When we know more about how children progress and learn, we can better support their development with love, care, and understanding.

Each day we can approach our child with a fresh perspective and give them the best chance to grow their skills and confidence.


And one of the best ways to learn more about childhood development is to learn from early learning leaders. These profound theorists share valuable insights with us about how children experience the world – and what we can do both as parents and educators to enhance their growth and development.

Each child offers something special to this world – something only they can bring. By encouraging our children to become their true selves, they develop a positive well-being that they can share with the world.

In this post we’ll talk about our favourite early learning leaders and how their teachings help us encourage our children to flourish into the very people they are meant to be. We’ll also share insightful videos that show you more about these learning leaders and their methods.

Here are our 5 favourite inspirational early learning leaders and what we can learn from them:

1. Magda Gerber

Originally from Hungary, Magda Gerber studied linguistics and became an early childhood educator. She developed an interest in infant care from Emmi Pikler, a well-known pediatrician, and incorporated some of Pikler’s theories into her own philosophy. Gerber’s work has been transformational in the childhood development arena. The number of child care centres that follow her philosophy grows each year.

A passionate advocate for children and families, Gerber discovered ways for parents and caregivers to educate children in a more enjoyable way. Gerber saw all children as highly capable and believed in giving them the space, creativity, and confidence to learn independently and with others (RIE, 1998).

We largely follow Magda Gerber’s philosophy of RIE (Resources For Infant Educarers) at our premium Harmony learning centres, instilling the perspective that a child is incredibly capable of learning, living, and growing.

Key early learning insights from Magda Gerber:

  • Respect for babies and children helps foster a child’s authentic self.
  • Showing appreciation and genuine interest makes a child feel loved, secure, and competent (RIE, 1998).
  • Believing and recognising that infants are competent will encourage them to explore and engage in the world on their own.
  • Observing your child offers you key insight to them and their unique needs.
  • By becoming humble, we can teach less and allow for an environment of learning.
  • Through engaging a child in everyday activities (i.e. bathing, feeding), we help children become active daily participants of life.
  • When we allow for uninterrupted freedom and play, we can admire how much they are doing on their own (RIE, 1998).

Magda Gerber once stated, “When you approach your baby with an attitude of respect, you let him know what you intend to do and give him a chance to respond. You assume he is competent and involve him in his care and let him, as much as possible, solve his own problems. You give him plenty of physical freedom and you don’t push development.” (Emmie, 2009).

Watch RIE parenting expert Janet Lansbury discuss how to help your child focus and pay attention.

2. Emmi Pikler

Magda Gerber drew great inspiration from Emmi Pikler, a Hungarian pediatrician who introduced new theories of infant education. She put them into practice at the orphanage she ran, finding that mutual respect and tender care should exist between the infant and adult.

For children to develop in their natural way, Pikler believed certain things had to be place, like free movement, respect at all times, and caring touch (Emmie, 2009).

What we can learn from Pikler:

  • Babies don’t need our help to reach life’s milestones. We can support and encourage them to prosper in their own way.
  • Distraction and multitasking takes away from a child’s feeling of love and support – we should offer our full attention to babies when we are with them (Emmie, 2009).
  • Creating a calm environment for your child can happen by slowing down the pace of life and not rushing from activity to activity.
  • Make caregiving tasks (i.e. dressing and nappy changes) unhurried by engaging a child in the process and making them feel worthy of the care they’re receiving.
  • Working together on daily tasks gives children an active, important, and confidence-building role.
  • Tune in to your child by watching and listening for their cues. This will make parenting more relaxed and your child feel valued (Emmie, 2009).

Watch a parent explain their child’s progress with a theory of caring for babies developed by Emmi Pikler.

3. Urie Bronfenbrenner

A Russian-born American, Urie Bronfenbrenner was a developmental psychologist, widely known for his ecological systems of childhood development theory.

He was key in founding the Head Start organisation and drew attention to environmental and societal influences on child development (Oswalt, 2008).

