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Community Groups Wonderful Children Discussions The Genius of the Infant
The Genius of the Infant
Discussion started by justme , on 20 July 09:53 AM
Pikler’s theories grew out of observation

Emmi Pikler (1902-1984) was a pediatrician with exceptional observational abilities. Early in her career, she and her husband lived in Triest, Italy for a year, and there she spent time on the beach, observing parents with their infants. Her observations showed her the tremendous importance of the parents’ love for their child. Pikler also witnessed parents "teaching" their infants to sit, stand and walk before they were able to do so on their own, causing the infants to do something different than they would have if left to their own initiative.

Pikler saw this gesture of the adult as a distrust of the child's abilities. Instead, she believed that children have an innate capacity to direct the unfolding of their motor capacities through self-initiated movement, if given the time and space to do so, and she based her practices on this idea. Pikler believed that each child was qualified for this task—in fact, infinitely more qualified than any adult. It follows, then, that infants should not be taught motor skills, but instead should be allowed gradually to come into the vertical positions of sitting and standing entirely through their own efforts.

In the U.S., the vast majority of infants do not achieve verticality through their own efforts; they do not negotiate the gross motor sequence that leads to sitting or standing through self-initiated movement. Children are routinely put into positions they cannot achieve through their own efforts. This is the usual mainstream cultural practice upon which our expectations for quality and timing of motor development arise, and is also the model pediatric therapists study in school.

Faster development is not necessarily better. Activity that takes place in the horizontal plane, before verticality is achieved, lays an incredibly important foundation for later life. Some of the work of the remedial therapist is essentially a recapitulation of what an infant would do unassisted if placed on the floor to explore the wonders and possibilities for movement of his own body, and his relationship to the outer world. Why not give infants time and space to do their work?

An astute observation made by Emmi Pikler illustrates this point beautifully. In this model of self-initiated motor exploration, Pikler observed that infants whose parents had previous histories of back pain spent longer in the horizontal activities of rolling, belly creeping, and crawling on hands and knees before coming into the vertical positions of sitting and standing than did infants whose parents did not have histories of back pain. The infants who were genetically predisposed to back pain and who stayed in the horizontal longer, had more variety in their movements in the horizontal positions than did the infants who became vertical faster. Movement in the horizontal plane provides opportunities to strengthen and elongate the muscles and ligaments of the spine—opportunities not possible in the vertical position. It was as if the infants were working to prevent future back pain! Clearly, Pikler recognized the genius of the infant in his very individualized work on the floor, and Pikler sought to create an environment whereby the infant would be free and unhindered to do this work.
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