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Baby Sensory - Enrichment for Captive Babies

Awful and loud and overstimulating

When Dolores was tiny and we first began to venture out of the house (it took us a minute with all of our breastfeeding and sleep issues) I chatted to other mums who would often ask me if I went to baby sensory. I had no idea what it was so I asked them and they all said the same thing.

'It's awful and loud and overstimulating. A woman shouts from the front and they all lay there like potatoes whilst you wave things at them according to the woman's commands.'

That was enough to put me off. We stuck to postnatal yoga (when she wasn't napping, which was most of the time!), hanging out at friend's houses and walking in the woods.

But so many women feel that they 'should' be taking their babies to these groups to give their babies the stimulation they need.

My feeling was the stimulation babies need has always been provided for free out in nature and in community.

For me baby sensory was feeding Dolores in woods whilst chatting to a friend, laying her under a tree to watch the leaves move in the breeze, putting her feet on the grass so that she could feel the soft coolness, walking her in the carrier round the farm to feel my warmth and hear the birds, inviting girlfriends round to drink tea and passing her around to meet her village.

In the early days people bought us things to 'stimulate' her senses and we used them because I knew no better. In our culture this is standard. Flashcards, black and white borders to line their play mats, mirrors, horrendously noisy singing dancing flashing monstrosities of all colours. I felt like an absolute bore for constantly complaining about how noisy and flashy everything was and we were lucky we didn't even have much stuff (mostly because I sent it all straight to the charity shop)! For the first year of Dolores' life I actually found myself getting properly distressed by the amount of stuff, how noisy it all was and how much tidying up it involved. All those tiny little pieces?! Why? I have since gained more confidence in my parenting, given it all away and have set clear boundaries about what we will and won't have in the house.

What would a wild baby do?

We've been persuaded that raising babies requires a huge amount of effort. And in many ways it does with all the feeding, soothing, changing and not sleeping. So why would we add anything more to our plates?

Because in our culture we've been led to believe that we have to move our babies in particular ways to help them meet their milestones, take them to every group going, show them particular things to improve their eye sight and expose them to an endless barrage of words to help them pick up language.

Traditional and indigenous communities don't do this with their babies and they turn out great. In fact they're often less fractious, calmer and meet their developmental milestones sooner than Western babies.

The way we do things in the West is just not how nature intended it to be. She had something else in mind and it's so much more simple.

Babies know how to grow and develop.

Just like flowers they simply need the right input and boom they grow and know exactly what to do and that input is not a flashcard or tummy time or a singing dancing plastic colourful thing or a floaty scarf. It's high nurture and high nature. That's it.

I always like to look back to our wilder ancestry, to how we evolved and to take clues from that*. (The best we can of course using current Hunter Gatherer groups which vary hugely). If I'm ever unsure about what to do I think...

What would babies have been doing in the wild?

Even, the question 'what would my great great grandma have done?' often (though definitely not always) yields a better answer than modern parenting books or Google.

So what were they doing in the wild? Certainly not laying on the floor in a room with 15 other babies all being shown brightly coloured noisy flashy things whilst a woman shouts over the din that's for sure. Although you know how it is with anthropological estimations, we may very well find out some day that there were overstimulating baby classes back in the day but until proven otherwise...

I know some beautiful humans doing some beautiful work for babies, children and mothers. This is absolutely essential in our culture. We need connection, we need to get out of the house, we need a community. I would never dismiss the benefits of that.

Enrichment for captive babies

It's just that I've come to see these things for what they are - enrichment for captive babies.

That's not me saying that we've made our babies captive by our own personal choices. Far from it. Many of us yearn for slower, more nature infused and connected lives but to achieve that is often impossible or extremely difficult for a multitude of reasons. What I am saying is that we are a domesticated culture living in enculturated captivity** and as such we have felt the need to fill the gaps left by nature with something.

And in our culture that something is often plastic shiny shouty very noisy things, flashcards, baby sensory and other such offerings.

In captivity and in the realm of domesticated animals enrichment is often offered to prevent the animals from become bored or worse, mentally and physically unwell with a whole range of symptoms that fall under the banner of the term - zoochosis.

I remember reading about a wolf sanctuary that gave their wolves Christmas presents to open and I just felt sad. My heart wanted those wolves to be roaming the land hunting in packs not living a half life in an enclosure with walks on leads through a village and gift wrapped Christmas presents. But that life isn't available to those animals in these lands, so what's the alternative?

Many women in our culture are isolated with little to no support to help them raise their babies. So the inputs that babies would have once received in the wild or even in more community based times are not there.

So yes, babies know how to grow and develop but sadly our culture has forgotten what they need in order to do so and the things recommended to support them either pale in comparison to what nature intended or downright disrupt their innate impulse to grow...

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Post continues to discuss:

  • The rise in sensory motor issues and its link to a lack of active free play in nature

  • The lack of autonomy in children's play

  • Modern baby care techniques and how they are damaging our children

  • Recommended hours of active free play in nature and how surprisingly high it is

  • Domesticated motherhood

  • How babies used to be stimulated

  • The negative effects of soft play on us and our children

  • The importance of being exposed to the elements

  • Scandinavian children sleeping outside at -10°C

  • How the Scandinavians raise their babies, childrens and teens

  • How reading before 7 can be detrimental

  • How not being allowed to play fight can cause issues later on

  • How kids are left to work things out in Scandinavian day cares and encouraged to look after the babies

  • Recommended reading for a wilder more natural approach to parenting and play

  • Doing less for the win


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