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!

Subscribe to Comment Feed

18 Responses to “Oh, Baby! Preparing a Montessori Environment for the Littlest Ones”

  • Bridget said at February 19th, 2008 at 1:47 pm :

    Lovely post! I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my instincts led me to much the same baby rearing style as Montessori advocates even though I wasn’t familiar with Montessori ideas when my children were babies.

  • Lori Bourne said at February 19th, 2008 at 2:30 pm :

    So glad you liked it! I think that many parents do instinctively follow Montessori-like principles, but of course many do not.

    In my experience, I think my kids were more receptive to Montessori ideas when they got a little older because we started so young.

  • jenmack said at February 20th, 2008 at 7:38 am :

    Very timely for me Lori! Like Bridget, we’ve been Montessori’ish all along without naming it Montessori. But, the toy situation is one that needs improvement! I’ve been excited for a while to incorporate some of the more natural and less is more organic options to our home.

    I am very appreciative for the link to the natural cotton bedding. Everywhere I’ve looked is MUCH more expensive. I bookmarked their site immediately to discuss with dh tonight!!!

    Thanks for a great post!

  • Lori Bourne said at February 20th, 2008 at 9:27 am :

    So glad to help, Jen! I wish I had chosen that kind of bedding for my kids. Luckily they don’t suffer from allergies.

  • Meredith said at March 10th, 2008 at 12:33 pm :

    Ooh, I wish I had a baby on the way with which to prepare a Montessori environment. Wish I had done it with all my kiddos, but I guess, better late than never! Cheers!

  • Adrianne Braun said at November 9th, 2008 at 11:56 am :

    Great post! I am AMS Infant/Toddler Certified and happened upon your blog while doing some personal research on infant floor beds. In my classroom environments, I have often placed shelving around 1,2, or 3 sides of the floor bed(s) to define the space. Shelves can open into the bed area (for older infants- crawling at the very least) or open out into the room. The shelves could hold “rest-time appropriate” materials like security objects and books.
    The horizontal full-length mirror hung at a low level is a wonderful part of a non-mobile infant’s activity area. It does not necessarily need to have the attached bar. Coupled with a floor mat, mobile, and accessible work materials (rattle, clutching objects), it can provide an infant with endless opportunities for fine and gross motor activity, along with the ability to actually *see* her/himself in motion. A tip on hanging mobiles: find a long (15″ +) swing-arm mount for a hanging plant (available at any home and garden store), and mount it to the wall above the infant’s rest or work area at about adult waist height. You are then able to change mobiles easily, and the hanger can also rest flush against the wall when not in use. Mobiles should be hung in front of the infant’s head, toward the chest (not directly overhead). The placement gives the child an incentive to develop eye and muscle control leading to head movement.
    On decorating an infant’s room, be mindful to hang artwork at the child’s level. The bottom of the frame will often be a few inches from the floor.

    I can certainly say that I will be following your blog from now on:)

  • Lyndsey said at November 30th, 2009 at 4:31 pm :

    I have only recently “discovered” Montessori from birth-3. My husband had worked in a Montessori school as a Mathematics assistant, so while I was familiar with Montessori, I had no idea that it could start so young.

    I’m feeling so inspired at the moment, and I particularly appreciate your link to Michael Olaf!

  • Lori Bourne said at November 30th, 2009 at 4:59 pm :

    So glad you “discovered” Montessori, Lyndsey! I love Michael Olaf – request a catalog if you don’t have one, because there’s a lot of great text besides the wonderful items.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Ruth said at January 31st, 2012 at 6:31 pm :

    Thanks for your post! My husband and I have just set up a Montessori nursery for our 7 month old daughter. While we love how quickly her skills are advancing, she seems to be up half the night playing and is now cranky. Last night she was awake from 10-1 and would not stay in her bed as she was trying to learn to crawl. Have any advice?

  • Lori Bourne said at January 31st, 2012 at 6:35 pm :

    Hi, Ruth! Sorry, I don’t have much advice for that. To be honest with you, I did not put my kids on a mattress on the floor – they slept in a crib. I felt it was safer.

    I’m guessing that you should control the environment as much as possible – remove toys and other distractions and keep the room pretty dark. Otherwise, she will probably get used to it. There’s always a transition period when making a change like that.

  • Deb said at February 19th, 2012 at 3:35 pm :

    This is exactly what I was looking for! Thank you so much for this useful post!

  • Lori Bourne said at February 19th, 2012 at 3:57 pm :

    You are very welcome!

  • Bethany said at March 4th, 2012 at 6:53 pm :

    love this! came across it while searching for floor bed options for my 8 month old. Any suggestions on creating a safe environment in baby’s room? My biggest obstacle is cords..for his lamp and ihome…

  • Lori Bourne said at March 4th, 2012 at 7:10 pm :

    Hi, Bethany! All furniture in the room should be secured to the wall with tip-resistant kits (available online or at baby stores). The lamp cord should be then be tucked behind a dresser, bookcase, etc.

  • Bethany said at March 7th, 2012 at 6:10 am :

    Thank you! I’m so excited to get started and thrilled to be able to lay next to him to get him to sleep and then slip away. First step – disassembling the crib. 🙂

  • Batit said at April 25th, 2012 at 9:03 am :

    Thank you so much! This is really helpful.

  • RE said at May 28th, 2012 at 9:33 am :

    I wonder how to incorporate these ideas once your infant is crawling and pulling up? My son is 9 mo old. I would live to have more ideas:)

  • Lori Bourne said at May 28th, 2012 at 9:47 am :

    Hi! This blog has a ton of ideas and pictures about that: Sew Liberated – Montessori Posts. Scroll down to earlier posts for lots of info.