One of the aspects of German culture which we Americans often find so shocking is the prevalent open attitude towards nudity, otherwise known as naturalism. One of my good German friends is a big sauna goer and explained once to a group of us that her whole family was into it. This raised alarm bells with the other Americans there. “Wait, even your father is naked?” “Where do you look when he’s naked?” “Don’t you feel uncomfortable at all that strangers can see you naked?”
In the spirit of exploring my new culture further, I think I have found a “naturalism for beginners” course for my baby daughter.
Many mothers and fathers throughout Germany have participated in a weekly activity for babies: the Prager-Eltern-Kind Programm or PEKiP for short. When telling my mother what my younger daughter Stella and I do every Thursday morning, I refer to PEKiP as “naked baby play group.” Basically, we meet weekly with a group of seven other mothers and their babies, born within a month of each other, with a trained instructor for 90 minutes. This group stays together from the beginning (first few months) till age one. During this time, the babies get to play (and pee) naked in a heated room. The instructor provides different stage-appropriate toys, which are often every day objects such as empty water bottles filled with dry pasta or empty yoghurt containers stacked together. She also talks through typical development milestones and challenges we might be experiencing. Parents are given the chance to report how they and their babies are doing and pose questions they might have: “I’m not sure if my baby is ready to start with solids.” “My baby refuses to eat from a spoon.” “I can’t get my baby to sleep in her own bed through the night.” The babies are naked because it is believed that they are able to move and explore more freely and are simply happier in this, um, more natural state.
I have not seen or heard of any American equivalent to PEKiP. What strikes me as particularly German about this concept, which actually originated in Prague, is not only the fact that a bunch of babies are brought together to get naked, but also the relaxed attitude towards playing with every day household objects. For two reasons: there isn’t any pressure or suggestion you have to buy anything extra, something that goes against the grain of conspicuous consumption. After all, we already have empty plastic bags in which our pasta came in, corners of which make a baby very happy to crinkle around and suck on. Which leads me to my second point, some of these PEKiP-approved objects scream safety hazard to American parents. I am sure that I have already gotten some Americans to shudder when I mentioned baby and plastic bag in the same sentence. Let alone the beads on strings or buttons sewed on washcloth mitts, otherwise regarded as choke hazards. But as emphasized by the PEKiP philosophy, under supervision, these every day objects make great toys and encourage children’s development.
Even though I have not yet come across a PEKiP equivalent anywhere else, is it really such a research breakthrough that babies are happier when naked? Well, maybe that is the ultimate German aspect of PEKiP, they do nudity at all ages systematically.
You can find some more English language information on PEKiP here.