There was a buzz about “RIE” last week. The Daily Beast, Parenting and ivillage posted articles referring to RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) classes as a trendy “celebrity craze”, and even insinuated that participants constituted a cult. For members and advocates of infant expert Magda Gerber’s non-profit organization, one that’s inspired a diverse community of parents, early childhood educators and child care professionals for over 30 years, this kind of snarky, sensationalist journalism is a little dismaying, but mostly really annoying.
As a RIE instructor and board member since 1994, I think I can shed some light on the tie between RIE and entertainment celebrities. Yes, some attend our classes, and their privacy is respected. Since RIE is based in LA, home to thousands of celebrity parents, it’s hardly surprising that a few have discovered it. Parents usually find us through word of mouth, though some hear about Pikler and Gerber in college courses in psychology and infant development. And some stumble upon us by accident like I did, in a one sentence Magda Gerber quotation in a random article about fostering creativity in children.
Over the years I’ve noted (without ever having done an official study) that Magda’s guidance does seem to have a special appeal to people with a creative bent. A large percentage of parents in our classes make their living in the arts and other creative fields, or on the periphery. In LA, that naturally means film business types: actors, comedians, directors, producers, cinematographers, screenwriters, composers and, musicians, but it also includes plenty of artists, dancers, sculptors, gallery owners, novelists, journalists, photographers, designers, and psychologists.
I’ve given some thought to the fact that RIE appeals not only to creative people, but also to the expansive, imaginative side in all of us. Here’s what I’ve come up with…
Magda Gerber’s theories are time-tested and appeal to our common sense, but they also require us to turn conventional parenting wisdom on its head, buck current trends like infant stimulation and early academic instruction, gadgets like baby swings, exersaucers and walkers. This might mean risking being misunderstood or even disdained by “the Joneses” and feeling alone sometimes. Creative people are used to this kind of risk and less inclined to be afraid of doing what feels ‘right’ whether or not others find it acceptable.
Seeing with an open mind.
Let’s face it — it takes imagination and a leap of faith to see our babies as full-fledged people worth acknowledging, including and respecting when they can’t yet talk or walk. All the neurological studies in the world probably couldn’t convince us if we weren’t open to the idea of an infant being ready and able to actively participate in a relationship with us. If we don’t begin by perceiving our babies as capable people who have a point of view that matters, it’s hard for them to prove it to us.
It’s the creative side in all of us that sees the big picture, and as parents that means visualizing the long term effects of our choices. Magda Gerber’s theories, although they are also practical and make parenting easier in the moment (once you get used to them), are geared toward establishing a relationship in the first years based on honest interactions, guidance for appropriate behaviors but a welcome acceptance of all feelings, and honoring the child as a uniquely capable individual. We can imagine the trust, mutual respect, self-confidence and independence this will foster. (It does!)
Creative parents value creativity in their children, want to nurture it, and recognize that Magda Gerber’s “hands-off” approach to infant and toddler play does that. Trusting a brand new baby to be a self-learner, to initiate activity — choose what to gaze at and how to move, even if it means just “being” in a safe place for periods of time each day, and later staying out of a toddler’s way while he invents play, paints, draws, molds, builds or does anything he is capable of doing — nurtures imagination, individuality, intrinsic motivation, and the confidence to express creativity.
There was another kind of buzz about RIE last week at the annual NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) Conference. RIE Associates Maureen Perry, Gail Nadal, and Alexandra Curtis-Boyer (among others) described their experiences sharing and implementing Magda Gerber’s approach in diverse communities across the globe. From professional caregivers in New Zealand to at-risk populations, including teenage moms and homeless women in Tampa, Florida, families are benefiting from Magda Gerber’s sound advice and learning to appreciate the innate wisdom babies bring into the world. I’m grateful to be a part of this.
By the way, the suggestion in the RIE ‘celebrity’ articles that Magda Gerber eschewed singing and dancing is laughable! Magda had a lovely voice, sang lullabies heartily in Hungarian, and regularly broke into a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “Only Five Minutes More” to remind us to slow down and pay attention to our babies.
“Give me five minutes more, only five minutes more. Let me stay, let me stay in your arms…”
I share more about creativity and respect in
(Photo by Jude Keith Rose)