The Pikler Approach
Unlike the more commonly known educational theories of Maria Montessori, Loris Malaguzzi (“Reggio Emilia”) and Rudolph Steiner, Emmi Pikler’s approach to early childhood development has only become more familiar with parents around Australia over the last few years due to the rising popularity of the Pikler triangle or “climbing triangle”. In the first part of this two blog post series I would like to give you a summary of Emmi Pikler’s work and how you can support your child in their own unique development during the early years by using Emmi Pikler’s principles.
Who was Emmi Pikler?
Dr Emilie “Emmi” Pikler (1902-1984) was a paediatrician who was born in Austria but spent most of her lifetime living and working in Budapest, Hungary.
Emmi got interested in childhood development while studying medicine. She compared the development of children of different socioeconomic statuses and was also influenced by two of her first lecturers and how they treated children as a person rather than a patient. While analysing accident statistics Emmi noticed that children from lower class families hurt themselves less than children from well-off families who were brought up in a (over-)protected environment.
Emmi’s husband György, a high school mathematics teacher, also held progressive pedagogical views and supported the view that children should study at their own pace of development. When their daughter Anna was born in 1931, Emmi and György decided to not force Anna’s development by propping her up and instead supported her by allowing her to move around freely and independently in a safe environment and in a kind and respectful relationship.
In 1935 Dr Emmi Pikler opened her own private practice and took care of children from over 100 families. During weekly visits she observed the relationships between the children and parents as well as the development of the children. Emmi guided and supported the parents and promoted the upbringing of the children in an active and peaceful environment.
In 1946, shortly after the end of the World War II, Emmi Pikler was asked to run an orphanage for infants, babies and toddlers who had lost their parents during the war. She created a safe place for the children and trained her staff to respect each baby as a person and provide individual support according to the needs of each child without interfering with the developmental stage of the child. Caring for the children in the orphanage gave Emmi the chance to conduct more research and also execute her findings on a larger scale. Amongst other research topics, Emmi’s research included mental development, motor development and the importantance of play during development.
Emmi Pikler’s 7 Key Principles
Emmi Pikler summarised her research findings in 7 Key Principles that are based on two main ideas: A) The importance of a peaceful and respectful relationship with young children and B) The allowance of complete freedom of movement according to the child’s developmental stage.
📸 by Jana @playroomstories
1. Full and undivided attention during caring activity times
While multi-tasking is a great skill to have, according to Dr Emmi Pikler parents should avoid multi-tasking while spending time with their children and babies in particular. Babies interpret full attention as love which brings stillness to their lives and allows them to be in the moment with their caregivers. Babies and children are able to learn to focus and are taught to be engaged in one activity without being overwhelmed by the speed and productivity of multiple actions going on at the same time.
2. Slow down
Dr Emmi Pikler observed that creating a calm, slow and peaceful atmosphere allows the child to relax and gives them the chance to focus. Overstimulation caused by jumping from one activity to the next or sensory overload doesn’t only cause stress for the baby but consequently also for their parents or other caregivers.
3. Build trust and work on your relationship during caring activities
Further to the principles of undivided attention and slowing down, Dr Pikler believes that turning caring activities such as nappy changes, feeding, bathing and dressing into quality time will offer a valuable opportunity for a baby to bond with their carer and allows a baby to become an active partner in these activities. When given security and freedom during caring activities, babies learn what they need to do and will eventually become competent and active partners.
4. “With” and not “To”
When it comes to doing activities with a baby, Dr Emmi Pikler saw a baby as an active participant rather than a passive recipient of care. Telling a baby what is about to happen and talking through every step of the different actions will give a baby the chance to understand and cooperate. Being patient and allowing the baby to respond are two important aspects that are required from the carer’s side.
5. Babies should never be put into a position which they cannot get into by themselves
Children love to explore but they hardly ever put themselves in a position they cannot get out of. For this reason Dr Emmi Pikler was a strong advocate of the free movement of babies and pointed out the benefits of allowing a baby to move freely: “While learning to turn on the belly, to roll, creep, sit, stand and walk, (the baby) is not only learning those movements but also how to learn. He learns to do something on his own, to be interested, to try out, to experiment. He learns to overcome difficulties. He comes to know the joy and satisfaction which is derived from this success, the result of his patience and persistence.” Furthermore, Dr Pikler was opposed to baby equipment and baby propping apparatus such as walkers, hammocks, high chairs or swings which restrict babies in their natural movements and are more about the convenience for the parent or carer.
