you must not like that.”), stop what I’m doing, and try something different.  Aside from helping her figure out how to communicate effectively, following her cues also lets her know that I respect her, that she’s valuable, and that she can trust me.

By narrating everything I’m doing, I’m aiding Stella’s language and vocabulary development by letting her hear all kinds of different sounds, figure out that there is meaning attached to words, learn how words are strung together to make a sentence, etc.  When I talk about how she is feeling or what she is doing, I’m again letting her know that she is important while also giving her the correct vocabulary so that she can eventually describe her actions and emotions herself.  This will be important, because children who are able to accurately describe what they are feeling with words are less likely to act out on their emotions by displaying challenging behavior.

Bottom line: Sensory play is awesome.  If you don’t give it a try for the developmental reasons, then at least consider doing it for the giggles 🙂

 

 

*To make colored rice, I use 3-4 tablespoons rubbing alcohol mixed with several drops of food coloring, stir it into dry rice until it is coated evenly, and then spread it out to dry.