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Power Behind the Pikler

by Kathryn Funk

The Pikler arch and triangle are the ever treasured must-haves in Montessori based communities. In fact, these items were in our initial vision of Funk’s Wooden Wonders. The arch is personally one of my favorite baby goods of all time, and this article is meant to provide you with some reasons why. In case you’re unfamiliar of all things Pikler, I’ll begin with a brief overview of the mission and theories behind Pikler and this gem of a product, then I’ll share our own account of its benefits.

Dr. Emmi Pikler, a Viennese pediatrician who practiced in Hungary and ran the Loczy orphanage in 1946 coined noteworthy child rearing philosophies based on a relationship between infant and caregiver primarily focused on respect and trust. The principals of her approach concentrate on: attention during care-giving moments, developmental patience, freedom of movement, and uninterrupted play, all of which should take place in a calm attentive environment.

Dr. Pikler believed infants should not be pushed towards motor developments, but rather come to them naturally and at their own pace. Her approach avoided the concept of tummy time, the use of walkers and sitting chairs because such things urged specific movements to begin before their time, perhaps hindering natural abilities. She concluded children should never be placed in any position in which they could not physically get into and out of themselves. With her own child, she would lay her on the floor as a baby on her back and place reachable items near her for her to see and eventually move about to get. This approach allowed for exploration of environment and at her own pace.

Pikler products promote freedom of movement indefinitely. In the early months the arch especially can assist baby to pull themselves up. We purchased the Pikler arch for baby Selma on her 6 month birthday. I was actually worried I was late to get it judging by how steady she sat up and seemed as if she could leap up into a standing position at any moment. Alas the Pikler arrived, and she had little to no interest in it. Of course! This disinterest was short-lived though. I got it out daily and placed it in her play area, eventually she began to crawl underneath of it which was helping her gain a sense of depth/height perception, but okay not quite the main purpose I thought. Then, approximately 2 weeks after her 6 month birthday, she crawled to it and pulled herself up, just like that! It was amazing. She was incredibly proud of herself and she did it with this beautiful determination which made me fall deeper in love with her. I continued to place the arch in her play space for some time daily and she would pull herself and do what appeared as baby squats. It was all adorable to me, but more importantly it was genuinely making her stronger and she was discovering these movements and muscle uses solely on her own. I was merely her cheerleader. Initially I sat near her while she used it, unsure what would happen if she fell, would her face smack into it? Babies are more able than we often give them credit for. Anytime she did begin to fall from her standing position on those newfound wobbly legs, she simply grabbed onto the rungs for support to catch herself. Bravo! The design is ingenious in the sense that it’s positioned in a way which baby grasps allowing baby to explore safely and independently. Once I realized this, I stepped back and gave her the space she desired to explore with confidence. Doing so only encouraged her to explore further and more bravely.

(We have videos of it in the “lifestyle” highlight on our Instagram. see for yourself!)

At 7 months she suddenly climbed the arch! Step by step, or rung by rung rather, she made her way to the top. I was shocked, as was she. (Again this is briefly documented in the lifestyle highlight of our IG.) Her reaction was as though she had climbed a mountain and she had! I could see her arm muscle strength in the upwards motions she took. She stared in my face with a bewildered smile and let out a nervous giggle. It was a magical moment and the point which I fully began to believe in the Pikler and its concept, this simple yet powerful contraption.

It may be useful to know that when she climbed she was facing me, I on the other side of the arch. After she did it twice, I then went behind her, but this made her nervous to the point she stopped climbing. This was a mistake. I now understand my action of going behind her to offer my “support” signaled to her she shouldn’t trust herself. Had I then known Dr. Pikler’s philosophy more in-depth I may have known better how to properly support her without being unnecessarily hands on. Our personal experience with baby Selma completely defines the idea of “freedom of movement.” I didn’t have any other devices to assist Selma in standing nor climbing, only the Pikler.

We then loaned the Pikler out to our dear baby friends who are few months younger than Selma while she and I traveled. Neither baby had stood up on their own yet, so the timing was perfect all around. The first baby visited and her mother sat her near the arch. She was uninterested. I mentioned my experience with Selma and how giving her space (aka removing myself from the equation of arch, selma, mama) did lead to her gaining interest. A few minutes later while the mom was off to the side a bit away, baby used the arch to lift herself to her feet for the first time! It was so exciting to witness this with another baby, a deeper verification of how well the Pikler works. The second baby came and had zero interest in the arch. He was a bit younger though. About two weeks later his mom could feel he was ready to stand and needed something to help himself do so (mama’s always know), so she took him back to the arch and he stood!

If we give children enough space and possibilities for free movement, they will move as beautifully and gracefully as animals: nimbly, simply, confidently and naturally Dr Emmi Pikler

These personal observations were of the youngest of users. However, it’s extremely beneficial and fun for older babies and kids as well. I sent an arch to my sister who has four children aged 1, 3, 5 and 7; they all enjoy the arch with ramp in a variety of different ways. The older kids especially love to flip it over and use it as a rocker which is wild and fun, yet safe. The ramp gets a ton of use in their household and with such excitement they get it out each time.

Pikler is an overall topic I intend to write at length about in future articles, especially as we go through different developmental stages with baby Selma (and friends) and witness her interest in and use of it. The safeness of the Pikler is a topic all on its own to be explored more in depth, more specifically why we prefer those which we sell opposed to other models on the market. Additionally, I highly recommend researching about Dr. Pikler herself and the theories behind these awesome products, along with her philosophies on caregiving/infant relationships. To conclude our first blog insights on this product, the arch is a one of a kind! Although the price tag is high, as I mentioned before, it was the only device which I used, so instead of buying other items to put baby in which provoke them to stand (maybe sooner than necessary) only buy the arch and witness them do it all on their own. Observing your child learn these skills at their own will with just the explorative space you’ve provided them is well worth the price. Plus, as they grow, Pikler provides them a base to explore their bodies safely and independently building confident happy babes!

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