Building Relationships · SLOW DOWN: Quality Time with Children

Observation: how we learn who a child really is

The power of observation -


 “Our method, guided by respect for the infant’s competence, is observation. We observe carefully to understand the infant’s communications and his needs. The more we observe, the more we understand and appreciate the enormous amount and speed of learning that happens during the first two or three years of life. We become more humble, we teach less, and we provide an environment for learning instead.” Magda Gerber (Dear parents: Caring for infants with respect)

One of the 7 RIE principles is “Sensitive observation of the child in order to understand his or her needs” (Magda Gerber). Polly Elam, a RIE associate and a truly wonderful person, states, “one can only know the individual child through sensitive observation.” So what is sensitive observation?

Sensitive observation is….well my understanding of it is…

  • Seeing what’s happening in the moment, without judgment
  • About collecting facts
  • Being focused on the child and what they are trying to communicate
  • Seeing what is happening right then and there verse seeing what you think is happening
  • Being available to the child while at the same time sitting back and allowing them to have space to work
  • Intentionally sitting back and making yourself wait to jump in and engage with a child
  • Purposefully being a fly on the wall so you can see the learning process a child is engaging in

One definition of observe is: to watch carefully especially with attention to details or behavior for the purpose of arriving at a judgment. By watching a child carefully, paying close attention to the details in their movements, sounds, expressions and behaviors, we can gather facts that allow us to make a judgment about what the child is trying to tell us. We can make a prediction about what a child might need which will allow us to respond to the child in a way that we think is appropriate. The more we observe the more we will learn. It will take time but by observing, we will learn behaviors that indicted when a child is hungry, tired, reaching the peak of their frustration and so on. The more facts we collect about a child the more we will understand who they are.

Another definition of observe is: to come to realize or know especially through consideration of noted facts. It is through our observations and collection of facts that we come to realize who a child is. Observation allows us to know a child because observation lets us see a child as they are, without judgment.

In Magda’s words we should, “observe more, do less”


Gerber, Magda. “RIE Basic Principles.” Educaring Approach. Resources for Infant Educarers. Web. 12 Aug. 2014.

Gerber, Magda, edited by Joan Weaver. Dear parents: Caring for infants with respect. 2nd/Expanded Edition ed. Los Angeles: Recourses for Infant Educarers, 2002. Print.

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