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Reflections on “Loczy”

Introduction by Cara Wilson Granat:

In our last article, Madge Gerber talked about Dr. Emmi Pikler her teacher and director of the “Loczy” Institute in Hungary. We discovered that Dr. Pikler’s findings (based on intensive research) were that infants living in an institute derive security from permanency, constancy, and anticipation. It is hard for most of us to find this palatable. The word, the concept of “institutionalization” creates an image of white sheets and lots of Lysol. And yet Madge – Dr. Pikler says that more than 1,700 children to date have been reared and observed – and thrived at Loczy. Madge Gerber is convinced that what happened there and is still ever happening is something that we could learn from – something that we can be bringing into our own homes and raising our own children on. Here are Madge’s observations on that famous baby institute:

* * *

“Loczy”, as the National Methodological Institute for Infant Care and Education is popularly called, is a residence for normal infants in need of full-time care in Budapest, Hungary. It has been under the direction of Emmi Pikler, M.D., since its founding in 1946. Acknowledged as a model center for the study of infant development, Loczy has attracted visitors from all over the world. The Loczy staff has succeeded in their efforts to raise healthy children while avoiding “hospitalism.” 

 Loczy infants are described by the most respected authorities on infants in France, Dr. Myriam David, child psychiatrist, and Genevieve Appell, psychologist, who personally visited Loczy:

From the first step into the house, one is fascinated by the looks of the children; flourishing babies…with tanned complexions, harmonious proportions and movements, involved for the most part of the day in various activities in good contact with the adults, without being too dependent on them. The groups are peaceful: among the children there are astonishingly few conflicts, although interactions begin as early as 4-5 months. (David and Appell, 1971) 

 Subsequent studies have shown their continued growth and their ability to adapt to family life, as documented in a longitudinal study supported by the World Health Organization. Since 1960 Loczy has become a scientific research and training center providing a unique opportunity for continuous controlled observation and research in various areas: infants are studied, their behavior is recorded within their regular daily routine life rather than under artificial conditions. 

 The basic question underlying all these investigations is: Under what conditions do optional personality development and learning occur? And the staff of Loczy goes further and asks: which of the generally accepted infant-rearing practices are necessary and growth-producing? Which ones neither promote nor hinder growth? Which ones might even have potential harmful effects? 

 Summarizing, the philosophy of Dr. Pikler: 

  1. The infant needs an intimate, stable relationship with one constant person (mother figure). 
  2. This relationship can best be developed during care-giving activities (i.e., bathing, dressing, changing diapers, feeding, etc.). These same activities offer excellent opportunities for teaching cooperation, speech, body image, and mutuality in task oriented experiences. The infant is expected to be an active participant rather than a passive recipient while the child is cared for.
  3. The infant does not need direct teaching and help to achieve the stages of gross motor and sensory-motor development. They are best learned while the infant is freely exploring and manipulating objects  in a safe and carefully designed environment. Spontaneous, self-induced activities which the infant pursues freely, autonomously have an essential value for the child’s physical and mental development. The pleasure in the process of exploration and mastery is self-reinforcing. The infant becomes intrinsically motivated to learn. 

 Eleven movies made at the institute visually illustrate the following direct observation: 

 “The unusual concentration and richness of exploratory activities and play is most surprising considering that the grown-ups never teach and directly stimulate the children’s play.” (David and Appell, 1973)

 If you have any questions, anecdotes, observations, etc. you’d like to discuss with Madge, please send them in by July 15th. It’s been some time since we’ve had some good old raps. We’d like to hear from you! 

Copyright@Magda Gerber and Cara Wilson-Granat

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Black and white ink drawing of an infant laying supine and reaching towards an adult hand which is reaching back to the infant

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