A respectful approach to parenting
By getting out of the way and letting infants and children grow and learn gross motor skills independently, we are giving that child an example of respect. They see that they are trusted to observe and learn on their own, building within them not only their gross motor skills but also their internal sense of awareness and confidence. We show respect to our babies when we allow them the freedom to play autonomously, letting them develop properly and at their own individual speed. Similarly, we communicate with our children verbally and physically when taking care of their needs, giving them the opportunity to be full participants in daily activities such as diapering, feeding, and dressing. Rather than these tasks being done for the child, they are done with the child.
In order to give children the respect they deserve, we need to be observant of their abilities and interests. By observing your child closely, you can see what their interests and capabilities are. With this knowledge, you can provide materials that coordinate with those abilities. This allows the child to choose a natural direction of development.
By creating moments of respect and observation with each individual child during moments of specific care, caregivers create a connection with that child that helps them with their own sense of self-worth. This provides a chance for the child to function autonomously because they are comfortable in their relationship with their parents and caregivers.
Emmi Pikler & Magda Gerber
Pediatrician Emmi Pikler began her work studying the independent development of a child’s gross motor skills in the 1930s. Her methods centered around the idea that “motor development was based on the infant’s own initiative and independent experimentation.” Her studies show us “what can happen when children’s development is not pushed, but happens naturally as they learn to move on their own, in their own time,” (Sensory Awareness Foundation - Emmi Pikler - Bulletin Number 14. Winter 1994).
In 1937, Magda Gerber was greatly influenced by Pikler’s methods–so much so that she adopted them, bringing them to the forefront of an English-speaking audience through her organization Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE).
The Pikler Method and RIE Approach both advocate for giving children the freedom to develop gross motor skills independent of parental or outside influence. A child who is free to play will demonstrate their abilities to crawl, climb, and walk without any physical help from caregivers. Then, when caring for a child’s needs that they can’t do for themselves, the caregiver capitalizes on the time doing mundane tasks with the child as the time to connect with that child.
Trying out the Pikler Method
When participating in caregiving, encourage even your very young babies to be involved in the process. This makes your child an active participant and creates moments of interaction between you and your child that promote connection and bonding. These moments fill your child’s cup, so to speak, and will allow them to comfortably play and explore their environment without the need for attention from adults. You can do this by simply communicating the process, by asking permission, or by assigning them a task.
When you provide a prepared environment for the child with developmental and interest-led activities, you can promote motion and motor skill development. This environment will be ever-changing as your child’s needs, capabilities, and interests grow. It is a space free of dangers, is predictable to the child, and has some activities that will challenge them a little. They should have enough space to play, without being hindered by too small surroundings.
Instead of trying to teach babies, we allow them to teach themselves, learning through experience and trial-and-error. We get out of the way and use our powers of observation to really see what babies are doing with their tiny little selves.