How Do You Learn to Follow Your Child’s Lead?


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By Strength in Words - Ayelet Marinovich. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Responsive caregiving starts with learning to follow your baby’s lead.

In this episode of the Strength In Words podcast, Ayelet chats with Manuela and Gwen, two mothers living in London, who became parents at the same time as (and along with) Ayelet, and who became much of the inspiration for the Learn With Less™ Curriculum.

We cover the ways in which, through the powers of observation and the benefit of learning through a framework and in community from each other, these new parents learned to find the confidence to play with and support their babies, what types of activities they did to guide their children (using simple materials they already had), and how they learned to use play, communication strategies, music, and movement to support all areas of their children’s development.


Ayelet: I’m joined by Manuela and Gwen and we are sitting here in London… And we are just regaling the past. And I thought that there are not many more appropriate people than the two of you to help tell the story of how this whole thing was started. Because we met, actually, the three of us while we were still pregnant with our first. Yeah.

And we met in a prenatal yoga class and I remember actually one of the first days that I met you, Manu. Well that I was just amazed by, you were just like the stuff you ever got, a long, beautiful dark hair and this just perfectly pregnant belly. And I was like, wow, she’s so cool. She’s so Italian. And, and then we walked out and you got on your motorcycle and you put on your helmet and you just sped away. And I was like, “wow, I can’t wait to see her next week.”

Manuela: Pregnant on the motorcycles… not advisable! But… it was that, I know.

Ayelet: A very easy way to get around in London.

Manuela: And I also remember the first time I met you! I remember as yesterday. This woman, this girl, actually. I remember a lovely light, sunny day. There was light coming from the window, and I saw you with a green chiffon on your hair. I don’t know, you were so… energetic! I said, “oh!” This is my first memory of you. And it was magic, and I said, “I don’t think she’s English.” Because I didn’t hear your voice yet, but I was wondering where you were coming from. But I was amazed by your energy and your colors. I remember green, and the light.

Gwen: My first memory was thinking, “she is not English!” because… I was sitting next to you on the yoga mat. And I’d never spoken to you before, I don’t think I’d even seen you before. And you just came and started having a conversation with me – with a beautiful, I remember, very open smile, and thinking, “how nice!” You know? So, the English are a wonderful people, you know, but it takes a little longer to open up.

Manuela: So, you brought us this amazing energy, and then when you left, we struggled to find again!

Gwen: That’s fast forward, huh? What about the babies?

Manuela: Yeah! Right, what about the babies. And then we started this journey together. Yeah, and I remember it was really together in the real sense because we started to discover things together.

Gwen: Yeah. I think if I were to summarize, I was a first time parent. I’m an only child. In fact myself, I didn’t grow up with siblings, I hadn’t had much contact with babies in most of my life. And so I came to motherhood with this being… Feeling like a complete amateur and, and that’s, I know I shouldn’t feel so critical of myself, but I felt, you know, a bit isolated and a little bit lost and Ayelet, I think, as you were saying Manuela, she just brought us together and she created this community, which is a wonderful thing, which made me feel supported and reassured and it’s just, it was such a wonderful warm feeling to meet once a week and sometimes more.

And then I think she just taught me that parenting is, is simple. That you just need to get away from this tendency to just want to keep doing things, buying things and reading books and so on. And you just need to sit back and observe your child and listen to them and just let them lead you as opposed to doing what instinctively I did, which was to want to lead her.

Ayelet: But we’re the grown-ups, right? Isn’t that our responsibility?

Gwen: Yeah! And, and I think I wouldn’t be lying if I said, I think the group we had at the time that Ayelet was leading really changed my parenting journey completely, gave me confidence and changed, changed my life in more ways than one. And, yeah. Fast forward to the day I heard you were leaving. What are we going to do? It was, what are we going to do?

Manuela: We had the second child – without you! Yeah. We were, because we were still meeting a lot. Catching up. But having this big loss.

Gwen: Yes, exactly. But you had sewn the seeds.

Manuela: Exactly. Trying, trying to, to do exactly what we were doing. Even without you, but with your guide in our mind. Yes. Try to… We didn’t need to remember it because what we’ll learn together, uh, it was in our veins. It was already in us. Yeah. So we didn’t have to remember something but only to say, okay, let’s do yeah – Ayelet’s way what she would do that.

Ayelet: First of all, what were some of the things that stand to you that we did together that, that were so special?

Manuela: As, as Gwen said, I was, I’m also an only child, only child, so, and I really didn’t have any contact with babies in my life before, so I really didn’t know anything about babies. Not even a book about baby, nothing, nothing. We, for me it was this, watch my child, um, and discover – I wasn’t alone in discovering what was happening.

