How can you be Montessori with young infants? They can’t complete works or play safely with small objects. They can’t bring works to a table or roll up a work rug. They are not ready to develop independence or self-care skills. What can you do with a newborn?
Luckily, Montessori is more than just an educational method to be followed in a classroom. Montessori is a way of life, an understanding of the whole child, and a desire to help the child to develop every part of herself.
Let’s start with some general room set-up ideas, then we’ll dive into how to interact with your infant to allow her to develop to her fullest potential.
Montessori Infant Environments
Montessori infant bedrooms are quite different from the mainstream nursery photographs people swoon over on Pinterest. For example, Montessori infants usually sleep on a floor bed rather than in a crib. Even for newborns, this allows for greater space for freedom of movement during the night — and mobile infants will be able to climb into and out of bed independently. Because a floor bed enables freedom of movement, there are times when the infant is awake and unsupervised in her room. This means that everything in the room needs to be completely safe and secured to the walls — all furniture, wall hangings, etc. You can read more about Montessori Infant Bedroom set-ups by clicking the picture above.
Similarly, diaper changing practices are a bit different for Montessori infants. In our home, we had a changing pad set up on the floor of the bathroom. That way, the child can crawl onto the changing pad by herself. Once the child can stand, change most of her diapers standing up. This allows her to be part of the diapering process — invite her to first get a new diaper, open it, and had it to the adult. Soon she can start helping to pull her pants down and take off her own diaper, and then pull her pants back up when you are finished. You can read more about ideal Montessori infant bathroom set-ups by clicking the picture above.
If you visit a Montessori Infant classroom, you will find that there are no “containers.” That is, there are no cribs, playpens, pack n plays, bouncers, walkers, or anything that you would put a child IN. This is because Maria Montessori studied the value of freedom of movement in the development of the young child. Even the youngest infant moves in some way — beginning with stretches, kicking her feet, turning her head from side to side. Making sure that your child is not restricted in her movements allows her to develop to her highest potential physically. In the classroom, you will find floor beds, soft mats on the floors, soft areas to climb and explore. At home, you can provide the same experience, but you need to do it in a safe way.
For non-mobile infants, provide a safe, comfortable place to lay on the floor, such as on a topponcino. Secure a mirror on the wall right beside your topponcino, and hang a mobile above.
Once your infant is mobile, she will have free range of the house, so you need to make sure it is completely safe. Put fragile things on high shelves and make sure there are plenty of things available that your child is allowed to touch. If you are not available to follow your infant around all day, block off dangerous areas that require supervision (such as stairs).
Walkers really don’t do much for your child developmentally. There have been studies that they may actually impede your child’s physical development. Instead, get a push walker, like this one. These provide the support needed for early walking while allowing your child to gain confidence in her new movement.
One of the things you can do with a very young infant is very simple, yet may feel awkward at first — talk to her! About anything — your day, your hopes and dreams for her, what you’re picking up at the grocery store — the possibilities are endless. This provides the social interaction your young infant yearns for and begins an introduction to language before she can even engage in it. It may make you feel silly — walking through a store and talking to somebody who can’t respond feels strange at first. However, the more you do it, the more natural it will become.
One of the best things you can do for your youngest infant is read to her. In addition to helping with her language development, this can instill a love for books that can last a whole lifetime.
Many children’s books incorporate rhyming and have a certain rhythm to the words, which infants love to hear! Choose books with simple pictures for your youngest infants, and books with more complex pictures and words for older children.
You can also sing to your young infant — any song you know! Many children’s songs incorporate body parts or movements into them, which introduce your child to the names of things. However, your baby loves just hearing your voice, so you could sing anything to her and she will stare at you in awe as if you are the greatest opera singer. Singing grows your bond with your infant at the same time as introducing vocabulary, music, and rhythm.
Young infants have no independence or control over their own actions. They are constantly being picked up and put down, often with no warning of the change to come. One of the ways you can begin to prepare your infant for developing independence with her body is to talk to her about what you are doing. When you are going to pick her up, say, “I’m going to pick you up now!” Even the youngest infant can begin to understand that there is about to be a change, but the warning helps them to feel safe. When your infant is a little older, she can lift her arms up to you when you say you are about to pick her up, beginning to take an active part in the process. One of the things I learned in my Montessori training that really stuck with me is that you never approach a young child from behind and pick them up when they can’t see you. Imagine how scary that would be if it were to happen to you as an adult! It is no less jarring for a young infant, so show them the same respect you would expect for yourself — move to where they can see you approaching, and use your words to tell them what is about to happen.
Telling a young infant what you are about to do also lays an important foundation in language development, as you are exposing your child to new words along with the concrete representation of what they mean. When you are changing your child’s diaper, rather than giving her a toy to occupy herself with, talk to her about the process of diaper changing. Tell her exactly what you are doing. Name her body parts as you are dressing her. This involves her in the care process, leading to greater interest in self-care when she has the motor skills that are necessary to take part.
While I’m sure some Montessori purists would debate me on this, there’s no one perfect way to approach the issue of feeding with infants. You can find Montessorians who use many different methods — from breastfeeding through the toddler years, to baby-led weaning, and everything in between! I won’t tell you which way is best, because there is no “best” way that works for everyone. You might have it in your head that you’re going to approach feeding a certain way, only for your infant to inform you that she’s absolutely not doing that.
Really, the best way to approach feeding is to think about your child’s needs and preferences (and those she expresses while you’re testing out all the feeding options) and those of your entire family.
Many Montessori families begin with a weaning table and chair — one that young toddlers will be able to get into and out of by themselves once they are mobile.
Our family uses these Stokke high chairs that fit at our regular dining table. The child can still get into and out of them by herself, but we are all at the table together — a value that was important for our family. (There’s also an infant attachment you can get to keep your infant safely strapped in but still pushed up to your regular table).
Some young infants are super interested in feeding themselves, and they’ll literally begin taking the spoon right out of your hands. Others couldn’t care less. Follow your own child!
The one thing I would say is universally the “Montessori” way to do it is to use a weaning glass rather than a sippy cup. Choose a small glass (like a shot glass) — something that’s a bit heavy to slow down your infant’s movements with it. When you are first introducing a glass of water, pour in just the smallest amount. Your infant will make a mess with it at first — but within a few months, she’ll be downing those drinks like a pro.
While most of your Montessori infant’s “activities” are simply participation in regular daily life, you may also want to prepare some Montessori-inspired activities for her. Click the pictures below to find out more about how to put together each of the following activities. Keep in mind that those age guidelines are simply that — guidelines.
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