I've told parts of the story of how Strength In Words came to be, but today I want to focus on my story a bit more, because, now, 34 episodes deep, you've come to know what you can expect from me. I have been alluding (in the last couple of episodes) to a new resource I'm adding to the collection of Strength In Words resources and services. You know that I believe it's possible to provide distilled, palatable information to parents of young children - and I think you've heard me do that, to an extent, on this podcast with each new episode! You know that I think the beginning of our journey into parenthood (whether as a first-time parent or a seasoned one) should be supported with knowledge about our littlest family members that is timely (as in, we're presented with it as it happens), and that is actionable (as in, not only the information, but also easily implementable ideas). So, this is not only the story of Strength In Words, but also the story of The Heart Of It, my new infant enrichment curriculum, and why I felt compelled to create it.
I was ten weeks pregnant with my first baby when my husband and I moved across the world. Surrounded by new people, new customs, new systems, and struck by the newness of the journey toward parenthood, I was very focused on creating connections.
When my baby was born, I decided to combine my skills and my desire to create a safe, social learning space for myself and my baby, along with other caregiver-baby pairs. I started to devise a curriculum that was based on my own developmental knowledge, that of my friends and colleagues in early learning, a ton of developmental research, as well as information and experiences I integrated as a mother along the way.
Through this process of development and dissemination, I learned to become more confident as a mother, I learned to listen to myself, to my baby, and to other caregivers. I learned to distill information that was pertinent to me and to the other caregivers around me. Most importantly, I learned just how powerful knowledge is...
There are so many divisive topics in the world of parenthood. In the beginning of my experience of motherhood, I really fixated on these issues, because, of course, the choices we make about how to nourish and support our babies matters. I searched for information - and often, I was met with "experts" and "solutions..." when really, what I needed was knowledge. When I stepped back and remembered how much I understood about how babies learn, I began to feel more connected to my baby - and more empowered as a mother. And, you know, when I shared that information with other caregivers, they felt the same way.
The whole idea of Strength In Words was born out of this - but as my son grew out of infancy and through toddlerhood, I felt there was more I could do for families going through those early days. Although there is no way to gauge exactly when our babies will move through specific milestones, there are certain aspects of all areas of development - cognitive, communicative, motor, and social/emotional development - that move through a typical progression. Whether or not our babies are "meeting milestones" or "following typical patterns" of development, there are pieces of information about the way infants learn that can help us manage our expectations, understand more about our babies, and allow us to relate to our most vulnerable days, weeks and months with more confidence and with a proverbial "bag of tricks."
The Heart Of It, an infant enrichment curriculum for families, follows the same ethos as the Strength In Words podcast and DIY Blog, so they complement each other wonderfully. The main difference is that I wanted to create something that followed a timeline, and that (in our strange digital world) resembled a support system for parents, to help us feel less alone and more empowered. From the first weeks of our babies lives, there are aspects of their development that we can nurture. When we are aware of how they learn - to think, to communicate, to move, to bond - we become more empowered to allow them to do that, and we feel more confident that we are providing the best start for our babies. I also think that it's essential that we as parents understand not only the basis for the ways our babies develop, but that we also have access to really simple, practical things we can do to support that development (so called, "pearls of interaction"). Sometimes, these interactive and supportive activities might involve the use of our bodies or voices, and sometimes they might involve simple materials that we can find in our homes - and organize in inventive ways.
I created The Heart Of It based on my own professional background as a pediatric speech-language pathologist and my experience of becoming a parent myself - and I'm actually launching it just as I go though that experience for the second time, with my second baby due in January 2017. I've been beta testing the curriculum with familiess for the last year, integrating feedback and streamlining content, and recently saw my first beta-tester families through, from week one through their first birthdays. These families are first-time, second-time, and third-time parents, from all across the United States and Europe, and come from many different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The most common, consistent response I have received from each of them is how much they appreciate the combination of bite-sized, rich content and easy-to-implement ideas that help enrich the experience of becoming a family, for both parent and baby.
The content of The Heart Of It's curriculum is based on developmental research and guidelines for early learning. I've spent lots of time and energy reviewing texts on child development, speaking and collaborating with practitioners in related fields, and breaking it down week by week, from birth through the first year of life. I want it to be easily digestible. I want it to empower caregivers and promote interaction within families.