So I was watching, observing and together we used to discuss behaviors, our behaviors too, not only our children’s behaviors, but also our reactions about them, about what was happening to us as well. It was huge. It was huge. We, uh, we are alone in London. We are alone and so we were, we were growing up children on our own. Yeah. So the support, it was like we were a big family, but not with the pressure of a, a family would have done if we would have been in a family context probably.

Gwen: And I also think, yeah, as you were saying, talking about how the children were developing and their behaviors as you say, was helpful. And at the same time you were always saying we’re not comparing. Right. Yeah. It was done in such a nurturing and friendly way and, and, and just emphasizing that every child is different.

Every child develops at their own pace and you know, in some context parents are kind of competing with each other and they compare the children and then they get anxious and you were doing everything you could, Ayelet, to sort of dispel that, immediately, and make sure everyone was observing their child as its own, as, as an entity in and of itself without ever thinking, oh, Joe’s kid of doing that or… and starting with yourself because, so yes, you were mentioning earlier, your little boy took his time to start walking and, and I remember one session where you openly talked about that and you were saying, yeah, you know, he’s, he’s not walking. And that’s, that’s kind of hard because I was expecting it to happen earlier, but I know that he will do it in his own time. And he did. Right. So, yeah,

Manuela: For every child is different and this is incredibly special and what a parent should do is watch it, watching the progress and uh, and to try to guide them but not to teach – another thing. Yeah. Try to guide without, without teaching. Because I think that this is the main point I’ve learned.

Ayelet: I think too, like when, when we’re grown up, we don’t, unless we’ve studied child development deeply, you know, in depth than how, when was the last time you played with a baby? Probably since when you were a baby, you know that it’s a very, as you were saying it, it takes this reframe to feel like, oh, okay, well this is, I can follow what my child is doing and then I can support her or him by, by following what he’s interested in or what he or she is doing.

So I’m curious if either of you remember what, like if there are specific activities or specific moments or songs or things that we did that stand out to you as like an example of how we did that?

Gwen: I mean the, uh, the one thing that always stuck with me and the way you conducted your sessions was always you reminded us, well, try to avoid a sort of flash card approach to “what’s this, what’s that” hold up a picture of a cat. The cat goes, “meow, and the dog goes woof, and yeah, and what is it?

Ayelet: Right! That’s what we think of as teaching.

Gwen: So to me that was, I think that was one of the first things you came up with. And I thought, yeah, of course! And, and then just giving the child different options. So if you had a basket full of objects, you would, instead of just taking one yourself and giving it to the child, you would offer the basket to the child and give them time. You would say, wait, wait, let’s just see what, what she or he decides to choose, what object they would like to play with.

And then you were saying, okay, so giving lots of different options around it. Say, so what is it, see it, is it round? Does it make a noise? What kind of color is it? What do you like about it? What would you like to do with it? Do you want to put it near your nose? Do you want to hold it this way? Do you want to put it on the ground? And, and I’m, I’m doing like a completely, you know, it’s, I’m going a lot faster than you ever would have, but it’s just like between everything I have said, you would just pause and wait and observe and yeah, for, for, for first time parents, I think most first time parents, that’s quite hard. But you learn the value of that and you discover your child as they are, not as a reflection of yourself or as well as how you expect, perceive them to be.

Ayelet: Yeah. But I also remember for instance, this is such a good example because Gwen, when I met you, you, you are this like warm, loving person who is quiet and gentle and your daughter was a spit fire and amazing and had all this amazing energy. And I mean I recall they, I don’t think they were sitting up yet, they were so little.

And she, she would lean in and she would grab the ball and then, and then push it away and, and we had essentially a ballgame with these teeny tiny little babies and they would sort of take turns and sort of move it back and forth. And she wanted that ball – and she was – her personality was showing through from such an early age. And, and this was, I think the first time that we all witnessed this. Yes. And you were like, yeah, this is intense, and really hard for me cause she’s not like me!

Gwen: Yeah, I remember that so well, she sort of tucked her chin in and her eyes were like daggers and you’re right. I couldn’t even see how fast that well, but I could sense, oh my goodness, I don’t think I would have ever done something like that when I was a small child and, and it’s true.

In one of the sessions I was saying, one of my biggest challenges is realizing how different my daughter is to me. You know, and you go through pregnancy, just imagining a mini me of yourself popping out. And no! Of course not. Right. Yeah, they are. They’re sentient beings. Yeah. And you just seemed to go with it and that’s, I find that so hard. Just go with it.