6. Allow babies uninterrupted playtime
Dr Emmi Pikler believed that babies are quite capable of entertaining themselves. Allowing them the space and time to explore different parts of their environment, including toys, gives babies the opportunity to develop confidence and self esteem. Babies as well as children learn from trial and error and may interact with an item in a way that adults think is “incorrect” because it’s not used in the intended way. Even though it is with good intentions, stepping in interrupts the babies learning process and takes away from experiencing independence and mastering their own world of play. In Emmi's words: "It is important that the child finds out as much as possible. If we help with everything in solving the tasks, we will take away from him exactly what would have been the most important for his intellectual development. A completely different kind of knowledge is acquired by the child who comes to something through independent experiments than the one who gets the solution ready."
7. Recognise babies cues and tune in respectfully
Respecting a baby as a person and responding to a child’s physical and verbal cues has a profound influence on their sense of self-worth and the development of their identity. Children learn from the parent’s behaviour and ignoring children’s messages increases the likelihood that later in life children will ignore requests and messages made to them by parents or carers.
The Pikler Triangle
All of Emmi Pikler’s key principles allow a child to grow up forming a secure attachment to their carer and making sure the child’s physical and mental health are looked after. According to Emmi Pikler “It is essential that the child is allowed to make as many discoveries as they can on their own. If we try to help them with the fulfillment of all daily tasks, we rob the child of all that is vital for his independent psychological development. A child, who successfully achieves something through their own independent desire of experiment, acquires a completely different quality of knowledge than one who is simply handed a finished product.” In order to support children’s psychological development and their physical needs of moving around freely in a safe environment at home when playing outside wasn’t possible, Emmi Pikler designed a climbing frame in a shape of a triangle which is now known as a “Pikler Triangle”.
📸 by Amy @thefolkchildstories
The Pikler Triangle poses a challenge for babies and toddlers and lets your child discover what its body is capable of. Children love to explore and exploring on their own terms. As Emmi Pikler noticed, hardly any children ever put themselves in a position that they can’t get out of. Children may not climb on the triangle straight away and will check it out first. Depending on their age they may use it to pull themselves up into a standing position or crawl underneath. Older children might carefully climb to the top and back down again before they master to climb over it. Watch your children and they will surprise you how they develop different skills over time. Don’t force your children, let them decide when they are ready and remember each child is different. Supervise your children and offer support when they ask.
Pikler-inspired play equipment
Oskar’s Wooden Ark offers a wide range of play equipment that is inspired by the climbing frame invented by Emmi Pikler and is based on her research theories. The different types of ramps (rock climbing ramp slide, climbing ramp slide or climbing ladder) can be attached to the various climbing frames: Folding Triangle, Climbing Triangle, Mini Triangle and Play Cube. Each piece has been designed with the child in mind and you can mix and match the different pieces to create large structures and you also can use them on its on own in different ways.
📸 by Emma @play_at_home_mummy
The Super Shape Sorter Collection allows you to choose between the different styles of cubes, ramps and climbing triangles to create a set up that suits your child’s interests. All the play equipment is handcrafted in Australia using hardwearing and strong pine with Australian hoop pine dowel rungs. These products are made to last. The rock climbing holds are professionally made rock climbing holds. Take a look at the product descriptions for more information on dimensions on each product. Items are shipped flat packed for self-assembly.
If you struggle to choose between the different pieces, here are the top 3 bestsellers at Oskar's Wooden Ark:
2. Super Shape Sorter Collection (Folding Triangle - Rock Climbing Ramp - Peek-and-Hide Cube)
I hope you enjoyed this blog post and if you have any feedback or questions, I would love you to leave a comment or message me via instagram. In the second part of this blog post series I will write about activities and play ideas in combination with the Pikler-inspired equipment that you can include in your play at home to support your children in their physical development. In the meantime I invite you to visit my instagram account @playroomstories where I post gross motor activities and lots of other play ideas that I set up for my children to keep them active and entertained.
Have a playful day,