I came across this tweet yesterday:
If you’re on Twitter you may have come across it too because it’s since had the meme treatment. Of course I scrolled down and read the comments. A lot of praise. But there were a couple others that stood out to me which I will share below:
I feel like this tweet and its responses cleared up something that’s been bothering me for the past few weeks regarding how I approach my son’s development.
The new mum experience
My first year of being a mum was filled with awe and a very firm resolve to not rush my son into any of the development milestones. I got the usual advice from others about working on his sleep routine, not holding him for too long, not rocking him to sleep in case he gets too attached, about how so and so month is the usual time when a toddler begins to sit, to crawl, to walk. I ignored it all. But my son, Musa, was quick with developing his gross motor skills, masha Allah. He started walking at ten months. When things like that happen you as a parent don’t have to put yourself into the category of ‘why isn’t my child doing so and so yet’. You feel happy at the seamless progression. I think where I did get a lot of opinions was on his speech development, because Musa wasn’t really talking. He said a few words, names of objects that he’d caught in conversations. Definitely no sentences. I even had a woman tell me to take him to a speech therapist. Really? Again, I ignored the concern.
When Musa turned two he continued his thing for naming objects. He also began to pick up the alphabet from baby videos on YouTube. The alphabet song helped him to learn it pretty quickly. Along with this he picked up his numbers and shapes – all with very little input from me. And then he stopped. But in my head the ball was rolling and I took it as a sign that he’s ready to develop a bit more in formal learning. I began to count with him to twenty, began to sit him down so we could maybe start the Arabic alphabet too. I used to draw the English alphabet letters so he would familiarise himself with those and not just the recitation of the alphabet song (and maybe he might begin to try and write them?). I thought this would all be natural progression.
But Musa wasn’t really interested. He’d learnt what he’d learnt of his own initiative and he was continuing to learn other things on his own. He didn’t want to sit passively and take in information, even when I tried to make it creative with different mediums, different activities. The reason for this was that the relationship between us in these times became solidly teacher-student. And he definitely picked up on that! Why should he be interested? If anything, my overly involved interest in what he’d learnt of numbers alphabet and shapes was making him stick firmly to them and not want to memorise anything further. I noticed that the more I tried to get him to count beyond 10, the more he kept counting everything to ten. When we went down the stairs he counted each step and when he reached 9 and there were still more steps he would keep counting 9 9 9 9 and then 10 only when he got to the last one. He counted his toys to 10. He was firmly stuck on 10 as if to subconsciously tell me that he was comfortable with that and to back off (lol). I realised that I needed to leave him be. This is a minor example, but it made me think of cases where children exhibit OCD or ADHD behaviours and I just wondered if it was because of the misdirected development pushes that we adults may be placing upon them.
Where I’m at now with my son
I’ve completely backed off trying to encourage the kinds of learning that society would see as marks of achievement. Instead I’m trying to sync myself with my son to see what he likes doing. The relationship is now one of participants in play, not teacher-student.
Musa’s second year has been full of loving dinosaurs – which led to learning the names and characteristics of different types (a continuation of his interest in the names of things), acting like the different types of dinosaurs he knows, role playing with dinosaur toys, organising the toys into their types etc.
From one of his dinosaur books, Musa saw the picture of a volcano. When I told him what it was the word stuck to him. Yesterday he painted a picture of a volcano with a dinosaur underneath it. And after painting that picture he exclaimed ‘beautiful colours everywhere!’
I realised that he’s been saying a few things in the past couple of weeks which are really significant to me as a parent who’s been watching his speech develop. For example, our fireplace stopped working a few days ago and since then he’s been pointing at it and saying ‘the fire is sleeping.’ He loves the evening time when I switch the lights on and yesterday he told me ‘the light is shining everywhere’ because he noticed that when I switched it on the light hit all parts of the room. That is really remarkable when you think about it.
It made me think of that tweet at the beginning. I don’t know the parent who wrote it. I don’t know exactly how they meant it. I’m guessing their children aren’t speech robots, but I know their approach isn’t one I would choose and it would not work for Musa. Musa was slow to pick up language when compared to the standard, and yet now that his language is forming organically he’s making sentences of his own. He expressed his observation of the movement of light. He personified the fire to explain how it isn’t working. He observed and stated the beauty of colours!
His organic learning is a contrast to the way he reacted when I tried to teach him further counting. If I had taught him sentence structure from the beginning I think it would’ve created a similar obsession with ‘how things are meant to be’, and getting the rules right.
The importance of bonding, play and curiosity
I read an article that was posted in a homeschooling group about how toddlers and parents sync each other when playing (https://www.princeton.edu/news/2020/01/09/baby-and-adult-brains-sync-during-play-finds-princeton-baby-lab?fbclid=IwAR1D8uP6MRJ-DjX8WWZO-EJq2xfexG5Ve_SRLE2jRU3xv2tAPlj9MwdaIaw). The same parts of their brains light up and the adult even begins to follow the lead of the child. This is what I thought of when I read that comment about how mirroring the child’s language actually helps them to develop. I personally think that the foundation of this syncing is love because playing is bonding. There have also been research studies that have found that love and security go much further in helping a child’s growth than only just seeing to their physical needs.
Developing language for a child is the same as play (everything for them is play!) and so I see baby talk as communication, but I also see it as playfulness, creativity and an expression of love. They will still pick up how proper language sounds/works because they still hear it. Reading is a great example of this. So there’s no need to worry that the child won’t be able to speak properly one day just because we’re speaking in ‘baby talk’ with them now.
On education in general
The last point I want to make with all of this is our approach to education. Shaykh Hamza yusuf talked of the infantilisation of children in schools, e.g. through constant monitoring, the school’s inability to accept different ways of learning (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RF6Zskb21w8), also their killing of curiosity (as mentioned in this article: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/jan/28/schools-killing-curiosity-learn?CMP=).
At the baby to toddler stage we expect rapid gross motor skill development, rapid language acquisition. At school age we expect them to sit day after day for hours on end (we expect them to sit!) inside a classroom and take in tons of information according to a specific structure of topics which don’t make room for curiosity.
Trying to iron-press a child’s curiosity and physical energy out of them will surely have consequences for them in later life. When in the toddler stage my son responded to my push (however gentle I thought it to be) by continuously reciting 1-10, what would be the implications of me forcing him into an education system that goes against his natural development? I couldn’t with any consciousness take that kind of risk.