Andrea SzöKe, the Director of the daycare at the Pikler House in Budapest, begins her address to the participants of the five-day Pikler Supporting the Caregiver Training by sharing her personal journey. Having dedicated her entire career to the Pikler House, she reflects on the lifelong learning process and the significance of training new caregivers. In this blog post, we will explore the Pikler House’s approach to introducing new caregivers to the daycare, emphasizing the importance of building connections and creating a smooth transition for both caregivers and children.
Continuous Learning and Growing:
At the Pikler House, training is not a one-time event but a lifelong journey of growth and learning. The initial training period spans approximately two months, during which the primary objective is for the caregiver to establish a connection with the group and the children they will be caring for. Simultaneously, it is equally crucial for the children to become familiar with the caregiver before they assume their caregiving responsibilities, allowing for a smoother transition.
Mastering the Principles:
During the training period, the new caregiver is immersed in the fundamental principles of caring for children, both in theory and practice. The emphasis lies in nurturing the caregiver’s mindset and attitude, which will ultimately shape their effectiveness as a caregiver. The Pikler House values an approach that is reserved yet highly aware, distinct from a purely maternal approach. While theoretical knowledge is important, the focus is primarily on the caregiver internalizing and embodying the Pikler attitude, as the rest of the theory can be learned through observation and imitation.
Starting with a Blank Slate:
The Pikler House prefers to hire young, inexperienced individuals who are at the beginning of their careers. This deliberate choice allows for a blank slate, enabling the training to start from scratch without needing to overwrite pre-existing attitudes or practices. By nurturing caregivers from the very beginning, the Pikler House can instill the core values and principles of the Pikler approach without the interference of incompatible perspectives.
One remarkable example is that of Andrea SzöKe, the Director of the daycare at the Pikler House. At the age of 18, fresh out of high school, she joined the Pikler House with the notion of simply playing with children in an infant home. However, her experience at the Pikler House quickly transformed her perspective. The organization was able to mold her attitude, instilling the necessary principles and practices required for nurturing and providing care to children.
The Impact of Mentorship:
Throughout the training period, a mentor or head teacher is assigned to the new caregiver, forming an inseparable bond for these two months. This mentor serves as a guide and provides hands-on support, ensuring that the caregiver receives personalized attention and guidance as they navigate their training journey. The mentorship relationship is integral to the caregiver’s growth and development, fostering a supportive environment for learning.
The Flow of Training:
Although the training is divided into distinct parts, it is crucial to understand that these components seamlessly intertwine. Observation, a pivotal aspect of the training, typically spans several weeks. During this period, the focus is primarily on observing the children and their interactions, allowing the caregiver to gain valuable insights into the children’s needs and development. It is important to note that the training does not involve direct engagement with the children during this observation phase.
As trainees progress in their training, the depth of their observations grows. Initially, they are assigned more general tasks, such as observing the morning routine of the caregiver. Gradually, the focus shifts towards the children themselves. For example, trainees may be asked to observe children during mealtime, paying attention to how each child signals when they have had enough.
Supporting Questions and Detailed Descriptions: To facilitate the learning process, trainees are provided with supporting questions to guide their observations. Over time, the tasks become more complex, such as observing a specific child who will be under their care. Trainees are instructed to document everything they observe. The focus then extends to the child’s play, with trainees asked to provide detailed descriptions. This cycle continues as trainees move on to observing the next child they will be responsible for.
Observation as an Attitude:
The art of careful observation becomes an ingrained attitude for the trainees. They learn to maintain a constant focus on the children, regardless of the task at hand. Whether they are peeling apples or engaged in other activities, trainees are encouraged to observe the children simultaneously. This internal observation enables them to be fully present and attuned to the needs and actions of the children in their care.
Internal and External Observation:
There are two types of observation: internal and external. Internal observation occurs when the working caregiver, while performing tasks, remains observant of the children. The caregiver is an integral part of the group, even when occupied with activities unrelated to the children. On the other hand, external observation involves individuals from outside the group, such as parents or external observers, observing the children without intervening.
Observation and Auxiliary Tasks:
During the initial two-week observation period, trainees may be assigned auxiliary tasks. For instance, while the trainer is dressing the children to prepare for an outing, the trainee may be asked to tie the shoes of one child. Even during these smaller tasks, trainees are encouraged to maintain their observation skills. The mentor provides guidance and direction throughout this process.
Assessing Suitability and the Bathroom Period:
By the end of the two-week observation period, it becomes evident whether the Pikler approach aligns with the trainee’s capabilities and disposition. This assessment occurs before the trainee begins interacting physically with the children. In the context of the Infant House, this period is known as the “bathroom period” and can extend for several months if necessary.
