RIE Parenting – A Culture Of Creativity

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…

Creative courage.

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!)

Appreciating creativity.

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

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectul Parenting

(Photo by Jude Keith Rose)


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Janet,

    Thank you for describing what Magda’s philosophy is really all about, and setting the record straight.
    I am of two minds about the recent publicity RIE has received. On the one hand, the word is getting out, on the other, the reporting has been inaccurate, simplistic, and casts RIE in a negative light. Therefore, the response has been largely negative.
    It makes me sad to see people so turned off and judgmental, before really having had an opportunity to understand what RIE is about, and what benefits it might offer for children and parents alike.
    I couldn’t bring myself to re-post or circulate the original article, and I am so happy to have your post to share instead. Now the only question is how to distribute your response to the widest audience possible.

  2. Hi Janet,

    another lovely article.
    First I thought – well RIE being based in L.A. – of course celebrities might come across.
    But I would never believe it could be a trend. It’s too much for this. Too tough, because it’s not just another way of raising a child, it is a much harder way too. Because the “letting go” quite often is not as easy as it sounds. The rather watching and observing. The – as you explain it – being different in so many ways – is always a tough part. Therefore – no, it can’t become a trend. It takes more than just “oh yeah I’m one of those”. And that’s good.
    Thank you !

    1. Hi Nadine,

      I agree that letting go, ‘waiting’ and observing to understand our baby’s point-of-view before we step in is a challenging mindset, but I don’t think parenting with the RIE philosophy is tougher, just more throroughly thought out. In fact, I think RIE makes parenting much easier! And that is what Magda Gerber wanted to do. The first time I presented at a RIE Conference from a parent’s POV she wanted me to call my talk, “Parenting Made Easier” (and I did). It is definitely easier to have an infant who is used to communicating and self-entertaining and an older child who is self-confident and in-tune with who she is.

      There are sometimes families who come to RIE classes because their friends are doing it, but they either end up intrigued with the ideas themselves, or they leave. All are welcome…it’s all good.. RIE isn’t about celebrities, trends, or parents; it’s about babies, and the way we view them. Nadine, thanks!

      1. it’s true, it is easier. But I think it takes some time until it is easier. In the beginning I find some aspects a little more difficult. The explaining things to a crying newborn, the observing rather than helping out with the first movements etc etc… But of course – it’s all to make things easier in the end. that’s true.

        1. You probably know more than I do about that since you’re in “the thick of it” with your baby boy! I remember enjoying the challenge of holding back to see what my baby was capable of doing before jumping in to do and “fix” everything. I wasn’t always able to do it, but it was always interesting to me…the inner struggle.

  3. Dear Janet, while you were undergoing this buzz about RIE which I find quite positive (I took my time to read the original articles and many of the comments and lots of people simple wrote they really liked RIE philosophy) I was totally excited to find out Agnes Szanto Feder, will be offering in Buenos Aires this weekend a workshop on Pikler´s input to psychology, pedagogy and pediatrics. AND I WILL ATTEND IT as will many other professionals in my country! And this interest on early childhood and the respect approach towards babies will keep growing. I´m sure.
    One more positive thing, actually one of the best things I found in the articles on RIE posted by the press is that the popularity of the method was not that much depending on advertisement. “Little-known outside academic circles, the RIE philosophy has spread among parents via word-of-mouth.” it reads.
    Is that not the best thing you can say about an organization or institution dedicated to education?
    About the creed judgement I have plenty of thoughts to share, but maybe later. My comment looks long enough for now.
    I promise I´ll let you know how it went with my workshop on Pikler next week, maybe in the community? Love and once again, thank you SO MUCH for all what you share,

    1. Hi Fernanda, yes you MUST let me know how you like Agnes Szanto’s workshop. She’s wonderful!

      It’s true that RIE has not been marketed, so the thousands of families who have benefitted from the Gerber and Pikler approach heard about it from a friend or happened onto it like I did. Magda Gerber was not terribly ambitious. She loved teaching and was a charismatic speaker, but never promoted herself or “pushed” her beliefs on anyone. So, I agree that the level of integrity RIE has as an educational organization is top drawer.

