Is RIE approach compatible with Montessori?

In today's blog post, I want to explore an alternative method called RIE, ressource for infant educarers. It's very popular among parents especially for the first year of their baby.

Is it similar to Montessori? Is it compatible with the Montessori principles?

Let's learn more about this "parenting style".

What is the RIE Method?

RIE means Resources for Infant Educarers and was founded by Magda Gerber in 1978. 

The approach was based on her experiences with paediatrician Emmi Pikler, who believed in talking to children respectfully and giving as little intervention as possible to allow them to develop. 

Pikler found that children who could roam free had less fractures and concussions than those who were overly observed. She believed that children who were allowed to explore at their own pace learned to sit, walk, speak and think better than those who were encouraged to reach prescribed developmental stages.

baby crawling away for parents

Pikler published her first book “What do you know about Your baby”in 1940, which brought together her ideas on child development. Later, she applied her principles to children living in orphanages and her ideas spread in Europe after the second world war, especially in Belgium and France.

The below picture is still the basis of many baby's development books. It shows how a baby'movement evolves. (Illustration by Klara Pap from the Pikler Institute)

In Belgium, where I am from, Pikler’s ideas were the basis of the care given to children in day nurseries. One principle is that continuity of care with the same childcare worker is essential for helping the child to settle and to form a secure attachment.

I worked in a “pouponiere”, a residential childcare facility for children under one and we were following the Pikler's approach.

Magda Gerber: Educaring

“Be careful what you are teaching the infants,
it may interfere with what they could be learning.”
— Magda Gerber

The RIE approach, or 'Educaring' is very similar. Magda Gerber says respecting a child as a unique human being is the basis of her approach. The goal is to raise a child who feels secure, autonomous and appreciated. To do this, she focuses on:

  • Trusting in the infant's competence and providing only enough help to  allow them to learn what they are ready for.
  • Observing sensitively to understand the infant's communications and needs
  • Involving the child in caregiving (eg. feeding, bathing, dressing) so they are an active participant.
  • Creating a safe, challenging and predictable environment so they can naturally learn
  • Giving them time for uninterrupted play and freedom to explore
  • Establishing consistent and clear limits and expectations

In my opinion, there is no difference between RIE and Pikler's principles. Magda Gerber took the Pikler ideas to the US and translated them to English speaking parents. Pikler is commonly more an approach applied to daycare and institutions while RIE is more a parenting approach.

Nowadays, the RIE approach is promoted by Janet Lansbury, an American actress who has trained with Magda Gerber.

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How does RIE compare with Montessori?

Montessori and RIE both promote an immense respect of the child and see the infant as an autonomous human being. They see the potential in the child and that they are self learners who will naturally guide their own development. Both Montessori And RIE also promote freedom of movement from birth and believe in observing children to understand their needs and communication style. However, RIE only covers from birth until age 3, whereas Montessori continues a lot further.

For me the only main difference has to do with the amount of freedom we give to the child.

Janet Lansbury coined the term YES space, an enclosed area where the child has total freedom, is totally safe and you don’t’ have to say no.

For Montessori, we would make the house as safe as possible and allow the child to be free to move everywhere. But we would guide and supervise the child from afar, in order to set up some limits. We would say no, or we would redirect the child if he was doing something unsafe but we would avoid the use of an enclosed area. Having said that, despite being a Montessori teacher, the use of a Yes space makes sense to me when it’s for a short time when you need to take a shower or to answer a phone call.

In my opinion, both approaches are very similar and RIE can be combined with Montessori.

I think that Montessori for babies under 1 is maybe not as well known as RIE.

Janet Lansbury’s books are very clearly written and Magda Gerber books gives also clear guidelines that really help “new parents”.

If where you live, it’s easier to access a RIE based playgroup or Pikler playgroup then go for it.

More ressources about RIE:

Magda Gerber - Your self-confident baby

Janet Lansbury - Elevating childcare. It's the book version of her blog.

Are you familiar with the RIE approach? Are you inspired by Janet Lansbury and Magda Gerber's ideas in your home? Let me know in a comment!

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About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.

  • Katarzyna Meyer says:

    Thank you for the article. I agree very much that Pikler Approach, RIE and Montessori Method have lots in common and are working from the same base – looking for competences in each child and supporting them. But the best part for me is to see, what is unique for each of them and how they complement each other. M. Montessori’s observation that one of the most important points is child’s deep focus on his activity is something very unique. The other strong side are her amazing learning materials for maths, languages, geography etc. and the way, how adults can support a child in working with them. Dr. Emmi Pikler’s life was dedicated towards small children – from newborn to 3 years – and she and her team did many decades of research about this age discovering unique facts about development of free movement and free play, as well as the way of building a strong relationship with a baby, even if this baby was living without parents, in a group of 8 babies with one professional carer only. There is still lots of knowledge from her Institut, which is very unknown to the public, like f.e. her discovery of child led “tummy time”. Pikler UK Association offers a wide range of books and DVD’s for parents and professionals:

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