If I miss the moment when the child is ready,
then they turn away and the relationship ceases to exist.

That quotation is one of the moving insights shared by Anna Tardos and Agnes Szantos during the Advanced Pikler Training in San Francisco late last month, which three of our team members had the honor of attending. Meghan, Tamara, and Leah’s lives have been forever touched by this profound experience with Anna and Agnes – both of whom have spent their lives helping caregivers discover how to build a trusting relationship with young children. Our team was moved by their testimonies on how the Pikler Institute in Budapest, Hungary, has been able to provide stable, nurturing care for orphans and prepare caregivers. The Pikler Institute shows all of us who provide childcare in limited-resource settings that an institution is capable of providing quality care for children.

Since 1946 the Pikler Institute’s research and evidence has demonstrated that building relationships starts with being patient during caregiving, truly present during interactions, and interested in getting to know the children and their interests and abilities.

A break from training in San Francisco: (l-r) Tamara Bayres; Karen Spencer; Anna Tardos; translator Alex Kajtar; Agnes Szantos; Meghan López; Leah Armstrong.

At the memorable training sessions, Anna and Agnes shared personal stories about how children have thrived as a result of being allowed to play and move freely, take as much time as they need during daily routines, and trust their caretakers, among other key elements of Pikler childcare practice. They shared the only interview questions that the Pikler Institute uses to hire caregivers: “Do you enjoy playing?” and “Did you have a happy childhood?” Abiding by these simple questions has consistently produced caregivers who find joy in providing the high-quality childcare that institutionalized children need.

Twenty members of the Whole Child team have attended Pikler training sessions, deeply informing our practices and principles. The most recent training event came at an important time in our El Salvador project, as we and the Salvadoran government work together to evaluate the current state of childcare across the country, and engage our university course participants in creating the systemic changes that will be necessary to improve the overall quality of care across El Salvador’s childcare centers and orphanages.

Pikler/Lóczy Fund USA hosted the training and invited our founder and CEO, Karen Spencer, to speak as a guest of honor. Karen shared stories and insights about our program development and our current work in El Salvador, and spoke of how she became inspired by the Pikler Institute’s work when her daughter was three months old — and how this led her to found Whole Child International.