  4. Judith Williams says:

    As a non-celebrity, former student of Magda Gerber, I cannot stress the value of the down-to-earth, common sense, life saving information I learned by attending RIE classes. My 19 and 21 year old children are wonderful people. Their teachers are impressed with their independence, competence and kindness. The foundation for who they became was RIE.

    Magda’s focus on the role of a parent: safety first, respect second, love third saved my children from nasty accidents and helped me transition from a deadline-driven career woman to a competent parent.

    The first (non-RIE) mother infant group I attended was run by Cedars, where my daughter was born. All they talked about were using blankets as substitutes for mothers. I knew there had to be more and a friend kept saying “Find an infant observation group.” Thank goodness another neighbor said, “You need to go see Magda.” when she saw me struggling with managing my life with a colicky infant.

    I grasped onto the RIE principles, because they provided a lifeline in a confusising landscape. The RIE philosophy can be more flexible than some parents allow, but the cultish following is a result of parent’s need for help in a society where they are disconnected from family and support. My husband thought I was nuts, especially when I spoke to the dog telling him what I was going to do and why before I put him out. But he is thrilled with his relationship with our children.

    I cannot say enough about how valuable RIE was and is to me today and how it helped me navigate the insanity of Los Angeles society.

    1. Judith, I so appreciate you sharing your “non-celebrity”:-) experience with Magda Gerber and RIE. “Independence, competence and kindness” are qualities my 3 children share, too. Teachers and friends, strangers even, often use those words to describe them. I love your comment about the RIE principles feeling like a “lifeline in a confusing landscape”! I have always felt exactly that way. Magda Gerber gave me something more, too, a way of looking at infants and life that made so much sense that it has changed the way I perceive everything. Great teachers do that, I suppose!

  5. That link between RIE and creative people is so interesting! I am an extremely (almost compulsively) creative person- musician, composer, writer, poet, artist, you name it, I do it- and RIE is the only childcare ‘method’ (for want of a better word) that I feel completely comfortable with.

    I think the relationship may be something to do with the ability to listen to an inner voice. The ability to ‘hear yourself’ and thus discover what ‘feels right’ is something that creative people practise all the time; we are by nature people who can keep others’ opinions at a distance while we work on our creative process, our ‘baby’, and so transferring that to a real baby is perhaps more natural for us.

    Just a thought!

  6. I just wanted to chime in that RIE isn’t just for the creative class. I’m a computer programmer and while I consider myself and my wife to be pretty creative people, we don’t make our living with those skills. As a very analytic thinker, what attracts me the most to RIE is how all of the techniques it espouses logically make sense. That these techniques oftentimes go against conventional thinking is neither a plus nor a minus.

    Anyways, I know you certainly weren’t saying that RIE is just for creative people like the ones you describe in this post, but just wanted to provide a real counter example!

  7. Polly Elam says:

    Janet, I enjoyed readying your perspective regarding Magda’s Educaring Approach for people in the arts but I must add that I have had the opportunity to share her work with our migrant farm worker child care settings during the past four years and find it really resonates within that community. We have enjoyed growing together and learning from each other as we use the Approach to influence best practice in the child care setting. It has been an incredible experience.

  8. Polly Elam says:

    This is one of my favorite articles, Janet. Such wisdom. Being one who has had the opportunity to bring Magda’s Educaring Approach to many diverse communities, I take hope in the experience that there is “room at the table” for every one. It’s called respect that is demonstrated in the way we care, not only for our babies, but for each other. Thank you, Janet, for describing so beautifully, what I feel in my heart.

    1. Polly, I so appreciate your encouraging comment. Thank you.

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