Pioneering infant specialist and educator, Magda Gerber, has died at home surrounded by her family on Friday, April 27, 2007. She retired in 1998 after a long career teaching her respectful approach to infant care and development to generations of parents and professionals in the infant/family field. As a popular and charismatic speaker at early childhood education conferences, she was one of the first in the United States to focus attention on infants. Her message to parents and professionals was to recognize infants as competent self-initiators of their own development within the context of at least one secure and authentic relationship. She brought to light in the U.S. the impact of natural movement development on psychological as well as physiological well-being. In addition to her direct teaching of parents of infants, her work had a profound influence on the growing infant development field in the United States, which became especially important as more and more mothers placed their infants in childcare as they entered or re-entered the work force.
In 1957, Magda Gerber and her family immigrated to the United States from their native Budapest, Hungary, where she had been mentored by innovative pediatrician, Dr. Emmi Pikler. Along with the essence of what she had learned about infants in Hungary, Magda contributed her own valuable insights into parenting and how to impart this important knowledge to parents and professionals in her adopted country. She applied her skills to typically developing infants as well as those with disabilities or other special needs in several California infant programs in the 1960's and 70's.
Based in Los Angeles, Gerber founded Resources for Infant Educarers (RIETM) in 1978 with pediatric neurologist, Tom Forrest, M.D., and became its first director. RIE is a non-profit world-wide membership organization, dedicated to improving the quality of infant care and education through teaching, supporting, and mentoring parents and caregivers. Students from around the world still come to her modest, homey center in Silverlake to see the approach in action and to learn the theory from the active demonstration thereof.
Gerber was known as an intuitive genius in relating to people. As a thoughtful parent and therapist, she knew how to relate empathetically to a concerned parent. Modeling what she wanted to teach, she demonstrated how to respect infants and parents as she waited, watched and affirmed each parent who acted in a way that was in tune with his or her baby's need for free exploration on the one hand, and a safe haven for rest and comfort on the other. Parents were reminded to “Do less; observe more; enjoy most.”
Gerber was on the faculty of Pacific Oaks College for twenty years, and was an original member of the WestEd advisory panel and faculty. Still widely read, Gerber edited The RIE Manual for Parents and Professionals and co-authored Your Self-Confident Baby with Allison Johnson. Magda's regular column in Educaring, RIE's quarterly newsletter, entitled "Dear Magda, Dear Parent", served as inspiration for her popular book, Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect. The efficacy of the approach that she developed and modeled is admired and has been adopted by many in the forefront of the fields of infant development and research, parent education, and caregiver training. Her ideas form the basis of many college infant studies courses in the U.S. through the popular textbook, Infants, Toddlers and Caregivers, of which one her early students, Janet Gonzalez-Mena, was an author.
Gerber leaves behind a legacy of respect for infants which her students and colleagues are determined to carry forth in her name and to her memory.
Photo courtesy PDPhoto.org