Filling in the Blanks: From unformed awareness to informed awareness

By Chava Shelhav, PhD

A personal story

New insights are often granted to us during work with our students.  One particular student of mine was the catalyst that led me to take a much closer look at the stages of infant development and the effects of delayed development and how missing pieces in the development puzzle can have repercussions on many aspects of a person’s life.

Mike, an accomplished scientist, came to me complaining of back problems caused by two slipped disks. In fact, he could not stand upright at all. FI lessons were his last ditch attempt to avoid the already scheduled back surgery. After a few lessons there was a noticeable reduction in his pain. During these lessons, I was amazed to find that Mike had very little sense of himself. He was not aware of where his limbs were in space, he could not identify or locate body parts such as his shoulder blades, and he seemed to have no clear image of his body at all. Also, his experience of pain was black and white: it hurt a lot or it didn’t hurt at all. There was no awareness of gradation in the sensation. It was clear to me that through the FI lessons he needed to learn to feel himself, to make a connection with his body parts, and understand the interaction between them. Mike confided in me that at school he did not like sports and never participated in any games. He never even went outside at recess, had never played with a ball, and his social life was stunted and unsatisfactory. He reported that he was an extremely clumsy child. Focusing on his description of himself as a child, I extrapolated my lesson strategy. Using both FI and ATM lessons, we worked through all the phases of infant development. We even played ball! We even played ball! Imagine an older, respected scientist playing like a child with immense enjoyment. I can report that Mike’s situation gradually improved and, on the way, he acquired a new self image.  His posture improved tremendously, his back pain dissipated, he even changed the way he dressed, and his social life became more satisfying. Mike learned to love himself and to love moving and movement.

I firmly believe that working through all the phases of infant development, with awareness, changes a person’s self image because it affords them the opportunity to fill in the blanks created by undeveloped factors during the crucial first 2 years of life. In some circles it is generally accepted that awareness begins at a later stage of life. Another school of thought posits that babies are capable of awareness.  I like to think of my work with infants as bringing them from unformed awareness to informed awareness.  Consider how much better off Mike would have been if his early problems had been recognized and if there had been some kind of timely intervention.

During 35 fascinating years of working with the Feldenkrais Method, I came to understand that there is a connection between chronic adult back pain and missing elements during early development; especially insufficient early development  in the areas of orientation and balance. Even admirable people, people with great achievements to their credit, can still be missing a piece of this early puzzle. I found myself working with younger and younger children until I arrived at the very beginning – early infant development. I discovered that small signs of nascent problems in infants, which often become more marked as the infant grows, are present in babies who are considered normal and healthy. I found that in infants who present minimal developmental disturbances, such as not turning the head or not sitting up independently, this early intervention allows the babies to learn what I teach and they learn quite quickly. Early intervention has the added value that the imprint on the synapses is not yet so dense that it is difficult to effect change and the issues are not yet laden with emotional baggage.

  1. Fogel writes, “During the past ten years there has been radical; change in the conceptualization of the self in infancy. There is a growing consensus that a sense of self exists long before infants recognize their own image in a mirror, before the acquisition of language or symbolic abilities. The prelinguistic self is believed to be based on the direct perception of the self as a part of a relationship with the physical and social environment. “[1]

During the first few months of a baby’s life there is a strong connection between the development of the motor, emotional, and social elements. Daniel Stern emphasizes the important channel of matching that encourages intersubjectivity between the mother and her child, which is vital to social development. “It follows that the emotional element can be the source of delays in motor and social development. Encountering problems, the infant’s survival mechanism kicks in, the brain and then the body develop compensatory movement for each problematic element.  The infant finds a solution that serves him well in a specific situation. The temporary solution slowly becomes a pattern of movement and this behavior becomes a permanent part of his movement and personality. Over the years, these compensatory patterns delay development and distort the quality of his movement and his behavior in general.”[2]

The work with Mike was a seminal experience and lead me to further research into infant development which eventually resulted in my PhD. Bewegung und Lernen – Die Feldenkrais-Methode als Lernmodell (Movement as a Model for Learning). [3]

The understandings I gained led to developing a method for working with parents, empowering them with knowledge and confidence in their parenting skills. Alvin Toffler once wrote that “parenthood remains the greatest single persevere of the amateur”. Based on Feldenkrais theory, Child’Space focuses on healthy babies and, most importantly, their caregivers during the first two years of life.

