“The application of Emmi Pikler’s respectful and affectionate image of the baby has helped babies to develop well, and adults to change their internal representations of the baby’s capacities and their role as care providers.”
(Introducing the Piklerian Developmental Approach: History and Principles, The Signal World Association for Infant Mental Health Newsletter 2010).
When working with the youngest of children, the importance of respectful care practices cannot be highlighted enough as an indicator of quality. You may have heard of the RIE approach to early childhood education? This approach is the philosophy of the world-renowned Magda Gerber. Magda was the protege of a Hungarian pediatrician by the name of Dr. Emmi Pikler. Magda is known for bringing the ideas of Pikler to the US. The methodology was widely welcomed and became known as ‘Resources for Infant Educarers ‘ or ‘RIE‘.
Both Pikler and Gerber have passed away, but their philosophy and vision live on in early learning services around the world. Many parents have also discovered this philosophy which is based on respect of our youngest of children.
So what are the guiding principles of this approach, and what might they look like in a practical sense?
THE BASIS OF THE EDUCARING® APPROACH: RESPECT
Respect is the basis of the Educaring® Approach.
We not only respect babies, we demonstrate our respect every time we interact with them. Respecting a child means treating even the youngest infant as a unique human being, not as an object.
Speaking with an infant to inform them what you are about to do to them. We tell them we are going to wipe their face and invite them to help by turning their face to us. We tell them we are going to pick them up and give them a moment to prepare. We respect their need to communicate by crying and understand their possible discomfort or pain. We respect their choice as to when they are full and do not try to use a distraction to feed them more. We understand that infants may not be comfortable being held by strangers and do not pass them around a large group of people. We show care and respect for their bodies when changing their diaper/nappy and do not force them into positions that are uncomfortable or distressing for them.
OUR GOAL: AN AUTHENTIC CHILD
An authentic child is one who feels secure, autonomous, competent, and connected.
When we help a child to feel secure, feel appreciated, feel that “somebody is deeply, truly interested in me,” by the way we just look, the way we just listen, we influence that child’s whole personality, the way that child sees life.
When interacting with an infant, we give them our full attention and give them time to respond to our conversation and interactions. We validate their attempts to communicate by smiling, nodding or talking to them. We give infants choices, would you like to hold this toy, or this toy and wait for their response which may be a lingering look or a reach of an arm.
TRUST IN THE INFANT’S COMPETENCE
We have basic trust in the infant to be an initiator, to be an explorer eager to learn what he is ready for.
Because of this trust, we provide the infant with only enough help necessary to allow the child to enjoy the mastery of her own actions.
We allow infants to explore in their own time, and in their own unique way, trusting that they know to explore in the way they are meant to. We trust that an infant will develop the physical skills needed, in their own time. They will roll to their stomach when they have developed the strength and coordination to do so independently. They will crawl when they are ready to, and they will sit when they are able to move into that position unaided. Therefore we do not place them in positions before they have the strength to move to that position themselves. We do not place infants in bouncer chairs. We do not place them in highchairs until they have the strength to sit without support. (This, of course, does not extend to car seats and other safety equipment). We allow infants to experience frustration when trying to reach for something, or master a new skill. We acknowledge their frustration and encourage them to keep trying.
Our method, guided by respect for the infant’s competence, is observation. We observe carefully to understand the infant’s communications and his needs.
The more we observe, the more we understand and appreciate the enormous amount and speed of learning that happens during the first two or three years of life. We become more humble, we teach less, and we provide an environment for learning instead.
Through sensitive observation, we gain a deeper understanding of each infant. We observe and learn the unique ways of communicating that each infant uses. We learn their individual cues for being tired, excited, interested, hungry or uncomfortable. Through sensitive observation, we slow down and really understand an infants interests and urges. We can then better provide for these interests and urges.
CAREGIVING TIMES: INVOLVING THE CHILD
During care activities (diapering, feeding, bathing, dressing, etc.), we encourage even the tiniest infant to become an active participant rather than a passive recipient of the activities. Parents create opportunities for interaction, cooperation, intimacy and mutual enjoyment by being wholeheartedly with the infant during the time they spend together anyway.
“Refueled” by such unhurried, pleasurable caring experiences, infants are ready to explore their environment with only minimal intervention by adults.
We treat routine/caregiving times as special moments where we give an infant our undivided attention. We ask for their cooperation if they are able to do so (lifting their legs and arms). We respect that an infant may prefer the person they are closest to, to help them during these routines. We do not rush the infant at these times, slowing down and communicating with them.
A SAFE, CHALLENGING, PREDICTABLE ENVIRONMENT
Our role is to create an environment in which the child can best do all the things that the child would do naturally. The more predictable an environment is, the easier it is for babies to learn.
As infants become more mobile, they need safe, appropriate space in which to move. Their natural, inborn desire to move should not be handicapped by the environment.
We provide equipment and resources in a safe environment where a child is free to choose as they desire. The space we provide allows them room to move and explore freely. The resources we provide are selected carefully, through a process of observing the infants interests and abilities. Infants know where resources are kept and can trust that they will be there for future exploration. This predictable environment means that infants can return to resources, and set their own challenges. They trust
TIME FOR UNINTERRUPTED PLAY AND FREEDOM TO EXPLORE
We give the infant plenty of time for uninterrupted play. Instead of trying to teach babies new skills, we appreciate and admire what babies are actually doing.
We sit back and give infants time to explore and play without interruption. We have flexible routines in group care to cater for individual children’s unique needs. We do not distract children with new ideas when they are engrossed in their own play.
We establish clearly defined limits and communicate our expectations to develop discipline.
We clearly communicate our expectations around behaviour, and calmy reinforce these expectations, understanding that everything is a learning process. We know that infants are learning so much every day and respect that these learnings can take time, and repeated supportive guidance.
© 1998 by Magda Gerber
Magda Gerber’s wishes for babies and parents, as told to Cara Wilson, and originally published in a newsletter for parents called AFTER BIRTH, circa 1975. It’s amazing to me how relevant these wishes remain almost forty years later.
I wish children would NOT have to do: 1) Perform for their parents; sit up when ready for rolling, walk when ready for crawling. A child can be pushed to do these things, but physiologically may not be really ready. In our culture, we push to attain these states faster than they should be reached. 2) I wish children would not have to reassure their parents of their effectiveness; i.e. smile when frustrated, clap hands when sleepy- “If my child smiles at me, this shows I am a good parent.” 3) Not be ping-pong balls between parents. 4) Not be experimental subjects for toy manufacturers, cereal makers, new fads or theories in child care.
And my last wish for children would be that they could communicate to their parents:
Please let me grow as I be,
And try to understand why I want to grow like me,
Not like my mother wants to me to be,
Not like my father hopes I’ll be,
Or like my teacher thinks I should be,
Please understand and help me grow
Just like ME!