One of the fundamental principles of RIE is to allow uninterrupted play and discovery. A sign in the Silverlake office reads, “When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself” – Jean Piaget
While I understood this concept and tried to put it to practice in my everyday life, only recently did I discover the power and beauty of this doctrine.
My family and I were enjoying a wonderful afternoon with friends. They had invited us to their home for some play and dinner. My daughter Kylie, 4 years old, was thrilled to play dress up with her friend Chloe. Kylie called me into Chloe’s bedroom to see her latest outfit, so I left my son Cole, 16 months, with my friend Julia in the living room. After Kylie was satisfied that I had properly appreciated all the different facets of her outfit she was ready to move on to something else. But Chloe was still busy with her own preparations.
While Kylie was waiting for Chloe to finish, she saw a little doll figure on Chloe’s dresser and grabbed it to take a closer look. It was a Russian Stacking Doll. I thought to myself “Oh, Kylie doesn’t know what that is. She will love this.” So I considered going over there and taking the doll apart and showing her all the wonderful little dolls inside. But I stopped myself and I watched.
Kylie started to “dance” the doll on top of the dresser. As she was moving the doll she heard a little “tick tack” sound come from the doll. She picked up the doll and looked at it and shook it and heard the sound again. It sounded like something was inside. So she turned it upside down and tried to pull the bottom off. That didn’t work. She turned it over in her hands and then decided to go back to her game of making the doll dance.
After a few moments she accidentally knocked the doll off the dresser. She looked down and it was in pieces. She thought she had broken it and I could already see the pain welling in her face. She bent down to assess the damage, and that is when she saw that nestled in the bottom of the first doll was a smaller doll just like the big one. Her face transformed with delight and she gasped. She picked up the little doll and the pieces of the big doll and began to examine them. As she picked up the little doll she heard the same “tick tack” sound she had heard in the big doll. She saw that the big doll thad come apart in the middle, and then managed to separate the top and bottom of the little doll. Again she let out a little cry of joy at the sight of the even littler doll tucked inside.
She sat down and opened doll after doll, completely engulfed in the experience -- oblivious to me watching, and to the rest of the world around her. Each new little doll was a wondrous discovery. When she finally reached the last doll she held it up in the air and exclaimed, to no one really, “The littlest baby of all has been born!” And she gently cradled it in her hands. She continued to play with those little dolls for more than an hour -- lining them up, stacking and restacking, having them talking to each other as though they were all sisters. I would check on Cole every few minutes, but I would go back and watch Kylie, completely absorbed in her play.
I thought I could have ruined that entire experience for her if I had gone over and “showed” her how that doll worked. She never would have experienced the wonder of that discovery. When I told this story to Liz Memel she said, “you would have also taken away your experience of witnessing such a wonderful moment.” For Kylie, and for myself, I am so glad I listened to that RIE voice in my head telling me to stand back and wait.