Posted by: Roseann Murphy | March 6, 2011


On Friday, March 4, 2011 we posted an Emmi Pikler interview dated 1981.  In it Emmi and Magda both speak of the need for an excellence of care in child care centers.  One of the comments we received from Dana Doyle seems to say it all.

Dana Doyle “It is just so disturbing that VERY little of this thinking goes on in child care centers across America. In America, many child care centers use a “business” model instead of one that meets the needs of an infant/toddlers known and proven developmental needs.”
20 hours ago

In response to Dana’s comment we thought it only fitting to share Magda Gerber’s Spring 1980 article titled:


“As an infant advocate over several decades, I have witnessed many changed in attitude towards infant care in general and towards group care in particular.  Only in the last decade or two has the need for providing alternative care become increasingly apparent.  In the fifties group care of infants was non-existent and looked upon as potentially harmful. In the sixties, the pros and cons of group care was debated in an emotionally loaded atmosphere.  In the seventies an increasing number of infants spent six, eight or more hours each weekday in group care.  State and federal regulations, even when met, do not ensure that the infants are met, too.
In my work of consulting with a great variety of centers, I have found that while the people in charge of infant centers usually are well-meaning, child-loving people who want to do a decent job, this rarely is possible because of the low pay and status of infant care-giver, poor, if any pre and in-service training, very few model centers, inadequate facilities, constant change in personnel, and so forth.  Can any center meet the needs of infants under such difficult conditions?  What are the infants’ needs, beyond those for food, rest, warmth and hygiene?  Most people would respond with the following:  love, as demonstrated by rocking, fondling and body contact; and cognitive stimulation as demonstrated by an abundance of objects, teaching materials and lessons plans.  These needs have become largely accepted and most centers try to meet them in different ways.
We who follow the R.I.E. philosophy have our own ways of meeting infants’ needs.  R.I.E. seeks to attain a balance between adult stimulation and independent exploration by the infant.  We focus on two areas of the infant’s life:  the time spent with the adult who cares for the infant and the time the infant spends alone freely exploring his environment.  Only a child who receives undivided attention from his educarer during all routine care-giving activities will be free and interested to explore his environment without needing too much intervention of the educarer.  If the educarer understands that the infant needs both concentrated attention while being cared for and time to explore alone, she (he) also gains time for herself (himself).
In order to highlight the differences between the attitude of a good average care-giver and a trained educarer I will compare and contrast the two:

  • Whereas a caregiver may rush through routine caring activities in order to get ready for the more valued time of following a curriculum, lesson plan, or providing some structured stimulation, the eduarer uses the time that must be spent with the child anyway as a potential source valued learning experience;
  • Whereas many caregivers rely on infant curricula, books, and packaged programs as prescription to teach, drill and speed up new skills in the area of gross motor development, fine motor, social/emotional or language development, the educarer trusts the infant’s abilities to initiate their own activities, choose from available objects, and work on their own projects without interruption.
  • Whereas the care-giver teaches and encourages postures and means of locomotion which the infants are not yet able to do on their own, thus hampering free movement and exploration and sometimes even creating bodily discomfort, the educarer provides appropriate space for the infant to freely initiate his own movements without interference, thus helping the infant feel comfortable, competent and self- reliant;
  • Whereas the caregiver’s attention is focused on the elicited response to her stimulation, the educarer focuses upon observing the whole child, his reaction to the care-giving person, to the environment, and to his peers, thus learning about the child’s personality and needs;
  • Whereas the care-giver selects and puts objects/toys in the infant’s hands, the educarer places the objects/toys so that the infant must make an effort to reach and grasp.  The child works towards what he wants;
  • Whereas the care-giver encourages dependency by assuming an active role, such as rescuing a child in distress or helping him to solver his problems, the educarer waits to see if the child is capable of consoling himself and solving  his own problems, thus encouraging autonomy;
  • Whereas the care-giver may often use bottles and/or pacifiers to soothe a crying child, creating a false oral need for food and sucking, the educarer accepts the child’s right to show both positive and negative feelings.  The educarer does not want to stop crying, but rather he/she tries to understand and attend to the child’s real needs such as sleeplessness, hunger or cold.  If the infant soothe himself by sucking  his thumb, the educarer accepts this as a positive self-comforting activity;
  • Whereas the care-giver often restricts infant-infant interaction, such as infants touching each other for fear of hurting each other, the educarer facilitates  interaction  by closely observing in order to know when to intervene and when not to;
  • Whereas, in a situation of conflict between infants, the care-giver resolves the problem by separating, distracting, or deciding who should have the toy or object in question, the educarer would comment “both you, John, and you, Anne, want that toy.” Often, after each impartial comments, minor conflicts resolve themselves;
  • Whereas the care-giver may become aggressive in controlling “aggressor,” thereby reinforcing the aggressive behavior, the educarer models appropriate behavior by teaching the aggressive child and quietly saying something like, “Easy, gentle….nice.”
  • Whereas the care-giver may rush to pick up, to rescue  and to console the “victim” of the “aggressor,”  the educarer squats down, touches and strokes the “victim,” saying, “Gently now, nice.” By concurrently stroking and talking to both the “victim” and the “aggressor,”  the educarer  is modeling and consoling both children without reinforcing a pattern of becoming “victim”;
  • Whereas the caregiver likes to have more people or helpers in the room, the educarer wants to become the steady person to her own small group of about four infants;
  • Whereas the caregiver  gets exhausted from picking up one crying child and putting down another, as if extinguishing one fire after another, the educarer calmly observes and can often prevent the “fire”;
  • Whereas the caregiver may scoop up an infant unexpectedly from behind, thereby startling, interrupting and creating resistance in the infant, the educarer always tells the infant before she does anything with him or her and thus gets cooperation.

All of these examples try to illustrate that while the care-giver and the educarer love the infant, the educarer, demonstrates love by showing and teaching respect.

Magda Gerber was the Director of Resources for Infant Educarers
Article Published in Educaring Spring 1980
Volume 1 Number 2

Post by: Roseann Murphy.

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