Child’Space and the Feldenkrais Method

Moshe’s ideas about early development and the origins of deficient functioning seemed a logical springboard for research focusing on the first two years of life. One of the startling realizations I came to was that babies do not always develop when left to their own devices and there is indeed a need for intervention that provides necessary developmental stimuli.

Some ATM lessons are based on breaking the function down into its components and then proceeding to rebuild the function step by step until arriving at a feeling of competency, having choices, and organic satisfaction. Working with the parents, we are in the unique position of being able to address deficient functioning at its onset and not have to engage it once it has begun to solidify into ingrained behavior or habit. We can nip the problem in the bud, so to speak, without interfering with natural development and without compelling something the system is not able or not yet willing to accommodate.

Most infant health care workers are not trained to, and often do not have the time, to notice the developmental nuances, which can indicate an evolving problem during early infancy. Only when a problem has become so well established, that it can’t escape notice, is it then treated. This unfortunate situation is due to the fact that our cultural habit of perceiving concentrates on what the infant is doing and not on how he is doing it. Dr. Feldenkrais was always adamant that the ‘how’ is much more important than the ‘what’. To discern the ‘how’, one must be sensitive to the quality, clarity, and economy of movement. The ability to recognize these developmental nuances and to use these clues as a means to identify potential problems is a valuable skill for all infant health care workers and parents. Some theories advise leaving the child to his own devices without intervening, even to the extent of not laying him on his stomach until he can get there by himself.[4]

Researching the first two years of development brought me into extensive contact with infants and, of course, with their parents. After all, who is going to carry that big bag of diapers, toys, and sundries that babies seem to need or at least parents seem obliged to schlep? Witnessing the interaction between parent and child was unexpectedly revealing. I did not expect to find that the interaction between parent and child was such a complex issue. For example, I found that, although the basic care given to the infant is scrupulous and exemplary, parents do not touch their babies enough. Also, with the disappearance of the tribe and the extended family, first time parents find themselves basically on their own while being bombarded by a deluge of contradictory theories on parenting. These parents often lack a feeling of competency. How can we help restore a sense of competency to these parents?

My new work with babies and their parents is based on the principles explored in the Feldenkrais Method.  Stimulating all the systems involved in normal infant development (the motor, social, emotional, cognitive, balance, orientation, and sensory systems) leads to change and integration. Touch, hearing, sight, and speech, as appropriate for that particular baby’s developmental stage, are used to track development.

A positive atmosphere is established from the first meeting with parents and their baby. We explore: what functions correctly, how that function is organized, and what the baby can accomplish. With the same strategy that we use to structure ATM or FI lessons, the baby’s achievements, and not lack of achievement, are emphasized. This opens the way to add new elements to her movement repertoire, avoiding evoking feelings of difficulty and frustration. Talking softly to the baby during the session creates a supportive atmosphere.

 The ultimate goal of successful parenting is to assist their child’s development, help them construct a positive self image, bolster their self confidence, improve the reciprocal relationship between the baby and the other members of the family, and reinforce the parent’s sense of competency. Parents need to understand the child has needs of his own and these needs deserve respect.[5] My training addresses all of these issues.

As the parents’ awareness expands, what they have learned becomes spontaneously available and is unconsciously used during the simplest tasks of the daily routine.

And so Child’Space was born. Sometimes it is not so easy to find a name for a new ‘baby’. With deep gratitude, I thank Carla Reed for understanding my vision and presenting me with: Child’Space. This name had a talmudic appeal, the Talmud being full of wise and witty sayings, puns, word games, and acrostics.

Let me show you:

Child’Space, well this seems pretty obvious: Child and Space. But what is with this weird apostrophe? Now transpose the apostrophe. You get Childs’Pace. And this is the crux of the matter.

Remember: One lesson at an early age is worth many lessons at a later stage.

Empowering parents

Studies have shown that the quality of the connection between parents and their babies have a pervasive influence on the motor, social, emotional, and cognitive development of the child.[6] Parental involvement as knowledgeable observers is vital.  However, it appears that most parents do not have the knowledge or the tools needed to be effective observers. This is what, I believe, must change.

Parents can be taught to provide for their infant’s motor and emotional needs by learning to recognize phases of their child’s development, to track their growth, and to identify and neutralize any compensatory movement habits that are evidence of something having gone off track. This knowledge empowers parents and contributes to, not only the establishment of better parent-child relations, but also to the development of the family unit in its entirety. The child feels more comfortable with himself when receiving positive reinforcement from his environment and he will master the ability to achieve what he wants by himself.

