What You Teach is Yourself. Magda Gerber
This post is inspired by two of my greatest heroes, inspirations, and teachers; two amazing women who have touched and changed my life, my way of thinking, and my very way of being in the world, through their friendship and example, their words, their work, their very unique way of seeing babies and communicating their understanding and vision to others.
One of these women is Magda Gerber who began introducing a simple but revolutionary idea to parents and caregivers in the United States through the organization (Resources For Infant Educarers or RIE) she founded in the 1970’s. Magda advocated for treating babies as whole and competent people from birth on. “We not only respect babies, we demonstrate our respect every time we interact with them. Respecting a child means treating even the youngest infant as a unique human being, not as an object.”
The other person is Janet Lansbury, who came to know Magda when she was a young mother herself, through participating in one of Magda’s parent infant classes with her first baby (who is now a young adult). Magda and Janet became very dear friends over the years, as Janet went on to continue to study with Magda, and to become a RIE Associate and serve on the RIE Board of Directors. Today, Janet is a skilled and experienced practitioner, teacher, and writer in her own right, and a champion for respectful caregiving and understanding of babies. Janet also has extreme compassion for parents and what a difficult job parenting can be, and she shares unique, profound guidance and support with thousands who would never otherwise have access to Magda’s message, through her weekly blog posts and the use of social media.
In November, near the end of 2011, Janet’s post, The Secrets of Infant Learning was nominated by another passionate advocate for young children, Teacher Tom, as Most Influential Post of the Year in the Edublog Awards, “a community based incentive started in 2004 in response to community concerns relating to how schools, districts and educational institutions were blocking access of learner and teacher blog sites for educational purposes. The purpose of the Edublog awards is to promote and demonstrate the educational values of these social media. The best aspects include that it creates a fabulous resource for educators to use for ideas on how social media is used in different contexts, with a range of different learners. It introduces us all to new sites that we might not have found if not for the awards process.”
In his nomination Tom said:
“Being a preschool teacher, I’m around a lot of newborns, not as their teacher, but hopefully their future teacher, as they come to school to drop off their older siblings. My standing joke had always been to look under their little blankies and say, “Come back to me when you can walk and talk, then we can be friends.” I’ve not said it since discovering parent educator Janet Lansbury’s self-named blog. Inspired by the work of Magda Gerber (for whom she is an important evangelist) Janet has changed my entire way of thinking about babies and very young children, giving me insight into the brilliance and competency of our youngest humans. It’s almost impossible to pick out one post to nominate in this category, nearly every one of them pierces into some core truth about young children and our relationships with them, but the one that had the most impact on me was The Secrets of Infant Learning. The video she shares of a baby scientist at work, and her careful observations, belies so many of my long held assumptions about infants that it’s like she’s opened a door to a whole new world. A close runner up for me is the post Don’t Cramp Your Toddlers Style — The Power of Trust in which a little girl inspires by just lying on a beach. Holy cow!”
Janet’s nomination and contribution was unique in that hers was the only one that represented and spoke to the particular ways babies and toddlers learn, and the ways in which parents and caregivers can understand and honor these needs. The post ended up being voted third among the top five most influential posts of the year. Yea, Janet! Score one for babies and toddlers everywhere!
In her most recent post, Janet writes :
“Will 2012 be the Year of the Baby? I’m hoping, yes. Perhaps this will be the year that babies are finally acknowledged as uniquely capable, full-fledged people. Maybe parents and caregivers will realize that babies are born knowing something about their development and can be trusted to demonstrate readiness for developmental milestones by “doing them”.”
Today, on her facebook page Janet hosted a lively conversation which began with a question from a parent. I believe parts of this conversation bear repeating here. The question from Candace: “Do you have any posts you wrote or bookmarked on constantly seeing adults mistreat children in the subtle “socially accepted” ways of our society? The arm jerk, the “Sit down and be quiet, don’t make me mad,” kind of thing. It pains me so greatly now that I’ve had this paradigm shift to respectful and relationship-based parenting. I feel disturbed and even heartbroken when I’m out and about in shops or playgrounds, restaurants. I don’t particularly care about how they are caring for their children in terms of formula/breastfeeding, carriers, toys, attachment, sleeping arrangements, etc, but the lack of respect thing gets to me like nothing else!”