Manuela: And I have to say, also the music, the music. Instruments, different instruments to use and not only instruments, everything. Anything that was making a sound and then the voice, and then putting words together in songs. And that was amazing. I can see today after five years, how powerful was that for them? For them. Because this music is so present in Sofia’s life so much, so much in the she, today I think she’s able to invent songs everyday she invents songs and that she remembers that is amazing. And she has these huge links with the music. I think because she was born like this, no we did it. You, you, you let her in this journey, you let them in, in, in this journey.

Gwen: Sounds, words, and rhythm. You were very… I think to me it was the just getting them to feel rhythm. And I Ariana lost dancing so much and from what I understand, you know, pretty good at it and I think that sense of rhythm comes through a lot. But you were teaching it to us in ways that was so simple to just do at home.

Manuela: To repeat it.

Gwen: To me as I’ve said, it was using simple materials in simple ways that you can easily do at home without a lot of paraphernalia. And that was reassuring, too. You don’t have to go out and buy all these things.

Manuela: I remember one thing, the toilet paper – the toilet paper – that was amazing. I never thought about it. I never thought about it. Then I saw you putting things in the shape. Um, let’s see which shape can go through and which shape can’t. So because they are too big or because they are too small, that was amazing and Sofia could spend hours in that. And the same I did with Alice. Even if you weren’t here! So I taught Alice to use the different things in the home. Yes. Things. Uh, It was a way to see the way to see things in your house so you can use everything.

Gwen: In the end, that’s all they want to play with. Yes. We have more toys than, I don’t want to admit – thanks to grandparents, amongst other things.

Manuela: Yes, that’s the truth.

Gwen: But they don’t want to play with most of their toys. They just love the things that you use in the home. Yeah. And they learn so much from those things.

Ayelet: Right. And it’s up to us to figure out, not only are they the things that we’re using, but they are also very powerful learning materials. Just as powerful as the beautiful toys that you have in your home. They… The developmental value of that fancy wooden drum and the kitchen with shelves that you have in your, you know, playroom is the same as the shelves in your kitchen.

Oh, I was going to ask, I think you consider yourself quite musical, Manuela you, I mean you come from, you’ve used music for many years and you’ve also had much music in your life as well. But did you, what do you think there were certainly people in our group who did not consider themselves musical and I mean obviously you can’t speak to that personally, but what were some of the observations that you had about that? And do you think that we were able to show how music was a powerful tool even to people who are not necessarily confident in their own use of music?

Gwen: I mean, that’s, I, yeah, definitely I can vouch this, one of the lovely ladies in the group that is still a very, very good friend of us, Jenny, said to me at the start, you know, I never thought I could ever sing. And anyone who thinks they can’t sing probably isn’t very confident seeing with their child. And I think you’ve transformed that for her – to the extent that now she sings in the choirs at schools! And when she told me, I went, “you’re singing in a choir?!”

I watched her last night! It was awesome! Yes! So yeah, as I said you gave moms so much confidence. I think that really is key. That’s what I was liking at the start. That is the key to so much of what parenting is, you know, and accepting you’re not perfect.

Manuela: We did not feel alone in this journey. This is what it was. And this is what Gwen and I, because we talked about it with the second child and yeah, we felt a little bit alone. That was, even if, no, we weren’t alone at all. But yeah, there was, um, very, very powerful way to guide our, our children and ourself in this journey – and ourself as well.

Gwen: Right. Because parenting is a journey of self discovery.

Manuela: My God, yes.

Gwen: A wonderful journey of self-discovery, I have to say, but…

Manuela: And still… challenging! Very challenging… new challenge. New challenge every day.

Ayelet: Yeah. Yup!

So if you could summarize, what would be some of the things that learning about these things, even taking out the, if you can, the community component, the, just the informational piece of what, what you can do with your child and how you can do it. What did that knowledge give to you? Cause that really is what, I mean, the books, the learn with less curriculum. The books that I have, that’s, that’s what we did with our children, like that’s… I just wrote it down and put it into form. So for you guys, what, what has the value of that been? That information, that knowledge? In five words or less?!

Gwen: I think, you know, I think it kind of overlaps with things I’ve already said it’s, yeah, cause you, you have your four pillars, right? I’ve, I’ve read the book. So, how can I say it in my own words? Yeah. So I think it’s just, to me it really is just taking simple things, mostly that you can find in your own home or just outside on the streets, in the parks, wherever you are, and using the things that you encounter in different ways, exploring them with your child and just guiding your child to explore those things.

And also I think – and in daily routines, just how to use the things you have to get through every day in creative ways that help you connect with your child, that make them fun and that that helps them learn. Just, just as a consequence of that, they just learn through, through those simple things and not feeling you have to, you have to be perfect or have to be better each time.