Trial and error learning

Thinking, “I must solve all my baby’s problems” is not a useful approach. An example is when the baby attempts to sit and then to stand. During this process, the child will be confused, she will fall, she will receive a few knocks, but through trial and error she will eventually solve the problem. Balance and co-ordination will develop only if the infant herself searches for, and finds, the way to sit and stand. Sometimes the relevant systems take longer to mature, but the movement finally is achieved and the baby has learned to search for and find solutions and to depend on herself. Allowing discovery through trial and error is exactly the way to let the child to begin developing independence.  Being able to monitor the infant and her surroundings, parents can learn to be observant enough to realize when trial and error has gone off track and can then seek gentle intervention.

The child’s ability to try things derives from the security she feels through the physical connection with the primary caregiver. Security and autonomy means feeling free to try different things, to experiment, and to engage in trial and error.

Today’s generation of parents does not allow their children enough challenges and, unintentionally, they prevent the child from seeking out challenges. Allowing the child his own challenges is what energizes the development of balance, co-ordination, and orientation that are constructed in the child’s first year of life.

The parent and the infant

The personal baggage that new parents bring to parenthood is directly responsible for the quality of the connection between parents and their infant. This new situation, of being a parent, provides a marvelous opportunity to consider their own past, the way they were raised, and re-evaluate the relationship with their parents. ‘Will I raise my child in the same manner as I was raised?’ Or, maybe,’ I want to be a different sort of parent. I don’t want to be like my mom or dad.’

As a parent learns to get close to her infant and learns to listen to him, she learns to listen also to herself. While developing sensitivity towards the infant, her self-directed sensitivity is sharpened. (See ‘From theory to practice’, page 11) Attention to the infant’s needs and the positive feedback, strengthens the parent and evokes a feeling of security and satisfaction. See the Questionnaire, page 14. The small validations experienced when solving the small problems that crop up and laying the groundwork for parent and child understandings provide parenting tools and strengthen the abilities needed to be a mother or father.

In a wider sense, the connection sought is not the parent-to-infant connection, but the family-to-infant connection. Family members provide the baby with invaluable opportunities to establish and develop social skills. Social skills, already learned at a very early age, influence the child’s sense of curiosity, language skills, problem solving abilities, peer group behavior, and the development of various character traits. The influences are bi-directional: children become active partners in defining the family structure and there is a direct connection between the child’s personal development and the evolving family dynamic.

Marital harmony usually leads to pro-active parenting and improved accommodation on the part of the infant. Another factor in child behavior is their chronological position in the family. Is the child the first born or is he the second child? Or is he the middle child? How does the presence of one child in the family influence the parents’ interaction with the new arrival? How does the youngest child influence the oldest child and vice versa?

What meaningful process can occur in the mother that alters the way that she perceives herself? Imagine the mother who, while holding her baby, has strained shoulders, holds her breath, exhibits tension in her hands, and is always rushing around. If you point out to her that this strained posture and hyperactivity may not fit the baby’s immediate needs, she answers “But this is just how I am. This is how I know myself.” It is imperative to find a way to help this parent to be more responsive to her baby. Maybe the child needs calming, which can often be easily achieved through simply moving slower, using a softer or firmer tone of voice or speaking more clearly or faster or slower. Exposing the mother to the divergent needs of her baby will create a new awareness of herself, thus enabling her to be more open and creative in her interaction with the baby and less hemmed in by preconceived notions.

It has also been discovered that babies of depressed mothers have a difficult time developing independence and exhibit often stunted social skills. Maria Knist, a psychologist who completed the Child’Space training, studied a group of mothers who were hospitalized in psychiatric facilities. The mothers were not capable of taking care of their children, due to a trauma during birth or due to a pre-existing condition. Some of the women were even considering giving their baby up for adoption. After participating in the Child’Space workshops, some of the women left the hospital to make a home and raise their child. Women that remained at the facility reported that the connection with their child improved and they decided not to give their babies up for adoption. A new approach to touch and the positive feedback the mother receives from the baby creates a new dynamic in the mother -child relationship. From this experience, we understand how important it is to take care of the parent who is taking care of the baby. In fact, the Child’Space method is now routinely used in this facility.

Function and dysfunction – When and how to intervene?

