Posted by: Roseann Murphy | January 6, 2011

Seeing the new year through brand new eyes

‘Image via Lifes Ill on Flickr.’

For many people the New Year is a time for reinvention and new beginnings. Unlike adults, when it comes to young children, every experience is brand new. One of the most valuable gifts we can give to our young child is patience.  Allowing a child to make the most of all their new experience without interference is a gift.

The process of learning begins at birth and continues through life. Much of the first learning experiences of a child are discoveries. For example, when a child first open their eyes, they begin to discover and try to make sense of patterns, shapes and figures. The child will squint or close their eyes in bright light.   While this may seem just a reflex, it is this reflex that will help the child learn to adjust and protect their bodies in different ways.

It takes a period of time for a baby to come to the realization that their body is theirs and even that is a process in it’s self. People do not seem to realize or understand this is REAL.  At first, they may make all sorts of random movements with their limbs, but gradually over time, those movements will become more controlled. In this way, the baby is learning about many things, that we as adults, some times forget takes training, effort and repetition to learn.

During this crucial part of development, parents might feel an inclination to try to facilitate and sometimes expedite this particular learning process. Sometimes as parents watch their child observe, touch and even taste themselves for long periods of time without even touching toys they might have, they become concerned that their child just isn’t learning fast enough. This usually culminates in activities such as gripping exercises where a parent will place a toy in the child’s hand and wrap their fingers around it for them. Following that logic, should we also open their eyes for them the moment they are born?

The important thing to realize is that, though we are not all neurologists, we can at the very least recognize that internally there is an ongoing process that is taking place. We should use common sense in respecting it, and allowing the child the right to discover their own body and how it functions in their own natural way. In the same way that their eyes open and close sometimes as a response to too much light or noise, the rest of their body is also learning to adapt to new environments and situations. The best that we can do is give them some space, patience and a few different soft toys to explore. Their own curiosity, creativity and development with naturally lead them through their learning process.

Post by Magdalena Palencia


  1. Magdalena,

    Thank you for this beautiful, accurate, simple description of a baby’s early exploration and learning. I was just consulting with a family who recently welcomed a new baby, and I was observing exactly what you were describing here. To me it was thrilling, as it always is, and it was gratifying to be able to help the adults see that the baby was doing exactly what he needed to be doing, and that they didn’t have to “help” him or rush him in some way, by handing him toys, or placing him on his tummy, or manipulating his limbs to exercise him, and help him “learn” his body parts.

    Another Mom called me just yesterday, asking if maybe she should play with her baby more, because she was afraid her baby was bored, and maybe not learning enough. I asked what the baby (who is 6 months old) was doing when she played. The Mom said she spends long times on her back, exploring her hands, and kicking her legs. She had just started to turn to her side sometimes, and seemed very interested in watching sunbeams, and the faces of people around her.

    She wasn’t showing interest in reaching or grabbing for toys, but would try to “catch” the light with her hands. Doesn’t that sound just perfect and lovely?

    But all of the other babies were “sitting up” – (pulled, and propped into position) and “playing” with toys, and all the other Moms were singing to their babies, and showing them toys, and taking them to baby sign classes, so Mom got worried that her baby was somehow bored, or being left behind.

    I did my level best to reassure her that her baby was not missing out on anything, but I have so much compassion and empathy for new parents who just want to do what’s best, and what’s right for their beloved children, but are pushed and pulled in so many directions, and given inaccurate information- even by their own pediatricians.

    I sometimes fear I sound like a broken record, but I won’t stop trying to bring this message to parents and teachers everywhere as long as I have a breath left in me.

    We don’t need to “teach” or entertain our babies, we need to trust them, and be patient with their process of learning and growth. I am so thrilled that there are others like you, Roseann, Janet, Nadine, and Anna, all working to share and spread this important message to others.


  2. Magdalena, this is such important information and presented beautifully. There is tremendous value in seeing and understanding the way our children learn from the very beginning. So much of what our culture teaches us to do with babies wastes their time and our energy.

    Lisa, I really appreciate your comment, too (and thank you for the shout-out!)


  3. You have used my photo from Flickr without giving me credit, in violation of the Creative Commons licensing. Please credit me;

    The photo in question;

    Life’s Ill


    • You did notice that we gave your beautiful photo credit. So sorry this occurred, we will be very careful it does not happen again.


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