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The Evolution of Roles in Infant Care: Insights from the Pikler Model on Observations, Diaries, and Primary Caregivers


In the Pikler approach, the pedagogue and primary caregiver combined create the nurturing and supportive environment for young children. In this blog post, we delve into the fascinating history of these roles and explore the remarkable work of Emmi Pikler and her collaborator, Maria Reintiz, at the Loczy Institute. Their innovative approach revolutionized infant care and set the foundation for a more empathetic and child-centered approach.

“This blog post explores how they established the Loczy Institute, highlighting their meticulous selection process for caregivers and the core principles they emphasized, such as gentle movements, undisturbed play, and comprehensive documentation.”

Maria Majoros, a pediatrician, had the privilege of working closely with Dr. Pikler at the Loczy Institute for an impressive 19 years. Despite pursuing other opportunities throughout her career, Maria maintained a strong connection with Dr. Pikler. After her retirement, she returned to the Loczy Institute
and eagerly participated in all the training programs. Her passion for Dr. Pikler’s approach to infant care led her to teach the approach at the university, influencing a new generation of caregivers.

The Pikler House: Fostering Caregiver Excellence:

Dr. Pikler’s /commitment to supporting caregivers was evident from the early days of establishing the Pikler Institute. Drawing from her extensive experience with families, she understood the vital role caregivers played in the healthy development of infants. The institute became a nurturing space where caregivers received the guidance and tools necessary to provide exceptional care.

The Beginning: Building the Caregiver Team

When the Loczy Institute was established in June 1946, Emmi Pikler and Maria Reintiz recognized the importance of selecting caregivers who embodied the principles they aimed to instill. Initially, they hired trained professional nurses. However, after a few weeks, it became evident that many of these nurses had ingrained routines that hindered the implementation of Pikler’s vision. Consequently, they made the bold decision to release the entire staff and started anew.

Selecting the Right Caregivers

To find the caregivers who aligned with their approach, Pikler and Maria employed a unique recruitment process. During job interviews, the aspiring caregivers engaged in casual conversations before being asked the applicants to perform a simple task—picking up a doll. Pikler keenly observed their hands, paying close attention to their gentleness and careful movements. Although this test did not guarantee suitability, it served as the initial assessment for potential caregivers.

Unearthing Hidden Potential

One memorable story recounts the case of a young girl who initially failed the entrance exam due to her lack of gentle hand movements. However, as she left the premises, Pikler and Maria noticed her engage in a heartfelt conversation with some children by the gate. The young woman instinctively bent down to the level of the children to talk to them. Intrigued by her display of empathy, they promptly called her back. Ultimately, she became one of the most exceptional caregivers at the institute.

Elsa Chan of Pikler/Lóczy, USA and Nicole Vigliotti: The daughter of renowned early childhood educator Beverly Kovachy at the Supporting Teachers and Caregivers Pikler workshop in Budapest

Passing on Responsibility: The Emergence of Primary Caregivers:

In the late 1940’s Emmi Pikler contemplated the concept of shared responsibility and sought to find a way to pass it on within the caregiving groups. Each group designated a head caregiver, initially referred to as the “group mother.” However, as discussions continued, Pikler and her team recognized that caregivers could not replace a child’s biological mother. This realization marked the transition away from the idea of caregiver-as-mother and paved the way for the emergence of the primary caregiver concept.

Developmental Diaries and Individualized Care:

In the early stages of the institute, there was a concerted effort to increase documentation regarding the children’s development. These initial diaries primarily focused on the children’s health, play, and movement. Over time, the list of questions and observations in these diaries grew longer.

Upon examining the developmental diaries from that period, it becomes apparent that they were consistently authored by a single caregiver. This marked the beginnings of the concept of the primary caregiver—an individual responsible for observing and documenting the development of specific children.

Initially, the primary caregivers were tasked with observing certain children more closely than others. Each caregiver was assigned to observe and document the progress of around 3 – 4 children.

These diaries were meticulously reviewed and discussed by Dr. Pikler or Maria. They noticed that through observing specific children the relationships with those children deepened. With the deepening of the relationship the development of the child was advanced. These insights began the cementing of the connection between observation, understanding the uniqueness of every child and the importance of the primary care relationship.

Throughout the history of the institute, there was no designated time allocated specifically for observation. The caregivers had numerous tasks and responsibilities, leaving limited time for focused observation. However, Dr. Pikler recognized the importance of observation and sought to develop a more structured approach.

She introduced the concept of dedicated observation time, during which caregivers were given one hour to solely observe the children. However, this approach proved challenging as it required additional time outside of the caregivers’ shifts and caused confusion for the children. Moreover, it posed logistical difficulties for the staff members. After a period of experimentation and reflection, the institute returned to a more generalized form of observation throughout the day. This process of refinement and adjustment took place during the first ten years of Dr. Pikler’s tenure. It was around 1960 when Dr. Pikler had more support staff, leading to the establishment of the final form of the observation diary.

The evolution of observation practices at the institute reflects Dr. Pikler’s dedication to continuous improvement and her unwavering commitment to understanding and supporting the development of each child in their care.