There is an irrevocable connection between movement patterns and the development of behavior patterns, self image, and interpersonal communication. Even slight delays in development affect the baby’s present and future behavior and functioning. For example, the inability to roll from lying on the back to lying on the stomach may cause feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction. These feelings create negative feedback, between the baby and herself and between the baby and her environment, where she may be perceived as lazy or unsuccessful. Lack of success can create a situation where the infant feels that she is not compensated with an adequate reward for the effort, however unsuccessful, invested. On the other hand, expanding the baby’s movement repertoire during the first few months of life creates a drive to continue trying new solutions.

Intervention, at the first evidence of even minimal dysfunction and before the habit is imprinted and fixed in the system, results in rapid learning and quick assimilation of change. The longer one waits to intervene, the more time is need to effect the change.

Sometimes parents feel that something is not right. When, during a routine visit to the doctor, they mention what they have observed their fears are often dismissed by the doctor saying “It will work itself out.” Should we leave the ontogenetic process to work the problem out or intervene? My observations have shown that leaving things to work themselves out often instills in the infants a sense of inability. Leaving things to work themselves out can lead to stiffness in joints and muscles. Movement begins to be perceived as something difficult and unrewarding instead of fun and joyful. It can also lead to stress because the child does not receive positive feedback from her environment and this influences her developing self image. A vicious circle is created, where these early frustrations remain within the system and adversely influence the development of other, more complex functions. We are not talking about pathology here, but about the infant’s perception of herself as a capable human being.

I am not arguing that the infant cannot find a way to perform the necessary physical tasks. I am, however, concerned with the quality of the functioning. It seems sensible to exploit the fact that applying minimal stimulus, at an early stage, to achieve maximum quality. We cannot foresee which child will overcome early developmental hiccups and for which child these early frustrations will have far reaching, unwanted effects.

Incorporating support and autonomy

A mother brought her eight month old baby to me for consultation. Her baby’s feet were turned inward. Their doctor advised against immediate intervention, claiming that when the child started walking the situation could be re-evaluated. During my examination, the child was lying on his back; I discovered hyper tonus in the leg muscles that resisted my attempts to bend his legs. Turning from lying on his back to his stomach was performed with straight legs. He also could not bring himself to sitting without his mother’s help. The mother recounted how she always sits him up because in that position he seems more alert. She never realized that he does not sit independently because he lacks the co-ordination and rotation among the legs, the arms, and the head that is necessary for shifting weight when moving from one position to the next.

By arranging her child in a sitting position, the mother inadvertently forces a position on him that he is not yet able to achieve independently. The resultant stiff muscles and inflexible spine, where the head and the back begin functioning as one unit, is brought about by the child’s need to maintain his balance and avoid falling. Witnessing the child’s struggle to remain upright leaves the mother skeptical of her child’s abilities and leaves her unsure of herself as a mother. The mother’s feelings are reinforced by the child, who is developing an unhealthy dependence on his mother’s help instead of finding his way to self reliance.

Outside intervention has now become critical. The baby needs motor stimulation that will guide him towards organizing his balance and co-ordination. The mother needs professional support to teach her how to help him, using different stimuli that will allow her child to achieve sitting position independently. She will learn to encourage the baby to use trial and error, which inherently teaches the infant to cope with failure, to fall, and ultimately find a solution.

Encountering obstacles and dangers increases the child’s ability to deal with difficulties, falls, uncomfortable situations, and problem solving. If we open the curtain wider and peek into this child’s future, we can confidently say that neutralizing dangers at such an early age may be inadvertently depriving him of the opportunity to develop coping mechanisms.

The importance of play

Play, the supremely important activity for the infant, goes beyond the motor aspect. “Play stimulates the baby to search for solutions and make decisions in changing situations. Play allows him to deal with failure and, of course, develop his motor, sensomotor, and psychomotor systems. ” [7]  Play, according to Reed, “is an action system and has a quality of open, non-committed exploration.”[8]

Play encourages:

  • Meeting challenges
  • Searching for solutions
  • Developing attention
  • Stimulation and reaction
  • Imitation
  • Decision making

During play sessions the infant learns to give and receive, recognize limits and dangers, and acquire the ability to deal with failure. Play also develops co-ordination and balance.

