Oh, Baby! Preparing a Montessori Environment for the Littlest Ones
Many people do not realize that Montessori can begin at birth, or even before, as preparations are made for the baby’s arrival. Many Montessori schools offer infant programs, and it’s very interesting to see how the classrooms are arranged. The focus is always on freedom of movement, quality over quantity, and natural materials over synthetic. Here are some ideas for your home or classroom that will ensure a very Montessori beginning.
The Montessori Bed
Sleep is absolutely one of a newborn’s chief needs. At first, the baby may be sleeping in the parents’ bed or in a bassinette beside the bed. When the time comes for babies to move to their own beds, you have a couple of choices. Dr. Montessori advocated a floor bed that babies would be able to get into and out of on their own. This is in keeping with the thought that freedom of movement is crucial to the developing child, and by putting a baby gate at the door of the safely prepared bedroom, the little one can get up without being in danger.
Many Montessori schools use a modified crib – it’s basically a crib without legs, so that it sits on the floor and has a railing on three sides. I think this idea can be implemented once the baby has learned to crawl, so that they can get in and out of bed by themselves, especially if they roll off the bed. (See picture).
The Michael Olaf Company carries the European floor bed frame that is well known in Montessori circles. It’s designed to fit a crib-sized mattress, but if you would prefer not to purchase a frame, you can simply buy a twin mattress and the benefit of this route is that the bed will serve the child’s needs for many years. I like the idea of putting a railing next to the mattress – or having a three-sided railing as mentioned above – that way the baby can still crawl in and out of bed, but isn’t likely to fall out while sleeping.
Owing to the synthetics and harmful chemicals present in most commercial mattresses, and their potential connection with SIDS, I strongly advocate purchasing an organic cotton mattress for your Montessori baby. If you can afford one, it is likely to be the most important purchase you make for your nursery or classroom. You can Google to find sources for organic mattresses.
Environmentally Safe Dinner Ware
Many Montessorians prefer not to use plastic cups and plates, as research shows it can give off harmful toxins. A charming alternative is lead-free, toxin-free, ceramic baby dishes. These dishes, made by Emerson Creek Pottery, are handmade, hand-painted, and completely safe for use by babies and toddlers.
The Montessori Baby’s Environment
If you go the route of a floor bed, there are some important things to consider. The first is that the floor should be kept clean, and this concept can start with the floor covering, itself. Hardwood, with perhaps a handmade braided rag rug, would be a good choice. Commercial carpets are generally synthetic and may cause allergies. Because the baby will be sleeping right next to a floor, it’s important that it be as hygienic as possible.
The room needs to be carefully baby-proofed, and this article will get you started thinking about safety basics. I recommend sitting on the floor of the nursery and trying to view it from the child’s point of view. Anything sharp or dangerous protruding? Anything that could be knocked over or pulled down? Are outlets covered? Make sure you have safety-proofed all rooms where the baby will be playing.
The fun part comes in thinking about decorating the child’s room. Dr. Montessori strongly believed in making the environment beautiful. Keep the general atmosphere uncluttered and soft to avoid overwhelming the baby’s sensory perceptions. If you plan to paint the room, choose a non-toxic paint and make sure the room is thoroughly aired out after painting. A few lovely pictures hung on the walls are a very nice touch. Michael Olaf has the most exquisite mobiles featuring hummingbirds and butterflies and these help infants to explore their longing to reach out to the world.
Montessori Baby Clothing
The Internet offers a wide variety of organic cotton clothing for infants and this is, in my opinion, the optimum choice. Newborns seem to be comforted by swaddling in a soft blanket, perhaps because they have begun life in a small space, but keep swaddling loose enough to allow some movement. As the baby grows, clothing should be simple, correctly sized and roomy enough to allow the baby to kick and stretch, to roll and crawl.
Montessori Infant Toys
No doubt, everyone in your family will be eager to give gifts to the new baby. Find a gracious way to ask them not to overburden your home with too many ‘things’, and perhaps point them in the direction of the Michael Olaf catalog for suitable, wonderful toys. For the very young baby, I am a fan of handmade cloth toys. A simple bear or kitty shape made of well-stitched cotton gives babies something to grasp and bite but doesn’t allow them to knock themselves on the head with anything hard.
As baby gets a little older, a wooden rattle can be a thrill for infants who discover they are making the sound happen. The debate goes on about the appropriateness of using a pacifier. Michael Olaf has one that is held in place by the parent’s hand, only when baby needs it when cutting teeth. Some parents dispense with the use of a pacifier at all and find other methods for helping their teething child.
Wooden blocks and stacking toys are perfect for babies who have achieved sitting up,
and you can find a variety of household objects that are wonderful for creative play at this stage. A cloth sack filled with a few spoons offers a surprise as babies remove each one, using their motor skills. Most children can make playthings out of just about any safe, hand-sized household object.
What is not advised is to confine the child to a walker, swing, playpen or anything that inhibits free movement. If babies can’t get out of something themselves, chances are, it’s not a helpful tool for them. Rather, when children begin to pull themselves up on the furniture and learn to walk, push toys can be a way to give a little extra support and add fun to walking. Pull toys are great, too. With both, the children are in charge of their movements.
Many Montessori homes and classrooms like to put long, low mirrors on the wall, with wooden railings mounted at a baby’s height. The babies can pull themselves up with the railing, then walk along the wall and look at themselves. The child should wear socks or go in bare feet, so that the baby’s toes and foot can grip the floor.
Montessori Baby On The Go
Babies are so easy to carry, and “wearing” them keeps them close and secure. Here’s a lovely baby carrier pattern by Meg from Sew Liberated (formerly Montessori by Hand). Both mother and father can wear a sling, and you can purchase them from a variety of sources, or, if you’re crafty, you can make the one I’ve linked to. For safety’s sake, a baby carrier or sling of this kind is the one ‘restraining’ tool most parents’ find necessary. When you’re out in public, it’s important to keep the baby right next to you, and wearing the baby close to your body helps maintain the parent-child bond.
In addition to keeping the home orderly, safe and inviting, it’s vital to begin introducing baby to the outside world at a young age. Both weather and where you live will dictate how early your baby’s first ‘walk’ in the sunshine will be. Whether you have a backyard to revel in amongst the beautiful colors and scents, or a neighborhood park where you can put down a play mat and let baby feel the breeze, connecting early with nature is one of the great tenets of Montessori thought.
Montessori from the Start
People are often surprised by the idea that Montessori begins at birth. I hope the above has helped you to see how smart it is to begin with a thoughtfully prepared environment and respect for the natural development of the child from day one. If you know of any other ideas for “Montessori-ifying” a baby’s environment, please share!