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Nurturing Cultural Identity: Challenges of Implementing the Pikler Approach in Daycare Centers

In this blog post, we delve into the insights shared by Sjoukje Borbély during her lecture on the difficulties of disseminating the Pikler approach in other day-care centers. As a psychologist who transitioned into the role of a pedagogue, Borbély brings a unique perspective and shares her experiences working with different communities. We will explore three key ideas she discussed, focusing on the identity of minority groups, the importance of language development, and her journey in bringing the Pikler approach to two different communities. 

Sjoukje Borbély recounts her journey: “Hailing from the Netherlands, I found my way to Budapest alongside my husband. My involvement with the school began in 1969, where I initially performed auxiliary tasks and diligently typed up observations. After a period of twelve years, coupled with my commitment to learning, I started to expand my role.

When I first arrived at the Pikler Institute, it was during a socialist era, and there was a steep learning curve ahead of me. Even though I had a background in psychology, I had to learn the nuances of pedagogy. Emmi Pikler gave me a reality check – I initially believed that working with babies, I could do anything. However, she taught me humility, reminding me that I had much to learn. She told me if I was willing to stay humble, learn and observe from the sidelines, I could grow to become a competent pedagogue.

Over the years, my work has encompassed both theoretical study and practical applications. Now, I’d like to share three key ideas that I believe are instrumental to the work we do here.”

“Whenever a minority group struggles with identity issues, it’s essential that we concentrate our efforts on understanding and acknowledging the unique identity of that collective.”

Understanding Identity and Cultural Practices:

Borbély emphasizes the significance of understanding and respecting the identity of minority groups. She recounts her experience working with a colleague in a program aimed at supporting mothers and babies in gypsy communities. In these communities, the cultural practice of carrying babies everywhere was prevalent, while verbal communication with infants was less common. This difference in cultural expression of love resulted in limited language skills among the children. However, their physical and social skills were remarkably advanced. Borbély highlights the importance of recognizing and addressing these differences within the program, aiming to foster language development alongside their existing strengths in movement and music.

Challenges in Program Implementation:

When the program to support the gypsy communities in Hungry was initially launched, theoretical materials were utilized to guide its direction. Subsidies were provided to ensure parents’ participation, and the program offered food, which was well-received. However, Borbély highlights a crucial challenge: the limited involvement of the gypsy community in setting the program’s priorities. While the program aimed to support their cultural identity, there was a need for a more collaborative approach, allowing the community to actively participate in shaping the program’s goals and strategies.

Bringing the Pikler Approach to the Netherlands:

After spending 20 years in Budapest, Borbély returned to the Netherlands and sought to apply her expertise in supporting immigrant children. She initiated meetings with colleagues and aimed to work with an organization that funded daycares. Her intention was to introduce the Pikler approach and incorporate it into the Dutch childcare context. This endeavor reflects her commitment to sharing the knowledge and experiences gained from her time in Budapest, and her dedication to nurturing healthy child development in diverse communities.

Recognizing the Chaos:

After deciding to work with the public foundation, Borbély visited several daycare centers. However, her disappointment grew as she witnessed what she described as “total chaos.” Determined to bring the Pikler approach to these centers, Borbély wrote articles to educate the staff about Pikler’s principles and gauge their interest in collaboration. Safety was the only concern voiced by the centers, with families primarily focused on their children returning unharmed. Although the centers were well-resourced, they lacked a deep understanding of children’s needs.

Training Gaps and Limited Knowledge:

During her discussions with the daycare staff, Borbély discovered that their training program had dedicated very little time to young children. The staff proudly admitted to lacking knowledge of child development and even boasted about not using books in their training. Techniques like swaddling were their mainstay. It became evident that the concept of daycare was relatively new in the Netherlands, with centers emerging only a decade prior. Financing challenges further complicated matters, leading families to send their children only a few days a week, making it difficult to establish a consistent schedule.

Collaboration and Changing Perspectives:

Borbély joined forces with Hedie Meyling, an author of childcare books, to address the deep-rooted challenges. However, skepticism arose among the daycare staff, questioning whether Borbély, coming from Eastern Europe, could teach them anything in the West. To overcome this resistance, Borbély and Meyling embarked on filming sessions to showcase successful caregiving practices. Gradually, opinions began to shift, and even the teachers who once pitied Borbély for coming from Budapest started recognizing the potential for positive change.

The Eye-Opening Film:

In 2003, Borbély released a film highlighting the importance of caregiver education. The film also depicted the life of an infant in a family, revealing how the baby was treated as an object. Despite coming from a place of love, Borbély recognized the need for a shift in perspective and practices to provide more nurturing and respectful care.

Recognizing the Need for Change:

Borbély observed that during the first year of a child’s life, their personality begins to take shape. However, in the Netherlands, parents’ love for their children often left them unsure about the best ways to support their development. The overstimulating environment prevalent in daycare centers inadvertently taught infants the valuable skill of frustration tolerance. Photos showed parents with their children, but the lack of connection between fathers and infants was seen as a positive sign, simply because the fathers were present.

Implementing the Approach:

Initially, only ten out of the 45 daycare centers expressed interest in collaborating with Borbély’s team. Cultural components such as democracy and feminism played a role in the challenges faced when implementing the Pikler approach. Some caregivers were asked to volunteer to take the children out, and fathers’ involvement was encouraged, despite uncertainty about how to effectively engage with their children. Eventually, only five centers remained committed to embracing the approach.

Separate Areas and Individualized Care:

One of the first changes introduced was the creation of separate areas for infants. To acquire appropriate materials, Borbély and her team sought cost-effective options, such as IKEA household items. By covering the windows and creating observing areas, the infants could have their space while still being visible to the caregivers. The concept of individualized care was also emphasized, further narrowing down the number of participating centers. However, the families from higher-income backgrounds remained engaged, inspired by the initiative.

Understanding Family Culture:

Borbély realized the importance of understanding each family’s culture and background. Migrant families faced additional challenges, as government policies required women to work, leaving infants in the care of daycare centers. Traditional practices, such as constant rocking or relying on strollers for soothing, needed to be addressed and modified. Recognizing the value of family culture and mindset, Borbély and her team worked to establish a more responsive and developmentally appropriate approach to infant care.

Revamping Drop-off Routines:

To further enhance the daycare experience, drop-off routines were transformed. Instead of all children arriving in one group in the morning, caregivers came in early to personally greet each child. This adjustment aimed to foster a sense of security and familiarity, strengthening the bond between the primary caregiver and the child from the beginning of the day.

Conclusion:

Sjoukje Borbély’s insights shed light on the challenges faced when disseminating the Pikler approach in different cultural contexts. By emphasizing the importance of understanding and respecting minority identities, prioritizing language development, and engaging communities in program implementation, Borbély highlights the need for culturally sensitive approaches to early childhood education.

Her journey in bringing the Pikler approach to the Netherlands demonstrates a commitment to creating inclusive and nurturing environments for children from diverse backgrounds. Through continued collaboration and understanding, we can strive to provide every child with the support they need to thrive and develop their unique potential.

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