When considering play, we must take a look at the toys that today’s child plays with. Do these toys really encourage imagination and creativity? Can we believe the toy manufactures’ hype claiming that their product “stimulates the imagination”, “helps develop social skills”, “awakens the cognitive functions”, and “develops motor skills and tactile sense”?  I believe that the answer to this must be, in most cases, a resounding no. Children’s rooms are full of toys, but most of these toys are not sufficiently challenging. They soon tire of the toy that does not contribute to the development of imagination and creativity. The truly beneficial toys are the ones that demand more activity on the part of the baby, such as blocks, clay, dolls, crayons, and paper. Also, a smaller number of toys can actually encourage imagination and creativity.[9] Most toys today mold the child into a passive observer[10]; the toys whistle, squeak, talk, display moving pictures and all at the press of a button. What better training for sitting in front of the television and zapping around the channels?

I encountered one mother who found many justifications for putting her 4 month old baby on the floor in front of the television. She claimed that it is good for him because it encourages him to lift his head. She was also convinced that he liked TV. Is this mother truly responding to her baby’s needs or is she projecting her own needs onto her child?

I encourage parents to use a combination of complementary play objects, such as large rings where body parts can be threaded though and noisemakers, which serve as training aids for developing the motor system and coordinating the hand-eye-hearing function. Balls are especially effective and handy props for urging baby to change location, and developing sight, spatial orientation, sensations of the body and of the environment.  All these factors play important roles in gross and fine motor functions. It is not surprising that children who suffer from Developmental Coordination Disorder are not good at games involving balls and this, in turn, can cause many social problems in school age children.[11]

Why is early intervention so important?

Time presses on in growth and anything not attempted in its own time may remain dormant for the rest of the learner’s life.

Moshe Feldenkrais – The Elusive Obvious

Over the last decade, the necessity of identifying, diagnosing, and treating problems at the earliest stage of life has become clearer to researchers and somatic professionals. Springing from this awareness, and rooted in experience gleaned during many years of working with children with motor, cognitive, or emotional and social skills problems, I developed Child’Space. Child’Space is concerned with tracking a child’s development from birth until he or she succeeds in walking independently. The focus is on babies who have no specific problems, in other words, healthy babies. Often miniscule problems escape a parent’s notice and even if the problem is seen, it is doubtful if parents can correctly understand it. Left unattended, these tiny problems can develop into clumsiness of movement, degraded functioning, and sometimes lead to more serious defects. Today researchers in the field of developmental psychology are exploring the effect of parental involvement and the enormous impact this involvement has on their child’s motor-cognitive-emotional development.

It follows that tracking an infant’s earliest development and paying special attention to any difficulty or problem encountered, regardless of how negligible these problems may seem, and, finally, intervening effectively at an early stage will help avoid more intractable problems later.

This is overwhelmingly true for babies born prematurely. Preemies need proprioceptive feedback and improved breathing organization. [12] Haddars-Algra analyzed infant movement and found that full term babies exhibited normal fidgety movements, which were complex and three dimensional (e.g. a movement of the leg that combines not only flexion/extension, but also abduction in the hip and final internal rotation of the foot). Preemies, on the other hand, clearly exhibited two dimensional movements lacking in variation and complexity. According, to this researcher, these babies are at risk for neurological disorders (such as C.P.), clumsiness, and attention deficiency disorders.

Early intervention, influencing all the system elements that comprise orderly infant development, is crucial. However, the most important question to consider is, “When am I helping and when am I hindering?” Esther Thelen’s research shows that the infant brain is plastic and the child has the inherent capability for self correction. “Research in developmental neuroscience points to the fact that synaptic connections are eliminated if they are not activated.”[13]

Effective communication between the parent and child

Consider the case of a baby with hyper tonic legs. While cradling the baby, his mother might perceive that he is not calm and is having trouble bending his legs. The Child’Space coach will teach her how to relieve the hyper tonicity by tapping softly on his legs and touching his abdomen, thus regulating the tonus through the proprioceptive system. Once his legs are a bit more pliable, the mother learns how to bring the baby’s knees closer to his body while she also brings her face closer to the baby’s face. While doing this, the mother varies her facial expressions and her way of talking, repeating the child’s name for instance. The child invariably focuses on his mother’s face and he will even mimic her mouth movements. “…the most important ways in which infants learn, before language development, consist of looking and imitation (Hanna & Meltzoff, 1993).[14] All possible communication channels are used: tactile, auditory, visual, movement, and, of course, the security of being closely held by his mother. Eventually the baby becomes calm; his flexors relax, tension is reduced, breathing is easy, and the infant senses a great degree of physical comfort in this cradled position. This process results in a calmer baby who senses, through his mother’s touch, that she too is calm and confident.