Elsa Chan of Pikler/Lóczy, USA and Emilie Gay at the Supporting Teachers and Caregivers Pikler workshop in Budapest

The Challenges and Benefits of Primary Care:

The primary caregiver approach brought several benefits beyond the development of the child. The relationship also helped the transition of the child to a permanent home. Caregivers who paid more attention to a specific child established a closer bond with them. The diaries began to reflect the primary caregiver’s involvement in introducing the child to their family and accompanying them to doctor visits. However, challenges also arose, prompting a careful examination of the caregiver-child relationship.

Addressing Sensitive Issues:

The question of the relationship between the primary caregiver and the child was initially a sensitive topic. Eventually, Dr. Vincze, who worked as a pediatrician at the Infant House addressed this issue. She wrote a very long paper on this subject and only at the very end mentioned the word love. At the very end of her analysis of the primary caregiver and child relationship detailing every aspect and documenting the benefits she pointed out that the relationship could not exist without love. The decision of which caregiver would become the primary caregiver was made by the management based on the number of primary children already assigned to each caregiver. The child’s preference did not play a role in the selection process.

Child Perspective and Recognition:

From the children’s perspective, they quickly realized that one adult spent more time and attention on them. This distinction was apparent even in infants, who exhibited more teasing and movement during changing time with their primary caregivers. As the children grew older and developed language skills, they expressed their preferences, highlighting their comfort and trust in their primary caregiver.

It was important to establish clear boundaries and responsibilities between caregivers and pedagogues, as well as the emphasis on continuity and training in the institute’s operations.

Maintaining Balance and Emotional Boundaries:

Deep emotional connections between primary caregivers and children, while valuable, needed to be carefully managed. To prevent the caregiver from having an excessive focus on the primary child, recommendations were made by the pedagogue to shift attention to other children in the group. By distributing energy more evenly, caregivers could strike a balance and avoid creating a stark distinction between the primary child and others.

Daily Log Books and Developmental Diaries:

The implementation of daily log books allowed caregivers to record information about all children under their care, fostering a holistic understanding of each child’s needs and development. Additionally, the introduction of developmental diaries, maintained exclusively by the primary caregivers, offered a more in-depth analysis of a specific child’s developmental progress.

The Role of Pedagogues:

With the passage of time, the need for additional support within the institute became apparent. In 1955, Pikler and Maria recognized the value of pedagogical guidance and brought in a kindergarten teacher, Lili Szeredy and later others, to fulfill this role. Initially, the pedagogues focused on expanding the children’s experiences, organizing activities, and providing support to the caregivers. Their tasks gradually evolved to include training new caregivers, conducting observations, participating in research, and even becoming involved in national pedagogy initiatives.

Ms. Emilie Gay at the Supporting Teachers and Caregivers Pikler

Elsa Chan of Pikler/Lóczy, USA with another participant in attendance at the Supporting Teachers and Caregivers Pikler workshop in Budapest

Establishing Clear Responsibilities:

Clarifying the roles and responsibilities between pedagogues and caregivers proved to be a long-term challenge at the Loczy Institute. Over time, specific tasks were assigned to the pedagogues to ensure smooth operation. They became responsible for monitoring the caregiver-child relationship by reviewing the developmental diaries. Additionally, the training of new caregivers became a distinct pedagogical duty, fostering consistency and quality within the institute.

Changing Perspectives and Expanded Age Groups:

Throughout the 1960s and 1980s, the Loczy Institute faced changes in perspective and expanded the age range of children in their care. Before Dr. Pikler retired in 1979, it was decided that the institute would focus solely on children under the age of three. However, after her retirement, under the leadership of Dr. Faulk, the approach shifted to favor longer stays within the same environment, encouraging children to remain until they could transition to a permanent placement.

Training and Mentorship:

As turnover became an issue, the institute implemented strategies to ensure consistency and quality care. New staff members underwent comprehensive training and were assigned mentors to guide them through their initial period. Pedagogues played a crucial role in this training process, offering support, insights, and observations to assist in their development as caregivers.

Continuity and Golden Rules:

Continuity remained a vital principle within the Loczy Institute. Golden rules were established to maintain consistency and minimize disruptions. For example, caregivers from different groups were not allowed to substitute for one another, as consistency in caregiving was paramount. Pedagogues, however, could assist other groups when needed. The focus was on the enduring relationship between the caregiver and the child.


The Pikler Model, as pioneered by Emmi Pikler and Maria Reintiz, revolutionized the roles of pedagogues and primary caregivers in infant care. By prioritizing gentle movements, undisturbed play, and comprehensive documentation, they established a foundation that fostered healthy and holistic child development. Their rigorous selection process and ongoing supervision ensured the implementation of their principles at the Loczy Institute. Today, their insights continue to shape the field of infant care, providing valuable lessons for caregivers around the world.

The Pikler Model focus on observation, documentation, and the establishment of primary caregivers transformed the roles of pedagogues and primary caregivers in infant care. Through comprehensive documentation, careful observation, and the nurturing relationships between caregivers and children, the Loczy Institute fostered a supportive environment that nurtured healthy child development. The continued exploration of primary caregivers brought both challenges and benefits, ultimately shaping the unique bonds between caregivers and children at the institute.

The roles of pedagogues and caregivers in the Pikler Model underwent a remarkable evolution at the Loczy Institute. Clearer boundaries and responsibilities were established, and activities were introduced to enhance the children’s experiences. The emphasis on continuity, training, and mentorship ensured a consistent and nurturing environment for the children. By continually refining their approach, the Loczy Institute made significant contributions to the field of infant care and set a precedent for holistic and respectful caregiving practices.

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