In the 1970s, a woman by the name of Magda Gerber (no relation to the Gerber baby food company), along with pediatric neurologist Dr. Tom Forrest founded Resources for Infant Educarers (REI) in her California home, formally laying down the gauntlet which would challenge many people’s previously held ideas about raising babies.
Magda was an infant education expert from Budapest, Hungary who studied under well-known pediatrician Dr. Emmi Pikler, also of Hungary (who founded the Pikler approach to raising healthy and well-adjusted babies). Her “aha moment” came when she brought her child to see Dr. Pikler, and instead of allowing Magda Gerber to tell her what was wrong with the child, insisted that the child tell Dr. Pikler what was troubling her in her own words. From then on, Magda studied Pikler’s theories which were formed as a result of her work with children at the Loczy orphanage which she founded in 1946.
It may not seem earth-shattering to say to your child, “We’re heading home now. Would you like me to carry you, or would you like to walk to the car?” However, by giving your child that choice you are using one of Gerber’s methods of showing respect for the child rather than merely picking up the baby and saying, “We’re going now” and leaving. In fact, the foundation of the approach is respect.
Another earmark of the REI and Educaring ® approach is that instead of handing children toys designed to simply entertain them (such as electronic toys, television, or specialty toys), children will use their imaginations with items and simple toys found in the home. If you ever built and enjoyed a “fort” using pillows and blankets versus having Mom or Dad simply buy a big plastic playhouse, you might relate to this!
Part of the idea is to encourage self-discovery, imagination, curiosity and creativity instead of being a passive recipient of care.
Another element of the approach is to allow the child to develop at his or her own speed, rather than being “pushed” towards some of the typical milestones associated with infants (e.g. sitting, rolling over, crawling, walking). It is believed by adherents of this method that allowing a child the room for self-discovery at his or her own pace is more relaxing and rewarding not only for the baby, but also for the parents who might otherwise be feeling a sense of anxiety if their child isn’t developing at the speed they think is right for the baby.
Observing the baby for cues as to what he or she needs, along with simply slowing down while interacting with the baby (which creates a feeling of calmness) is a key component as well.
This approach is not telling parents to distance themselves from their babies, or to try to treat them like little adults; rather, it is about being more observant and responsive, versus immediately reacting to every situation.
You can learn more about the RIE philosophy at the organization’s official website (www.RIE.org) or by picking up a copy of “Baby Knows Best – Raising a Confident and Resourceful Child, the RIE® Way,” by REI’s executive director Deborah Carlisle Solomon.