Lucinda replied: “I have been involved with early childhood education for 30 years. Some of the people we entrust our children to are also practicing this “socially acceptable” disrespect of children. It may not be the physical treatment, but verbal and non-verbal (ignoring, “evil eye”, etc.) My mission is to increase awareness, to create a way to bring this to the forefront… my website is under construction, but asks the question, “How do we want this world to be?” We’ve got to take a close look at how we treat our children soon. They become the ones in charge, the ones to make choices. We need them to be healthy mentally as well as physically. We need them to know how to be in healthy relationship with others, how to work together, how to respect each other, how to care and understand, how to take another’s perspective. This does not come easy to someone who has not felt or experienced this as a young child!”
Janet’s response: “I think we have to keep talking, writing, sharing about this… Just the other day I read a post by a blogger I admire who mentioned in her opening paragraph that when our children become toddlers (and she meant 2 years old) we are finally dealing with a PERSON. What happened to those first couple of years???? I didn’t comment because I actually appreciated the rest of the article, but no one else mentioned it either, which made me realize that the idea of babies being “less than people” is totally acceptable! If babies aren’t people, why would we bother to treat them the way we would like to be treated? And there are many who don’t see children of any age as real people yet. We’ve got to change this societal perception…”
My two cents: Candace, I understand how difficult it is for you to see children treated in subtly disrespectful ways. Once your eyes have been opened to a new way of seeing and being with young children, there is no going back. (One of my pet peeves is when adults hold toddlers by their arms instead of by their hands when walking with them. Not something that’s considered “abusive” by any means- some toddler teachers even do it, but it makes me cringe.)
A few months ago, I attended a school function with the six year old I’m a nanny for, and I witnessed a young mother roughly yank her baby (who was about a year old) by one arm, and shove him back into the carrier she was using to contain him. The baby had been clamoring to get down, and when she put him down, he started to toddle off, and she reprimanded him in a harsh tone three times before yanking him back into the carrier. (This was at an outdoor harvest festival.) I just stared at her. No one else around me even seemed to register what had just happened.
What I have learned, is that sometimes I can help both a parent and a child by speaking kindly to the parent, and/or offering a helping hand. Sometimes it’s not possible to do anything except to make eye contact with the child, and beam loving understanding. I know that sounds weird. Maybe it’s because I am always so aware of and tuned into the young children around me, but often, when I’m in public places young children seek me out, even if it’s only to make eye contact. I think it’s because babies and toddlers are so aware, but so often just ignored or overlooked in public- they really sense when someone is tuned in, and there is a communication that can happen, even without words.
I’m really careful to let the child make first contact and set the pace of the interaction, because the other injustice small children are subjected to in public is the patronizing, “Aww aren’t you cute? How old are you? Can I pat your head?” type of response. I don’t know what any of us can do about it, except what we’re doing… becoming aware, remaining aware, modeling for others, trying to raise awareness through talking, writing, sharing… It’s my dream, like Janet’s and Magda Gerber’s before her, and so many others like you, that together, we can make a difference for babies. The change has to come at a societal level as well as at an individual level. We really are in need of a “Year of The Baby!” It’s my reason for waking up and doing what I do every day.
It’s the beginning of a new year. What do you hope for in this coming year for yourself, for your children, for our world, and the world our children will inherit? Whatever you wish for, it will not come to be until we have achieved a paradigm shift at both the individual and societal level that begins with respecting, understanding and treating babies as unique individuals and whole people from the moment of their birth. Will you join me in spreading the word and making 2012 the “Year of The Baby?” Together we can start a revolution. The time is now.