Employing varied means of communication, leads to a more fruitful dialog between the parent and the infant. Touch, speech, singing, and whatever involves other senses, establish superior communication between the child and the caregiver. “From one month infants show enhanced visual attention to particular facial features, such as eyes, mouth, that are most relevant for the reading of emotional expressions. (Maurrer & Salapatek, 1976)”[15] To build these communication channels, the parent must be learn how to create a pleasant environment where the child feels comfortable, calm, and secure.

Body mapping

Two years ago a perplexed mother showed up with her sweet twin girls. Katerina and Marta were beautiful babies. Marta, however, was missing her right forearm and lacking a hand. How could four months old Marta learn that most basic function – rolling? One of the main problems facing the child was coping with the huge difference between the feeling and functioning on each side of the body. Learning how to roll was initially impossible. Since there was no forearm to provide a lever, she had to learn that the stump can be a functioning part of her body. On the undamaged side, I found great inflexibility in the shoulder that presented a whole new set of challenges. Each side required different orientation and coordination. Children with these types of defects are prone to develop one side only because the incomplete side is not represented in their body image. After two years of work Marta now climbs ladders and communicates well. She is comfortable standing up for herself.

Infants begin constructing their self image through personal investigation. They touch themselves, investigating by feeling their body parts, and begin formulating a concept of themselves. Damasio called this the body loop. “How the body loop functions in mental, emotional, and embodies life, mapping those activities as they occur.” [16]They listen to their inner voice and bring their extremities into their field of vision. “Self exploration is more than a behavioral inventory: It is a specific process through which infants become perceptually attentive to their own body and engage in a perceptual dialogue with themselves.”[17]

Lying on the stomach

Research has overwhelmingly demonstrated that the connection between infants’ structure and function are inexorably linked to everything that has to do with his development. For example, newborns can barely raise their heads, but when their muscles have developed enough to allow this function babies easily raise and hold their heads in a stable posture. This seemingly small developmental step expands the infant’s interaction with his environment: the baby smiles more when relating to the people around him and seeks to establish eye contact with them.[18]

Parents are instructed to lay babies on their backs rather than on their stomachs. The rationale for keeping babies on their backs is to prevent cradle death. This practice usually results in many children who do not develop their arm, neck, and shoulder girdle muscles because they have no need to push themselves up with their arms. This, however, surely does not mean that the baby cannot be placed on his stomach during the day when he is under caregiver supervision, giving him the opportunity to develop his upper body and neck musculature that are vital to lifting his head, erecting his upper body, crawling, and balance. All these new abilities strengthen the connection between the baby and his environment. This is just one example, among many, that point to the need of inexperienced parents have for a support system that provides the necessary guidance, in a number of fields that helps them understand and support their baby’s normal development.

From theory to practice

The Child’Space training for facilitators is implemented in two ways:

  • Individual sessions with parents-baby-practioner
  • Group sessions with parents-baby-facilitator

During group sessions we attempt to insure appropriate and qualitative development. The babies are divided according to their developmental stage:

  • Rolling over
  • From rolling to crawling
  • From crawling to independent sitting
  • From sitting to standing and walking

Orderly and appropriate developmental stages are discussed and experienced through movement. These discussions do not remain in the realm of the theoretical; facilitators learn how to make clear to parents that orderly developmental stages influence daily functions.  Exercises, that improve movement and the quality of that movement, and encourage learning, are taught so that parents can repeat these exercises at home during baby’s playtime. Parents are guided in how to routinely apply what they have learned; for example: how to hold and carry the baby, when is the appropriate stage to support the baby in his or her attempts at sitting, and so on. One of the most important tools acquired by parents, working with facilitators, is the confidence to recognize when it is time to intervene. By observing and intervening before nonfunctional or compensatory movement becomes habitual, parents allow their baby to arrive at complex functions free from delaying factors and stress.

The Child’Space workshop consists of 50 days (300 academic hours).

Course syllabus:

  • Phases of motor development from 0 – 3 months of age
  • Turning over and rolling
  • Crawling and sitting
  • Standing and walking
  • From homo lateral movement to contra lateral movement
  • Balance mechanisms in varying fields of gravity
  • Gross and fine motor control
  • Co-ordination and orientation
  • Developing speech and language
  • Interpersonal communication and developing social skills
  • Infant and child play
  • Lectures

System elements and facilitators

 This diagram represents the mutuality of interaction among the main players.