Insights from Urie Bronfenbrenner:

  • The immediate environment a child lives in and interacts with greatly impacts their development. This includes their immediate family, caregivers, and child care centre (Oswalt, 2008). The more nurturing these environments, the better for the child’s development.
  • Different places, people, and environments of a child’s world can either work together or against each other (Oswalt, 2008). If a child care centre and parents send different messages to a child, for example, it could hinder that child’s growth.
  • People, places, and events that seem more distant from a child can still have great influence, including cultural values, government, and the economy (Oswalt, 2008). Working through the reactions together gives a child opportunity to express how they are feeling about their macroenvironment.

Learn more about Urie Bronfenbrenner’s fascinating system theories:

4. Reggio Emilia

The villages around Reggio Emilia in Italy fostered a new way of childhood learning after World War II, led by psychologist Loris Malaguzzi. The Reggio Emilia approach became a renowned educational philosophy for preschool and primary education.

Reggio Emilia is best known for sharing the notion that children are endowed with ‘a hundred languages,’ meaning they can express their ideas through drawing, acting, music, and so much more (Reggio, 2016). Like RIE, the Reggio program is based on respect and seeing the child as a capable, curious individual.

What we can learn from Reggio Emilia:

  • Children are capable of learning and understanding through their drive to know more.
  • Collaboration with others allows your child to have their own thoughts and learn from others.
  • Listening, talking, and communicating with respect lets the child engage in the search for new experiences and knowledge.
  • Open, clean spaces with natural beauty give children a chance to dive deeper into their curiosity with the world (Reggio, 2016).
  • When parents and caregivers act as observers, children can explore their interests with support when needed.
  • Documenting a child’s thoughts and experiences encourages the development and support of learning (i.e. photographs, journals, drawings).
  • As demonstrated through the hundred languages of children, play and learning come together through such communication tools as sculpting, drawing, painting, and music (Reggio, 2016).

Learn more about the Reggio Emilia approach by watching this animated video:

5. Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget, a Swiss clinical psychologist, is known for his theory of cognitive development. He believed strongly in furthering a child’s mental maps and schemes “for understanding and responding to physical experiences within his or her environment” (Comments, 2011).

His theories have widely contributed to how many schools and child care centres operate today. Through different stages and physical interaction with the world, a child builds their knowledge and competence (Habib et al, 2011).

Key learnings from Piaget:

  • Parents and caregivers should emphasise the role of experiences and physical interaction, further enhancing the child’s “logical and conceptual growth” (Habib et al, 2011).
  • Children construct their learning and capabilities through their experiences, using their senses as a main tool in the first years of life.
  • Curriculums and at-home activities should provide a place where children can interact with the world at their own pace.

Learn about Piaget’s insightful stages of cognitive development in this Khan Academy video:

If you’d like to know more about our Harmony centres, the RIE philosophy, or our learning environment, call us at 1-300-HARMONY or book a tour today. We’d love to show you our beautiful facilities and introduce you to our empowering approach to early childhood development.


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Emmi Pikler’s Guiding Principles. (2009). Retrieved November 14, 2016, from http://www.parentingworx.co.nz/fantastic-reading/emmi-piklers-8-guiding-principles/

Habib, A., Truslow, C., Harmon, C., & Karellas, G. (2011, October 5). Changes in Child Psychology. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from http://childpsych.umwblogs.org/

Magda Gerber, Seeing Babies with New Eyes. (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2016, from http://www.magdagerber.org/

Oswalt, A., MSW. (2008, January 17). Urie Bronfenbrenner And Child Development. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/urie-bronfenbrenner-and-child-development/

Reggio Emilia Approach: At Home. (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2016, from http://www.aneverydaystory.com/beginners-guide-to-reggio-emilia/

RIE® Basic Principles. (1998). Retrieved November 14, 2016, from https://www.rie.org/educaring/ries-basic-principles/

The genius of Emmi Pikler in English. (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2016, from http://thepiklercollection.weebly.com/