Friday, January 6, 2012

A Safe Place

One of the many things that I consider when setting up an environment for children is safety.  When I say that I am thinking about physical safety a lot, but also a place where they feel safe holistically.  When a child feels safe, then they are truly free to explore to their fullest potential.

Magda Gerber speaks about creating a sectioned off space for an infant to be so that they are able to have their own space to explore without baby proofing the entire house.  She also suggests doing this because infants benefit from having a small area to explore because it brings their focus to their body and the select toys and objects that are placed in their gated off area.  At school we essential do that by setting up our classrooms thoughtfully and fully and limit our activities to that one area so that they are able to become masters of themselves and everything they see.  It wasn't until I was talking with one of my current parents that I realized that there is still a need for this gated area as the infant becomes confidently mobile, often what I call a wobbler.  While it's true that at this stage a child takes up more space, especially as they run, there is still that need for a safe place, while learning how to be safe in all areas of the house.

What a Safe Playspace Needs:

1. Boundries
Physically creating a closed in space is the start.  Sometimes this might look like your child's bedroom or an extra room that can be converted into a play room, but it's also possible to simply gate off a corner in a larger room that can be dedicated to your child.  At this age it is not necessary to lock them into this space, because you will find that they are drawn to this area by the way you arrange it.  Part of the safety is adult accessability.  Only create spaces that you can fit inside, get to easily and is within hearing. 

2. Materials
Everything should be appropriate for their age and interest.   You know your child the best so for some a tray of small glass beads would attract your child for hours, while another would dump/throw/swallow them all in 5 minutes.  The items that are in your child's santcuary should be beautiful, attractive, clean and enticing.  It might even be that the way you create this area is what is attractive.  Draping sheets, silks and scarves can make a nice physical barrier, yet they easily allow you to hear what is going on inside.  Baby gates are great and come a large range of sizes to corner off a section of a larger room, place at the base/top of stairs or place at the entrance of rooms that you either want to encourage your child to stay in or out of.  At my house we still use a baby gate with our 3 year old when we know we are not going to be available to block off the room which has the kitchen, electronics and other things that we know would entice him, yet he is not quite able to do on his own.  This gate used to be at the doorway to his bedroom where I would often leave him while I did the dishes or took a shower.  Inside he had a futon, low shelf with a few toys and books, and his blanket that he slept with.  As his need for space expanded, we did too.  Now he has a playroom that has all of his things and when he needs space, or we need to know where he is going to be while we do chores and work he can go there and be self-sufficient. 

The one thing that keeps a toddler focused for a long time is materials that call to their interest and then challenge them just that perfect amount.  It might be too hard right now, but because they love it they keep trying.  It is that challenge that keeps their focus longer and engaged in what their body needs.   We can support their independent play by using observation to see what their interests are. 

4. Security

Some children need a place that they cannot leave.  Some children need you near by.  Others can be alone.  You know your child and are able to give them what they need.  Take this into account when creating a space for them.  Being within earshot is a necessity, just in case something happens, but as you arrange a space for your toddler, you will find that you can move further and further away, giving them the space to play and explore while you do what you need to do.  It's a mutually beneficial situation for you and your child, which giving them trust and respect.  With this security, the child feels safe and comfortable enough to fully engage with what their true nature needs.  This is different for every child, but when their base needs are fulfilled the possibilities are endless.

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