“Neural networks do not develop independently from experience. For that reason the structure-function relation is not simple. It is mediated by the infant’s experience as perceiver and actor in a meaningful environment. Meaningful to infants means that they develop in relation to the three basic categories of infantile experience: self (one’s own body), physical objects, and people. These categories are inseparable pillars that support and hold the infant world together.”[19]

When working with the child we must address all the system elements (see table) as a unified whole, respecting their interdependency.


The multi-system therapy is best achieved through the coach – infant– parent triangle. The caregiver and the practitioner act as agents who guide the infant towards the final goals – functional integration & functional change. It is only early intervention, in many cases, that leads to normative and healthy development and prevents an imbalance among the system elements. One of the goals in a Child’Space workshop is to help parents gain the insight that working with one element in the system influences all the others and integration of all the elements is what effects change.


The statistics are staggering. Over 35% of kindergarten age children exhibit motor concentration difficulties and a lack of fine motor skills. These difficulties interfere with daily life and with success in school. They can influence a person’s self image throughout their life and, as we know, our behavior is influenced by our feelings of inadequacy.

It seems that in an era when we are bombarded by information on how to raise our children, something is getting lost in the jungle of information. Modern parents, especially with their first born, lack self confidence in their competency to raise the baby.  Facilitators and parents, using the tools they have learned during Child’Space workshops, are able to monitor baby’s development and to recognize when something is going awry. Well informed parents are confidant parents, which in turn projects on the well being of the baby. The baby is more relaxed and confident, and this reinforces the parents’ confidence in their parenting skills. This contributes to a more relaxed daily routine, which undoubtedly benefits both the parents and the baby. The daily routine is the playing field where many of the physical, social, and emotional problems that the baby might have had to deal with in the future, can be confronted and eliminated. This can only happen if developmental setbacks are identified and addressed at the appropriate time.

The work with the baby and his parents prevents delaying factors from taking root in the baby’s nervous system. The baby obtains greater freedom in the joints, a more compatible self image, and social ease. This approach exposes the child to dealing with challenges and inculcates the understanding that not everything is simply or easily achieved. Trial and error is encouraged so that he will look for appropriate solutions, thus increasing positive feedback, and enjoy the support of the people with whom he interacts. Organic self satisfaction, the basis for acquiring a positive self image, increases along with expanded autonomy and decreasing dependence on parents for completing simple tasks.

Within the Child’Space experience, parents come to understand the complexity of their baby and how it is connected to the complexity of the mother. Parents change the way they touch their child. They find ways to use play to stimulate the child’s curiosity. They come to understand that “educational” play does not only mean sitting with the child and reading books. They begin to understand that their baby is an autonomous entity. They accept that their child has the right to be himself – different and unique. Awareness does not begin only when the baby begins to verbally express himself. There are many other ways he demonstrates his awareness.   Our work starts parents and their babies on the enlightening journey from unformed awareness to informed awareness.

Through Child’Space workshops parents acquire the tools for skilled and informed observation, effective communication, and enhanced self scrutiny. To quote one parent, “The skill that I acquired, at noticing details changed the way I observe my personal life. Another parent remarked, “I learned to be more patient and tolerant in all areas of my life.”

 I encourage them to believe in their child’s ability to independently arrive at solutions. Parents learn to support the baby’s development instead of being an overbearing dictator. The parenting instinct, which seems to have gotten lost, is revived.

Parent’s Feedback

At the conclusion of each segment of the workshop, parents are requested to fill out a questionnaire. Here are some of the questions and common answers

1.What were your expectations from the workshop?

Aid my baby’s development.

Gain new strategies to support my baby’s development.

2.How did the workshop help you?

Questions that had been troubling us were answered.

This method of working with our baby was interesting for us and for our child.

A wonderful experience for parents and babies.

I gained a better understanding of the baby’s developmental process and progress.

A new appreciation of a baby’s potential.

3.What did you discover during the workshop? What bothered you or caused you joy?

Subjects like touching, carrying, and lifting the baby were very important to me because I felt that I didn’t know enough.

I hadn’t understood before that the use of words, varying voice tones, and changing facial expressions have such a great influence on my baby’s personal development and our developing relationship.

The workshop was suitably for babies and for my baby in particular.

I enjoyed the new approach and found how to support the baby’s motor and sensory systems.

I developed a pleasant way of touch.

Using very simple methods, we learned to calm our baby.

With just a little bit of practice, we learned to use soft tapping and touch to change movement habits.

