Attachment Parenting and Continuum Learning

 If play-school and pre-school prepare a child for school, how does a parent prepare a toddler or young child for a lifetime of learning?

The question arises because of the way schools are marketed in India, in a climate of fierce competition for admission. If, as in other countries, one was assured admission into first grade, or any grade thereafter, there would be no pressure on parents to make decisions regarding schooling prior to school-age. The Right to Education Act takes a step towards providing that assurance, because it in fact states that schools cannot deny admission. This applies even after the first standard but certainly prior to the first standard, a parent can support a child’s learning without making any decision regarding schooling or homeschooling at all.

This is why, in homeschool related activities or discussion groups that I have helped to organize, we say that homeschooling begins around the time of school age.  So when someone says they are homeschooling their 3-5 year old we gently suggest that they may be planning to homeschool but that at this age there is really no schooling or homeschooling to be done.

Meanwhile people continue to insist upon saying that they are homeschooling their 1-2 year old, or even their children whom they are still expecting.  Each and every time we consistently reply that “you are not yet homeschooling” or sometimes even that “you cannot homeschool” someone so young, our interlocutor smiles a brief, knowing smile and continues to list their homeschooling goals and objectives.  Such as:

kids-leaping-and-playingI don’t want her to get caught up in the rat race.

I don’t want to pressure him.

I don’t like competition.

I want her to be creative!

I want him to love learning!

I want to encourage curiosity!

I want them to express themselves!

I want them to think independently!

What can parents of young children and babies do to help achieve these goals and objectives? There are a dizzying array of parenting books, experts, training classes and most of them will promise all of the above and more. Try to think for a moment of the time before there were any parenting books, and even before there were books at all. How did parents and children interact in those times?  Can we learn anything from their practices?

As a young woman, Jean Liedloff lived for several years among the Yequana, who are an indigenous people in Venezuela.  She did not go there with the intention of studying the people, children or parents, but during her stay she was drawn to observe the way they were with their children. She found a great deal that we could learn from their way of life, especially the lives of their young and the relationships among adults and children in the family and community.

Though I did not have the depth of experience that Jean Liedloff had, a brief stay in a tribal community did help me relate to the context in which Jean Liedloff drew her observations and formed the continuum concept.

In the few weeks I stayed among indigenous people in the Narmada Valley, I noticed, mostly in passing, some differences in the way parents related to children. This was before I had given any thought to becoming a parent myself. Nevertheless, I perceived that at least for routine matters, children were less physically and emotionally dependent on their elders, from a relatively young age, that what seemed normal to me. I once glimpsed the impact this had on the power relations within the family. I was there during the rains, when the Narmada river was rising and flooding people’s homes to waist-level. I observed the behaviour of the people, children and adults alike, efficiently organizing means of carrying their household items to higher ground while also taking part in the protest against the Sardar Sarovar dam which was the cause of their submergence.   What struck me was that they did not not order their children, whether in ordinary times or in a time of crisis.  Later I could see the relationship of this to other aspects of their society, especially while reading Jean Liedloff’s observations of the Yequana people.

Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concpet

Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concpet

While modern life has changed very rapidly in the past few centuries, birth and infancy are governed by the same expectations as they have been for millennia. What has changed today is that we are not necessarily meeting those expectations, often misled into ignoring or rejecting our natural instincts and those of our children. This, according to Jean Liedloff results in a break in the continuum. The book she wrote to explain this is called The Continuum Concept.

This book is available in English and Hindi on Arvind Gupta’s website: The Continuum Concept.
  And this site:  The Continuum Concept.

The Hindi translation of The Continuum Concept, सातत्य अवधारणा is available on the Banyan Tree website.

Liedloff believed that the Yequana people were the happiest people she had ever seen and explained this happiness and peace as an honouring of the continuum – the continuum of society, the continuum of work and play, the continuum between the world of adults and the world of children.  This continuum guides us emotionally, physically, and intellectually whether we are growing up in the jungle or in Mumbai.

One of the key practices that she described was the practice of carrying babies unreservedly.  In infancy the baby would be in-arms as the default position.  Rather than picking a baby up when needed, one would put the baby down when needed, and carry him or her at all other times.   A simple piece of cloth would make it possible to carry hands-free and thus allow the baby not only to be carried but also integrated into the world of those who carried him or her.  This makes available interesting sights, sounds, smells and movements, much as the baby enjoyed while in the womb,  but with the opportunity to listen, observe, interpret and eventually get involved in whatever is going on in the surroundings.  Rather than being in a cradle or stroller and looking for ways to get carried, the infant in-arms can turn his or her attention to diverse interests.  At the same time, baby expends little energy in communicating his need to eat, sleep or relieve himself because a squirm, a stiffening, a tired look is picked up and responded to without having to turn into a full blown cry for help.

So impressed with the practice of continuous carrying was California based pediatrician Dr. William Sears that he introduced the baby sling to all new parents who came to him and included a full chapter on the sling in The Baby Book, his popular manual for parents.   In its first edition, The Baby Book was called, Creative Parenting: How to use the new Continuum Concept to Raise Children Successfully from Birth.

He outlined a basic set of practices that flowed from the continuum concept and called this style of parenting by the name Attachment Parenting.

The Baby Book and many other resources will describe the benefits of these practices for the health and happiness of the baby, mother, family and indeed, the community.   These practices include bonding at birth, breastfeeding, babywearing, and sleeping close to baby.  He also asks parents to “believe” in the baby’s communications and to “beware” of baby trainers who would counsel parents to ignore crying or other efforts baby makes to be heard, held, nursed, or otherwise attended.  Although Dr. Sears only hints at it, I would also include diaper-free hygiene, also known as elimination communication, as a practice that encourages parents to listen and babies to communicate and be heard.

These practices also have a direct relationship to learning because they are based on a fundamental principle of trust in the motherbaby who become mother and baby and family, as their circle grows. Each of these practices helps the baby’s parents and other associates (as Jean Liedloff endearingly calls the family and community that together brings up a child) to learn to listen and thus model the skill of listening, for the baby to learn in turn.

About The Continnum Concept, John Holt said, “I don’t know whether the world can be saved by a book, but if it could be, this might just be the book.” It has already made a difference to the lives of millions of families. Let us hope that together we can change the world. 

See also:  Resources for Continuum Learning


  1. 30 March 2013 at 2:27 am

    […] from different sessions that are gradually coming out. I have started writing about the session on Attachment Parenting and Continuum Learning. Of course one never knows what thread from the conference will get picked up where – on the […]

  2. 28 January 2014 at 2:15 pm

    […] Here are some resources that can help you practice continuum learning with your little ones.  Follow-Up to Attachment Parenting and Continuum Learning […]

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