Monday, June 10, 2013

Helping Max Find His Toes

When Toby was a baby, Christer and I agreed not to help him find his toes.  No stuffing toes in his mouth for us, we wanted Toby to have the joy of finding his toes on his own and the excitement of discovering, on his own, that he could suck on them.  It’s a silly little thing, but it was a policy we (mostly) followed throughout all of those baby milestones—wait for him, let him figure it out on his own.

It’s a philosophy I still try to follow with Toby—although I often forget and try to impose my agenda on him.  Last year he was at a play-based preschool—which basically means that they didn’t sit the kids down and teach them their numbers and letters, they set up lots of experiences around the room and let the kids mostly pick what interested them.  Toby didn’t bring home a single art project or coloring sheet all year, even though those activities were set up every day.  That drove me a bit nuts (arts & crafts have always been my favorite part of school) but it reinforced that we had made the right decision.  No one was pushing Toby to learn something he wasn’t ready for.  He was allowed to explore on his own and develop where he was ready to learn.

So, I was somewhat sad when our PT said it was time to help Max play with his toes.

We’re pushing Max’s milestones left and right.  We’ve shown him where to put his elbows so he can hold up his head during tummy time.  We’ve helped him roll over from back to front and back again.  He’s turning his head sort of funny when he rolls over, so we reach in and hold his head in the right position while we practice.  We mold his hands around toys.  We hold him up in sitting position to strengthen his tummy muscles.  And for the past two weeks I’ve been helping him get his toes into his hands, and then into his mouth.

Let me be clear.  If any of this can help Max in the long run, then I am all for it.  But I don’t want to be motivated by trying to push my baby to “stay on track” or to meet milestones faster.  And I really don’t want for Max to grow up thinking that we are pushing him to be someone he isn’t on a timeline that isn’t his own.

I know that with Toby, whenever I’ve tried to push my own goals, it has backfired.  Dropping the pacifier, potty training, talking, sleeping through the night—all of my attempts to push these skills were useless until Toby was motivated.  And once he was motivated, all it took was a little bit of facilitation from adults for Toby to master the skill.  I'm searching for the space to be a facilitator for Max, as well.

On that note, if anyone out there knows of any research or resources for play-based or child-led learning for kid with special needs, I would love, love to know about it.  I have a suspicion that what is good for typically developing kids is even more useful for many special needs kids… but I’d like a bit more to go on than a hunch.


  1. That is a very interesting post!!! I never thought about that. We would do that with N and now with W... with the "helping". I mean, I like to think we don't do it in a crazy "YOU MUST LEARN THIS" way... but I do find when playing with W I will hold his foot up in front of him and let him try and grab at it. (He REALLY would love to be able to get his feet if I am reading his face correctly!) I didn't realize that was an important skill for kids to learn! I think N was 7 months before she got her toes in her mouth. She was pretty slow with some milestones :) I am curious if you get any more information on this!

  2. I certainly don't think there's anything wrong with "helping" babies as you play with them. The toe thing just stands out for me because it was the example Christer and I used when we talked about how we wanted to parent. I just want for Max to get to do some exploring on his own sometimes, not just repeating all the things we're teaching him in therapy.