Tag Archives: child led learning

Learning Through Play

It is one of my abiding sadnesses that Sam, through no fault of his own, does not go out to play with friends. At the moment he is, like I was at a similar age, listening to terrible music far too loudly and not feeling the lack. At the beginning of the holidays he is likely to be happy in his own company, mooching around the house, generally doing what he feels like; it is next week that I will find a young person telling me that he is bored, seeking something else to do and the company of his friends.

I don’t know if it’s something specific to Down’s syndrome, but I am wary of letting him out to play on his own. I recently had a conversation with the person who is handling his Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – now that he is 16, he is entering into another era of state involvement – and we talked about how, if he was out and about on his own, how easily it could happen that he might get lost, his limited understanding of danger, both in the environment and in terms of the trust he places in other people. Maybe other parents of disabled children feel the same way, I don’t know.

I can’t help but feel that he is missing out. When he and his younger siblings were little we used to do that thing that stay-at-home mums do in order to keep themselves from going round the twist, and meet up, as a big group, all together.  It was fascinating to watch the children playing. First, they would play side by side, and then slowly, they became more aware of each other, probably because they both wanted to play with the same car/train/dolly/teddy/other object of desire, until before we knew where we were they were playing with each other, chattering away and well on the way to becoming friends.

Now, partly because he attends a special school and therefore none of his friends live around the corner, partly because of the advent of the mobile phone (he doesn’t have one and I have no idea how to find out someone’s number unless they give it to you themselves), and partly down to my own sense of caution, I find myself at a bit of a loss as to how to help him gain the invaluable learning experience of unsupervised play with his peers.

Because, you know, it would be foolish to assume that there is no value to children’s play; that they should be always organised, never left to get on with it, in their own way and at their own pace. Oh, I’m not saying that it should take place in classrooms – although this doesn’t mean that the classroom should not be a playful place, one full of fun, and the joy of learning interesting things (and yes, I do accept that not every child will find the same thing interesting, although, if I am their teacher, I will do my best to persuade them of the wisdom of my way of thinking) –  but that children’s play, especially the unstructured sort where they learn to regulate their own behaviour, to manage their relationships, is an essential, an unmissable, part of growing up.

Maybe we are all afraid. Maybe it’s not just me. Maybe the world we live in is full of danger. Of cars. Of strangers. There is the ever present threat of failure, or of falling behind, and it affects us all. Maybe I’ve got a better reason than most to be fearful, but it strikes me, as I watch my children negotiate with each other, as I watch their kindness to the boy next door, as my role as arbiter and sorter out of fights is steadily lessened, that, if we are not careful, our fear will make us into fools.



Cleaning the Tripp Trapp

We’ve been engaging in a spate of eBaying recently.  Over the course of the last twelve years our house has filled to bursting with stuff-related-to-babies-and-young-children and we decided that it was about time we did something about it.  So, several car boot sales later, it’s the Tripp Trapps’ turn.

A Tripp Trapp is a really rather elegant high chair that is fully adjustable from the first days of weaning with baby rice to about 10 years old.  You basically push them to the table, so baby joins you at every meal (provided you’re eating at the same time!) right from the start.  My friend Caroline first introduced them to me.  She’s interested in things like posture, and I’m interested in things like conversation and social behaviour, so when she told me about them, they seemed like the perfect high chair for our baby.  And since we have three children, and the chair is adjustable, we have (or rather, had) three Tripp Trapps.

One of the things about Tripp Trapps, though, is that they are not small (show me the high chair that is).  They have a large sort of foot at the base connected to the seat by a diagonal leg which, now that the small people in the house are sitting at the table in conventional chairs, provides an excellent surface upon which to stub the toe or to bark the shin.  It was past time for them to go.

I have a wonderful photograph somewhere that I couldn’t resist taking of Sam, when he must have been about seven or eight months old, in the throes of a banana.  Actually, in the early days, feeding him was more of a sensory experience than anything else.  I’m not much of a one for ‘messy play’, all that shaving foam and cold spaghetti and crawling around in paint is the sort of thing that can go on in someone else’s house (ie. a house I don’t have to clean), but the journey into solid food presented an opportunity not to be missed.  Thankfully it was a warm summer, and it was easy to remove any clothes that might be ruined in the process, and cleaning the Tripp Trapp (don’t want anyone thinking I’m some sort of household slattern) brought it all back.

Feeding Sam wasn’t exactly the easiest thing I’ve ever done.  It required quite considerable amounts of patience, perseverance and not a little bit of bloody-mindedness.  I was convinced early on by the benefits of breastfeeding, regardless of special needs, and when I discovered that my baby had Down’s Syndrome it became even more important to me to succeed.  I didn’t want his tongue lolling out whenever he felt like it, I wanted the muscles in his face to respond easily to his commands to smile and I wanted to give his mouth and jaw the kind of workout that would help him when it came to forming his first words.

So persevere I did, and after five or so months we started the adventure of solid food.  Which was fine, so long as it was banana.  Or banana and yoghurt.  He must have consumed jungles worth of the jolly yellow fruit, and I began to wonder if he was ever going to eat anything else.  Biscuits?  No.  Sandwich?  No.  Chocolate?  No.  How could he possibly be mine?

And would he hold and eat a freshly-peeled-by-his-doting-mama banana?  No.   It had to be mashed.  In a dish.  And would he put the spoon in his own mouth?  No.  The mummy-slave was to feed it to the darling boy, while he got on with something much more interesting, like throwing the other spoon mummy had given him in the hopes that he would join in to the floor, or grabbing mummy’s spoon with a surprisingly strong grip so that when she wrestled it away from his fingers the banana would fly around the room with a satisfactory splat. When this went on for two years, and I was getting closer and closer to producing child number two, I began to get a little concerned at how I was going to manage meal times.

I can’t remember how it happened, but two foods came to my rescue.  Pasta, and strawberry ice-cream.  Not together, but one with a spoon and one with fingers.  It went all over the rest of him too (he mainly liked to eat it smothered in the most staining sort of tomato sauce – by this time I had discovered multiple Bibs with Sleeves), but at least I didn’t have to feed him, and it was relatively solid.

I’m still not entirely sure what it was that got him eating ‘normal’ food.  Actually, no, I have a pretty good theory that I thought I’d share.  We had gone out for the day to some lovely little Cotswold town or other, and decided that we would stop for lunch.  Eating out was a bit of a nightmare because we could never be sure if there was something mashable, but it was a nice day so we stopped at a pub where we could eat outside.

The garden was full of other families eating together, we ordered (something containing baked beans, I suspect) and before we knew where we were, Sam was tucking into a chicken nugget.  We didn’t dare say anything (usually, when Sam did something we wanted him to do it was accompanied by a round of applause), we just sat there, continued our conversation, people-watched, and Sam ploughed his way through the chips and beans as well.

Something about the atmosphere of the place had taken the pressure off us all.  Sam was no longer under the microscope, no longer being offered, in increasing desperation, something he wasn’t quite ready for, and, without any fanfare, he simply got on with what he was supposed to be doing.  My friend Caroline says we are the only parents she ever met that celebrated the consumption of a chicken nugget.

And now the Tripp Trapps are gone.  There are no more reminders of the struggle we had to get him to eat solid food, to drink out of an open cup without turning it over, or throwing it down himself.  Now we have the challenges of sitting up straight, don’t talk with your mouth full, ask when you want some more, don’t point, don’t stare and use your knife and fork properly.  If it’s not one thing it’s another.


A hearty recommendation for the teaching properties of strawberry ice cream.