I had waited 3 years to attend the RIE® Foundations™ Course in Auckland and it certainly didn’t disappoint. 9-5 every day, then back to my Airbnb for more reading and note taking. 10 full days listening, observing, reflecting, soaking it all in, conversing with like-minded teachers. Sharon gently leading us through each stage, we were birds of a feather flying high above Victoria Park. It felt like a gold mine of knowledge, of new ideas, of insight into Loczy in Budapest. Emmi Pikler and Magda Gerber felt closer than ever, two ladies I had looked up to for years, even naming my first born after... how could I absorb as much of this as possible? How was I to turn this into practice? I had so many questions, yet I felt great relief in the confirmation that the Educaring® Approach wasn’t a set formula or recipe, it wasn’t about perfection, but authenticity and whether or not we have the ‘essence’. Did I have the essence? I was about to put myself to the test.
I was filled with excitement and anticipation for my first day back at work. We had discussed my plan going forward on the last day of our course.... refrain from blurting out all this new knowledge to my team mates, and concentrate on my own practice. Focus on myself, the babies and toddlers I was with, create new habits in my practice and simply observe, observe, observe. I was full of hope and confidence, however when 4pm rolled around that day I felt defeated and so disappointed with myself. Had I altered my practice at all? Hardly. We were busy, teachers were off with covid... it felt near impossible and I slipped right back into old habits. I sat with this feeling for a few days before taking a new breath and beginning again.
The following months flew by. I shared my course notes with my team, and drip-fed new knowledge and ideas. Slowly, after discussion, we brought in new ways of working, tweaking our processes and reflecting on what works and what doesn’t. A new concept I learnt from the course was this idea of ‘care bubbles’, and my team fell in love with this suggestion from the get-go. A care bubble is an imaginary bubble surrounding kaiako and baby during care moments, no one was to burst this bubble from the outside or in. This allows teachers to be totally present with the child and experience a connection that’s impossible to come by when multi-tasking. It’s an invisible shield, blocking out the outer noise and keeping those inside connected, safe, in a world of their own.
Day one, we were all excited to implement our bubbles. We had a plan to support each other to achieve a meaningful care moment. If we needed to ask a question during a nappy change, we would wait until the change was over. If I was feeding a child their bottle, no one was to interrupt with a story about last night’s Netflix show, or the roster for next week. It was the true meaning of teamwork... of teachers rooting for the other to succeed, of each kaiako knowing the importance of and respecting that moment for both teacher and child.
Were we successful? Partly! It was at times a comedy of errors, stopping mid- sentence when realising we were interrupting, shaking one’s head upon realising we had called out to a child when in a moment with another... this was harder than anticipated! But the intentions were there, so was the heart - and you know what, so too was the ‘essence’. As the weeks go by, slowly we are creating new habits and breaking old ones. We have shared this concept with the adjacent toddler room, who are now also aware of keeping our bubbles intact. Care bubbles are now a thing of our room, it feels right and fills our adult cups just as much as it does our baby’s, each of us experiencing moments of magic, moments that transcend the mundane task. As I step into each care moment now, I hear Sharon’s wise words reminding me “how can I get to know you a little more during this moment?” This is what we strive for now, and it goes a little like this...
I blocked out the noise and created my zone. I ignored the gate slamming in the hallway that may have woken a sleeping baby. I wanted to join in with the banter I could hear in the room, but I refrained. I trusted my teammate would ask me their question when I was finished. It was just me and you baby, in our own little bubble. I lay you down on the change mat and paused, wanting to ‘take my thoughts to my hands’ I placed my hands gently on your chest, you became still, I felt you relax, and you met my gaze. I smiled and waited. You smiled back. I said “hello” and paused. You responded with your smiley eyes, and a purposeful slow blink. Those slow blinks, they get me every time. There it was already... a connection, and we hadn’t even started the task. I felt my eyes prickle with emotion while you kept my gaze, staring what seemed like right into my soul. Speaking to me without uttering a word, you told me you trusted me, that you felt safe and happy and were enjoying this moment. We continued with your nappy change, I listened to your body, I waited for your cues, I slowed down and at times paused - the entire time we worked together and kept this connection, unfazed by what was going on around us.
Upon placing you back down to play I thought to myself – wow, I definitely got to know you more during that nappy change, but I got something more too. If I felt this good.... how did he feel now? I stood back and watched as he curiously crawled up to our baskets and selected a large button to inspect and post into a container. He was content, he was exploring, he looked confident and happy. He wasn’t looking around for me, he felt safe to go play. It was a ‘needs nothing’ moment for him, all his needs had been met within our care bubble so now his reptilian brain was calm and his frontal cortex was active. For all the fails, and the times we don’t get it right – success like this makes it all worth it.
So here we are, nearly July and five months on from the RIE® Foundations Course™. Seeds have been sown in our rooms, new growth has started and like an avid gardener seeing these developing shoots gives me a massive thrill. There are still many gems from the course to implement into my own practice and to share with my team, but there is progress and it’s best we tend to the emerging growth that is visible for now... who knows how abundant our harvest will be come Summer!
Sarah Mitchell is an NZITC scholarship recipient. She completed RIE® Foundations™ in Auckland with Sharon Smith, RIE Associate in February 2022.