What Is a Pikler Triangle and Why Do Parents and Educators Love It? - The Montessori Room
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by Laura Berthiaume June 16, 2022 5 min read

It seems like Pikler Triangles are everywhere these days.

What are these new climbing structures for infants and toddlers and why are they suddenly so popular?

Pikler Triangle, Toronto, Canada, Free shipping

The funny thing is, they're not new at all. It's just recently that families are hearing about all the benefits for young children.

The Pikler Triangle was developed over 75 years ago by Hungarian paediatrician, Dr. Emmi Pikler.

What's so interesting is that Dr. Pikler and Dr. Montessori have incredibly similar backgrounds.

After decades of working as physicians and researching childhood development, both concluded that freedom of movement is especially important from birth to age 6.

Freedom of movement is not just allowing your child to move but rather allowing them to decide how and when to move.

This is a key distinction.

Freedom of movement tells the child "I trust that you know what's right for your body". It establishes respect between the parent and child and allows the child to develop at their own pace.

This in turn, helps build confidence and independence.

Dr. Pikler's Surprising Finding...

Dr Pikler also found that the children of wealthy families were more likely to fall and experience broken bones because they were overprotected and their movements were more limited.

Children of the lower social classes, were often allowed to move more freely.

She also found that freedom of movement positively influenced social, emotional, and cognitive development.

These discoveries lead to her creation of the Pikler Triangle.

The Benefits of a Pikler Triangle

The Pikler is so great primarily because it offers children a safe and consistent way to practice the movements that they're driven to do.

Household furniture and playgrounds aren't always the safest options for very young children so the Pikler offers a great alternative.

They can be used from birth to age 6 to develop:

  • Gross motor skills (pulling up, cruising, climbing, coordination over the top, climbing backwards)
  • Confidence and independence after successfully mastering the movements required to climb up and down the Pikler
  • Fine motor skills through grasping the rungs
  • The sense of equilibrium and balance
  • The vestibular system and proprioception (the bodies awareness of itself and it's movements)

For infants, they can also be used as a playgym if you hang toys off of it, allowing them to practice visual tracking, grasping, and kicking, and then eventually to practice pulling up.

What Makes a Pikler Triangle a Montessori Material?

Technically a Pikler isn't a Montessori material at all. While Dr. Pikler and Dr. Montessori had many similar ideas and their backgrounds were similar, they never actually worked together. 

Instead, Dr. Pikler inspired Magda Gerber to develop RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers), a distinctly different but similar approach to Montessori. 

The main difference between the two is that Dr. Pikler worked with parents while Dr. Montessori worked with educators. 

Aside from that, they held very similar beliefs.  

  • Dr. Pikler strongly emphasized the importance of attachment between child and caregiver.
  • She strongly believed in respecting the child’s natural development. She felt there was no need to interfere or entice the child, they will move and develop skills when ready.
  • She also believed that a child possessed the competence to decide how and when to move, which in turn develops confidence.
  • Like Montessori, she also believed in working "with" the child, rather than "to".
  • She emphasized the importance of healthy lifestyle. As a physician, she focused on treating the whole child, rather than just treating their illness. She often visited children in their homes and guided mothers on how to parent.
  • Dr. Pikler understood the value of nature in development and children at her Pikler Institute would sleep in cribs outdoors whenever possible

After years of working as a paediatrician, she founded the Pikler Institute in 1946 in Budapest, which was a residential nursery for orphaned infants.

The Creation of RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers)

Magda Gerber was an early childhood educator with a Masters in ECE.  She met Dr. Pikler when her children became patients. 

Magda was so inspired by Emmi’s work that brought the approach to English-speaking countries after her family moved to the US in the 1950s.

RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) was founded in 1978 by Magda Gerber and Dr. Tom Forrest 

It's a parenting approach that is based firmly in attachment theory and the extensive research of Drs. Bowlby and Ainsworth.

The goal of this approach was to help parents to relax and not worry so much about how their infant is developing. Gerber said, "Observe more, do less. Do less, enjoy more."

There was also a large emphasis on respect for the child. 

They encouraged parents to let their child move freely by creating a “yes space”, a place in the home where children can move freely and safely. 

They also taught parents how to communicate with infants from birth:

  • Tell infant what you are doing
  • During moments of connection tell them what you’re thinking
  • Ask their permission before you touch them or pick them up. They believed that even a preverbal child can show consent.

Gerber also understood that parents don’t need to ‘fix’ child’s emotions. They taught parents how to offer support to a crying child without distracting them from how they’re feeling.

  • The official principles of RIE are:
    • Basic trust in the child to be an initiator, an explorer, and a self-learner.
    • An environment for the child that is physically safe, cognitively challenging and emotionally nurturing.
    • Time for uninterrupted play.
    • Freedom to explore and interact with other infants.
    • Involvement of the child in all care-giving activities to allow the child to be an active participant rather than a passive recipient.
    • Sensitive observation of the child in order to understand her needs.
    • Consistency and clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline.

These are incredibly similar to Montessori's own beliefs!

The Difference Between Montessori and RIE

The key similarities between Pikler/Gerber and Montessori:

  • Observe to learn about the child
  • Respect and follow the child
  • Importance of freedom of movement


The main difference between RIE and Montessori is that RIE a parenting approach while Montessori is an educational method. Dr. Montessori trained and worked with teachers, not parents.

Over the years, Montessori has evolved into something parents are bringing into their homes but it hasn’t always been this way. Dr. Montessori herself did not create a curriculum for infants and toddlers. Back in her time, it would have been unusual for a mother to not stay home to care for her children. At home they would be learning practical life skills by observing their mothers/grandmothers and eventually helping out, developing language skills, and exploring their environment.

Her first school was for children aged 3 to 6 and she focused more on the children’s educational experiences at school than their home lives.  

Pikler Alternatives

Most of us grew up without a Pikler so they're certainly not essential to gross motor development!

The key is to offer as much freedom of movement as you can.

For infants and toddlers, a 'yes space' is a great way to do this. This is an area of the home where your child can move around freely, without obstacles and free from hazards so you're not always saying no, hence the name :)

You can dedicate a room to this or a large area of a room that is sectioned off with a baby gate.

For older children, allowing risky play, where your child's physical movements involve uncertainty and experimentation, will also help to build their confidence.

If you are interested in climber, we have one with great reviews. You can check it out here: https://themontessoriroom.com/products/pikler-triangle

 

Sources:

 

 


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