Providing noninvasive support, our baby’s development was integrated into our daily lives, at home and in the general environment.

We learned that you cannot force anything on the baby. You have to wait for a response.

4.What did you learn about your baby that you didn’t know before?

My baby’s development is right on track.

My baby is developing slowly and that is fine.

My child learned to enjoy the sessions and via soft tapping he learned to relax.

The support we felt gave us confidence in our parenting abilities.

We learned to trust in the baby’s abilities. We saw that he could assess dangers and was not afraid of falling.

That each baby develops at her own individual pace and in her own unique way.

We learned to let our baby become acquainted with strangers at his own pace, without any outside urging.

I learned that movement frees you for more movement.

A baby has no boundaries.

5. What do these sessions mean to you personally?

By being aware of the baby’s movement I could provide him with more developmental options.

I became more creative in how I touched my child.

Participating in the workshop was beneficial to the relations between me and the baby.

I feel more confidant in my interaction with him and learned that appropriate interaction causes a positive response.

Each lesson was an event. During each lesson my baby surprised me all over again.

6. Did connecting with your baby through touch, as you practiced during the workshop, influence other aspects of your life?

My husband learned a different way of looking at our baby.

All our friends were interested this family experience.

I could pass on the tools I learned in the workshop to other mothers.

The confidence that I obtained made me quieter within myself.

I developed a stronger connection to effects of physical touch.


Bowlby, 1979; Brunner 1990. The Role of Maternal Affect

Caley-Golley , K. professor of psychiatry, New York University

Damasio, A.R. (1999). Looking for Spinoza;

Feldenkrais M. The Elusive Obvious ; Coupertine ,California: Meta Publication,1981

Fogel, A. (1995). Relation Narratives of the Prelinguistic Self; Elsevier Science B.V.

Haddars-Algra M Dirks T. (2000).De motorische ontwikkeling van de zuigeling: varlernm selecteren en leren adapteren. Houten: Bohn, Stafleu en Van Loghum,

Latash, M.L. & Turvey, M.T. (1996.) Dexterity and its Development. Mahwah, NJ: Lawerence Erlbaum

Lindahl, M. & Pramling Samuelsoon, I. (2002). “Imitation and Variation:reflections on toddler’s strategies for learning”; Scandinavian Journal of Education Research, Vol 46.

Pickler, A. (1988. )Lasst Mir Zeit; Munchen : Flamm verlag

Reed, E.S. (1996). Encountering the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Rochat , P. (1995). “Early Objectification of the Self”; Elsevier Science B.V.

Rochat, P. and Morgan, R. (1995). “The Function and Determinants of Early Self-exploration”; Elsevier Science B.V.

Shelhav . C. (1999). Bewegung und Lernen – Die Felfenkrais-Methode als Lernmodell (Movement as a Model for Learning); Dortmund : verlag modernes lernen

Stern D. (2000). The Interpersonal World of the Infant; Basic Books

Van Wulfften Palthe and Hopkins. (1993). Facts of Infancy;

Thanks to Roger Russell who wrote a paper for the Seattle conference and which was useful to me in preparing this article.

Translated from the Hebrew by Leah Smaller

Fogel, A. (1995) [1]

[2] Stern, D. (2000)

[3] Shelhav. C, Dortmund, (1999)

[4] Emmi Pickler, Lasst mir Zeit, (1988)

[5] Stern, D. (2000)

[6] Bowlby, 1979; Brunner 1990., p. (1301)

[7] Latash, M.L. (1996)

[8] Reed, E.S. (1996)

[9] Ha’aretz, 2004

[10] Caley-Golley , professor of psychiatry, New York University

[11] Shelhav, C, (1999)

[12] Haddars-Algra M Dirks T. De motorische ontwikkeling van de zuigeling: varlernm selecteren en leren adapteren. (Houten: Bohn, Stafleu en Van Loghum, 2000)

[13] Rochat, P.  p 22, Harvard University Press, 2001

[14] Marita Lindahl & Ingrid Pramling Samuelsoon, “Imitation and Variation”,( Scandinavian Journal of Education, 2002)

[15] Phillipe Rochat Early Objectification of the Self, 1995

[16] Damasio, Looking for Spinoza, 1999

[17] Rochat and Morgan, 1995

[18]Van Wulfften Palthe and Hopkins,  Facts of Infancy, 1993

[19] Van Wulfften Palthe and Hopkins,  Facts of Infancy, 1993

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