The Pikler Approach

Blog Image for article The Pikler Approach

Early childhood education and care providers have heard of the Montessori approach to early learning. Many will be familiar with the Reggio Emilia philosophy and possibly even Steiner education.

However, fewer will have heard of Emmi Pikler's teachings.

Dr. Emmi Pikler was a paediatrician who lived and worked in Hungary. In 1946 she assumed responsibility for running a Home for Children (known as Loczy in Hungarian) in Budapest and this experience led to the development of her views on how best to nurture infants.

Dr. Pikler mentored Magda Gerber, which is how many of her philosophies gained traction in the USA. Much of Dr. Pikler's approach makes sense with what we now know about the early years of a child's development, but what makes her teaching extraordinary is the time and context when she was working, when there was a more limited understanding of how carers and parents can best support a baby's growth and development.

After observing and caring for the children in the orphanage she ran, Dr Pikler, determined that babies and children need certain conditions to be in place to enhance their physical and intellectual education and mental health development. These led to the development of her 7 Key Principles.

It's all about attention

Dr. Pikler came to realise that full attention was a necessity, especially when children were involved in activity times. Dr Pikler's approach advocates that carers and parents should avoid multi-tasking and turn all their attention to their baby when engaging in an explicit caring activity. Dr. Pikler said that babies interpret this attention as love and that it brings stillness and focus to lives that may have been overcome with the need to be more productive.

Slow down

Dr. Pikler observed that babies do better when they are in calm, slow environments. She says babies become over-stimulated and fretful when caregivers are stressed and jump through caring tasks quickly. Dr. Pikler suggests carers aim to create an atmosphere of peace to ensure the baby feels respected and doesn't become upset.


Building trust and working on your relationships during caring activities is imperative. Further to the principle above about slowing down, Dr. Pikler claims taking time when participating in caring activities, such as nappy changes, bathing, and dressing as it offers a valuable opportunity for a baby to bond with a carer, and that babies will often become an active partner in these activities when the conditions are optimal. Dr. Pikler observed that babies given security and freedom during caring activities will learn what they need to do and become competent and cooperative partners.

'With', and not 'To'

Dr. Pikler viewed babies as active participants rather than passive recipients of care and encouraged carers to take a cooperative approach in all their interactions with babies. She said an important component in this is talking to babies every step of the way so they know what is about to happen and are given the option to help. Patience on the part of the carer is also required to ensure babies have the time to respond at their own pace.

With the adult regarding the child as an independent and equal human being, it builds a kind and respectful relationship that establishes a safe place for the child. The relationship incorporates nurturing interactions with an understanding of the child's need for complete freedom of choice.


Dr. Pikler was a strong advocate of the free movement of babies and claimed that propping a child into a position they couldn't achieve on their own or that they couldn't get out of, was tantamount to trapping them. She said free movement allows babies to learn through experimentation and teaches them how to overcome challenges and derive a sense of satisfaction and achievement.

Further to this, Dr. Pikler was opposed to baby equipment such as hammocks, swings, prams, and walkers, which she claimed were more about convenience for the carer rather than in the best interests of a baby's development.

Uninterrupted play

Dr Pikler's approach asserts that babies in a nurturing environment given space, time and the physical capacity to explore are fully capable of entertaining themselves. She said that offering babies uninterrupted opportunities to explore and learn about their world helped them develop confidence and self-esteem and that this process of encouraging a child's interest helps them learn who they are and develop a sense of being.

Carers should tune-in respectfully

Dr. Pikler said carers need to be more responsive and respectful of a child's physical and verbal cues to ensure the development of a culture of mutual respect. She said that when carers ignore the explicit messages given to them by children it increases the likelihood they will ignore the messages and requests made to them by carers in later life.

Find out more about The Pikler Approach with Infant Toddler Advocacy Network Australia (ITANA)


References and more information


You may also like

6m read
A close look at The Montessori Approach
Care Types

An overview of the Montessori approach; one of the most popular and fastest growing educational philosophies in the worl...

Read more
3m read
Exploring Reggio Emilia
Care Types

Learn about the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, which originates in Italy and advocates a child led...

Read more
5m read
The Steiner Approach to Early Childhood Education and Care
Care Types

The Waldorf or Steiner approach is based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher who attempted to fi...

Read more
3m read
What is the Curiosity Approach?
Care Types

Learn about the Curiosity Approach a relatively new early education pedagogy which aims to foster children’s awe and won...

Read more