As a Child and Family Development specialist, Racheal Kwacz’s expertise lies in equipping and empowering parents with useful tools to enhance and improve their parenting skills. Her Respectful Parenting approach focuses on building and maintaining happy, loving relationships with children from a young age, and her workshops cover essential topics like food wars (parents of toddlers will be all too familiar with this!), baby-led weaning, paediatric first aid and the inevitable toddler wars.
What are your views on learning through play?
I think we have overthought this because children are born curious and wanting to explore. I think the first thing we need to talk about is how we can set up the environment and give them time to play. Adults are causing a disservice to babies and younger children because we’re dictating how they should play – we’re all about creating a ‘yes’ space where nothing can hurt them, and they can stay there for as long as they want. But maybe they’re trying to figure something out and don’t have the words to explain to you. Children really do need quiet time to explore and play however they want to.
Has play become very agenda-based?
Yes. Due to my beliefs, we never taught my daughter the alphabet or how to write her name. But by the time she was two, she wrote her name just learning via the environment around her. This is called an emergent curriculum where knowledge is gained through the interest of the child in his / her surrounds. This is how you teach them about the world with trust and no agenda.
Is guided play (with adults present and guiding play time) better for a child’s development?
Yes and no. I believe strongly in solitary play and giving a child the time to make decisions on their own as well as parent or connection time. Connection time is child-led play where they dictate what happens. By letting them control the environment, they learn how to bond, which in turn fills up their emotional tank. I think children thrive with boundaries like schedules, routines and consistency. But within these boundaries, there needs to be a lot of freedom. It’s all about trusting the process and that the child is really learning.
Do parents need to know what the different stages of play are?
Educators need to so they can create the correct environment for the children. As parents, your biggest job is to pay attention to your child. It’s an important RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) principle that you need to observe your child but not necessarily intervene. I don’t need to know the technical term for solitary play, what level they’re at, what they need or what they’re not telling me – we need to stop complicating everything. Parents forget that every child is different, and that the cookie cutter approach doesn’t work on everyone.
Any tips for parents who are struggling to be involved in their child-driven play?
The principles of Respectful Parenting are no shaming, no bribing, no guilting, no punishing and no hitting. I break it down and give parents the tools to enhance their relationship with their children. One of the tools I talk about in my class is self-care – you cannot pour from an empty cup when you aren’t taking care of yourself first.
Many parents offer toys and teach life lessons based on gender. Should they do this?
I don’t agree with this and I teach my own daughter to be gender neutral. I think that different people learn differently, and it’s important to observe your child and see what’s best for them. Everybody has different layers, e.g. extroverted, introverted. We cannot and must not fit every child in one box.
Find out more about Racheal and her workshops on her website rachealkwacz.com, or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.