The Importance of the Bathroom Stage:
In the early stages of training, trainees are assigned to tasks that do not involve direct contact with the children. They clean the bathroom, wash toys, and perform other maintenance duties. This stage, known as the “bathroom stage,” serves as an opportunity for the trainee to assess their suitability for the role. It ensures that trainees can make an informed decision about continuing their training before establishing relationships with the children. This approach prevents potential disruption and disappointment for the children if a trainee were to leave after already building connections.
A Changing Landscape:
The availability of individuals willing to embark on a caregiving career has significantly decreased over time. Finding dedicated individuals who are passionate about caregiving has become a challenge. This reality highlights the value of comprehensive training programs like the one offered at the Pikler House.
Transitioning to Caregiving:
Once trainees have successfully completed the observation phase, they move on to the next stage: actively engaging in caregiving tasks. The initial interactions can be nerve-wracking for the new caregiver. To ease the transition, trainees are assigned one child at a time, with a slow and gradual introduction to caregiving responsibilities.
The Gradual Approach:
Preparing both the trainee and the children is a crucial part of the process. The children are informed in advance that the trainee will be assuming caregiving duties, ensuring a smooth transition. Ideally, the trainee begins caring for one of their assigned children, although it may not necessarily be one of the easiest children to care for. The goal is to create one-on-one interactions during feeding, changing, and dressing routines.
For younger children, the trainee is involved in the entire care cycle. However, if the first child assigned is older and already eating at the table, the trainee starts with simpler routines like providing snacks. As the trainee becomes more comfortable, they progress to more complex caregiving tasks, such as lunchtime routines. This gradual approach allows the caregiver to gain confidence and build positive experiences with the children.
Considerations in Child Assignment:
Careful consideration is given to the selection and order of children assigned to the trainee. More sensitive children are usually introduced near the end, allowing them additional time to become acquainted with the caregiver. Children who tend to test the boundaries of caregivers are placed in the middle of the assignment order, neither being the first nor the last child the trainee works with. Flexibility is essential, as plans may need to be adjusted based on individual circumstances and dynamics.
Building a Case Load:
Throughout the training, the trainee’s case load gradually expands. Once the trainee demonstrates proficiency in caring for one child, they are given additional children to care for while continuing to provide care for the previous child. This gradual expansion of responsibilities ensures a balanced workload and continuous growth for the trainee.
The Role of the Pedagogue:
The pedagogue plays a pivotal role in supporting the new caregiver’s development. They provide guidance, feedback, and ongoing support to help the caregiver improve their skills. The pedagogue works alongside the trainee, offering insights and suggestions to enhance their caregiving abilities.
Building Confidence and Setting Limits:
When evaluating a caregiver’s performance, their own reflections and feedback become valuable tools for improvement. By closely listening to their experiences, trainers can offer support and guidance to help caregivers enhance their skills. One recurring challenge highlighted is the importance of setting limits. While the Pikler House promotes a gentle approach, caregivers sometimes struggle to find the balance between gentleness and setting boundaries. Establishing limits is essential for maintaining control and ensuring the safety and well-being of the children.
The Path Forward:
Cooperation and Alignment:
Cooperation and alignment between caregivers and children form the basis of successful caregiving. Children’s fundamental need for safety is closely tied to their exploration and testing of limits. Caregivers play a crucial role in helping children recognize and respect these limits. In certain situations, children may need the caregiver’s intervention to stop them from exceeding the boundaries they can handle. Identifying when a situation has been resolved and providing timely guidance are important elements in supporting the child’s growth and development.
Supporting the Trainee:
In providing support to trainees, it is essential not to overwhelm them with excessive feedback. Instead, trainers focus on offering one or two constructive comments that can have a significant impact on the trainee’s growth. Encouraging trainees to reflect on their experiences and share their feelings is a powerful way to foster self-awareness and facilitate growth.
Educational Aspects during Free Play:
The third part of the training program centers around supporting children during their free play. This phase addresses various educational aspects. Caregivers learn how to navigate conflicts that may arise during playtime, understand when to encourage children’s independent play, and provide gentle interventions, such as moving objects closer to support their exploration. Additionally, they develop the skills to console and comfort children when needed. These educational aspects are introduced during the training period, but mastering them requires ongoing learning and experience.
The Journey of Ongoing Learning:
The initial two-month training period provides a foundation for caregivers, but it is not enough time to fully develop their skills and work with confidence. Unlike the Infant Home, where caregivers worked alone after training, daycare caregivers benefit from continuous support and guidance. Collaboration among caregivers, trainers, and the larger community fosters a culture of ongoing learning and improvement.
The Pikler House’s gradual approach to transitioning trainees from observation to active caregiving demonstrates a deep understanding of the importance of building strong caregiver-child relationships. By carefully selecting children, introducing tasks gradually, and offering support and guidance, the Pikler House ensures that new caregivers can grow, develop their skills, and provide nurturing care to the children in their charge. The pedagogue’s involvement further enriches the training experience, empowering caregivers to continually improve and deliver the highest standard of care.