Accepting that it’s a completely rocky road and, and I think yeah because I use two languages with my child. And I loved the ways that you have suggested that you can transpose things that you learn in one language as a parent and transpose those to another language, because I was a little bit stuck on that and I’m thinking, well, actually yeah, you know, just make things up as you go. Use, use the words that you know in your own language and fit them in to what you’ve learned in the other language and, and that will make the materials that you gave us. You can make them more personal by doing that, for example.

Ayelet: Yeah, that’s a great example.

Manuela: I think that the most valuable thing you gave us was really many different ways to connect with your child. So to discover how even very, very, very simple things. So I don’t know, uh, probably, thanks to you today. I, when I’m in trouble, which I very often… When I’m in trouble, what I do is it not the first thing that passes in my mind that is what I, what I would do – but is, thanks to what we have learned together… Today, I try to wait. That is very, very difficult. Very difficult. I try to wait, I try to hold, no? And uh, to try to find a way to connect, a different way.

So I, I take situation and I try to put the situation upside down and to see the situation from a different perspective. This is what… I wouldn’t have done it before, for sure. But now I can see that if we do that, and we, we see different, the situation in a different perspective, then we have many other chances to connect. So this is the most valuable things I’ve learned. I think that is what your work gives.

Gwen: The way I say it is to meet your child where they are at. Acknowledge where they are. And that’s just like 80% of the, the whole journey. Yeah.

Ayelet: Yes, exactly. I think, yeah, when it comes to discipline, when it comes to learning, when it comes to a diaper change or like to a meal, eating all of it. Yeah. And it is such a simple concept, but it is such a hard thing to do in reality.

Manuela: Oh yes, it’s simple to say, difficult to do.

Ayelet: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. So what would you say to someone who’s thinking about learning more about learning with less, or what we do here at Strength In Words?

Gwen: It’s a no brainer. [laughter] of course, of course I would, and I’m heavily biased, but I think it’s, say, It’s such an accessible approach in every way, including financially but.. It is really. Yeah. It’s, it’s so encouraging and reassuring because it makes you realize that you can thread this into every single aspect of your day with your child. That’s what makes it so simple and accessible and exploitable however you want to describe it.

Ayelet: Right. Cause it’s also like we’re not selling, I’m not selling a thing. There is no like prescribed content that you have to go out and buy a specific set of tools. You already have the tools they’re literally in your bathroom or your kitchen, it’s already attached to you.

Manuela: You need to find out. Yes. It’s a way to learn how to see – how to see.

Gwen: And because you were able, because you know, I’ve, I’ve read so many books and how much of them do I remember? Probably not very much. So the great thing about Learn With Less is even if you don’t remember the detail, because you’re always sort of bring people back to these main areas with talking, playing, singing, etc.

That’s all you need to remember and say, what can I do now? It’s like you don’t need to remember the words of some sophisticated song. Right. Just sing! Just make it up! Just sing one word. And it works. Yeah. And it’s personal.

Ayelet: Yeah, it’s totally individual.

Gwen: And therefore it is perfectly suited to you and your child in that moment.

Ayelet: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Nice.

Manuela: It’s so touchable. Yeah. In a way, you really, it’s immediately, you really found out that you can really touch this progress… I don’t know.

Ayelet: It’s also really interesting because I think for people to know, like you’re Italian and you grew up in France and Belgium and now everyone lives in London and everyone who was in our group also was from lots of different places. There were, there were Brits and Australians and Canadians and the Singaporeans, everyone and everyone could utilize this information because the truth is we all are actually human.

Gwen: It’s universal.

Manuela: It’s not cultural.

Ayelet: It’s not cultural!

Manuela: It’s not cultural.

Ayelet: Yeah. I mean the culture is how we value these things.

Manuela: Exactly. Exactly. This is what I was saying.

Ayelet: Well, I think too, I get asked a lot of times, oh, well, is, is this based on, is this like a Montessori thing or is this a RIE thing? Or, or something like that. And I’m like, no, that’s a particular parenting philosophy. This is not a parenting philosophy.

It, it incorporates certain philosophies of minimalism or simplicity or how we learn, how we grow, but it incorporates the information that we know about how humans learn – and then gives you the tools to use so that you can do that in your own way, however you want to do. Sure you can use Montessori materials to get that done, but you can also use the toilet paper roll.

Manuela: Exactly!

Gwen: I think we’re just so grateful and we feel so lucky to have encountered your work on our journey and, and you have delivered it so much generosity.

Ayelet: In fact, you helped make it, you were the inspiration. And you! And your sister. Yeah.

Alice: Yeah!

Gwen: So thank you.

Ayelet: Thank you. On that note, we’ll all go cry.

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