Long before I became a mother I worked as a Montessori Teacher, working with children ages 3 to 6. It isn’t something that I always knew I wanted to do. I more or less stumbled upon it. After graduating from college with a degree in Psychology I had little direction and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. One of the first jobs I got out of school was at a small Montessori school in Ann Arbor working as a teacher’s assistant. It was love at first sight. I loved the room, the materials, the philosophy, the way the children moved through the classroom freely, all of it. Before long I had my AMS certification and was leading my own classroom. I knew that this way of educating children was something I wanted to do with my own little ones upon having them. But apparently I dropped the ball…
When you are pregnant for the first time you spend a lot of time reading about, well, being pregnant – symptoms to expect, baby’s development in utero, what to look forward to at your prenatal appointments, etc. Then eventually you read about labor and delivery. All of this preparation leading up to having a baby but I somehow forgot to read about life with a baby. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did read up on things to expect in terms of development, milestones, and things to look out for health wise. But how did I forget to read about how to incorporate the Montessori philosophy into our home? I have no idea.
It wasn’t until Leo was about two-months-old that I checked out a book from the library entitled Montessori from the Start – The Child at Home, from Birth to Age Three by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen (Lillard wrote this book with her daughter, but she has other books on Montessori covering infants through adulthood). Halfway through the book I wanted to completely overhaul half the house. You see, I knew that I wanted to provide a home environment for Leo that gave him as much independence as I safely could. I knew that I wanted to provide developmentally appropriate materials for him to use that would encourage the development of his concentration, coordination (both gross and fine), independence, confidence, and sense of order. But one thing I did not know how to do was how to set up “The Nest”, or a Montessori Infant (bed)Room.
You see, I’m a planner, a list maker, a doer, and I really wanted to make sure Leo’s room was ready by Christmas (even though he wasn’t due until March). What we ended up with was a traditional looking nursery – crib, dresser/changing table, recliner, and a small bookcase. It looked very cute and at the time I was very pleased but it was not an ideal room for, say, a six-month-old who had just mastered crawling or my now almost eight-month-old who is pulling up on anything he can reach.
Every month or so starting when Leo was about two-months-old I have changed something around the house or in his room to make our home more baby friendly. I took out the bookcase and replaced it with a low shelf that is safer and made Leo’s toys more accessible to him. I rearranged the main room so that there is ample floor space for a baby to roll and crawl. I placed a second shelf in the main room for Leo so he can choose his own toys to play with instead of me bringing out a few baskets of toys from his room that he may or may not be in the mood for. But over the past month or so I’ve finally started to take real strides in what I like to call “The Montessorification of our Home”.
Making our home more baby friendly was the first of many steps. Providing open spaces for him to roll and crawl, getting low shelves for his toys so he can actually get things from them himself, and of course general baby-proofing (outlet covers, cabinet and drawer locks, assessing rooms for tipping hazards, etc.). These were just the first steps. What I really needed to do was my homework. First, I went ahead and purchased the book I mentioned eariler, Montessori from the Start – The Child at Home from Birth to Age Three. I looked for it about a month after returning it to the library but it was literally checked out for the rest of summer and into fall and I’m too lazy to bother with putting books on hold. Some books are worth buying and this was one of them. Next, I read up on Baby-led Weaning as Leo was starting solids so I could provide him with the opportunity to be independent with regards to feeding himself. We made the switch to cloth diapers (finally) after receiving much needed advice from other like-minded parents. Then, I started reading the following blogs: How We Montessori, The Kavanaugh Report, and This Merry Montessori. These moms are amazing and their blogs are so well organized and easy to follow. They are great resources for any parent interested in providing a Montessori environment for their children at home.
After weeks of reading I decided on a few materials to invest in that I thought would be good for babies in the 6 to 18 month range: Stacking Rings, a Skwish, Nesting Dolls, Crochet Rattles (by Wonderfully Crafted on Etsy), Rainbow Blocks, a Shape Sorter, a Bead Maize, a wooden drum, more baskets, and a bag of Montessori-inspired baby toys that I found on Amazon (egg/cup, peg/cup, rattle, teething ring, and teething beads). I also made some color bottles using water and food coloring and some shakers using empty Gatorade bottles and dried goods we had in the pantry (rice, lentils, pasta, etc.). I set up the shelf in our main room and in his room so that he was able to get things off of them easily. I also added a basket of books to each space as opposed to having his board books on the shelf. We already had a basket of Plan Toys’ rattles that I purchased a while ago, some small pumpkins, a basket of percussion instruments (tambourine, clapper, and maraca), some stacking cups, and some stuffed animals. All of these items are not out at once. Some materials won’t come out until later, like the nesting dolls and shape sorter. Some are stored in his closet along with some other toys I have saved for later (animals, blocks, legos, etc). There is just enough out between the two shelves to keep him busy.
Over the past month I have also made the following physical modifications to our home. I installed a standup bar and mirror in our main room so Leo can practice pulling up and cruising. He can also have fun playing in the mirror and gains a new perspective of our home.
I also rearranged his room and took out some furniture that was no longer safe to have for a baby learning how to stand. And finally, I dismantled his crib, stored it in the garage, and put his mattress on the floor.
The first day in his new room was an exciting one. He was so excited he couldn’t sleep! He went down for his morning nap only to wake up twenty minutes later after he rolled out of bed. I tried laying down with him but when he realized the new found freedom he had it was game over. He literally crawled over me to explore. So I put a baby gate up and let him have at it while I watched him on the monitor. I’m sure it will take a few days, weeks even, for him to get used to sleeping on his new floor bed but I know the changes to his space will be beneficial in the long run in term of helping him develop his sense of independence.
There are still things we will add to or change around the house over the next few years to make it more accomodating for a toddler. First up is a walker. There are a few I have my eye on but I am trying to wait until the end of the month so I can capitalize off of the Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals. I also would like to get him a small table and chair for both the main room and his room. I want to get him a climber, like the Pikler Triangle, so he has a safe place to climb indoors. Eventually the dresser will come out his room and will be replaced with a small wardrobe that will allow Leo to be more independent when it comes to dressing himself. And there are small modification we will make to his bathroom so he can be more independent in there are well (step stool, low hooks, etc.).
When I first started on this journey I was very disappointed in myself. Why didn’t I do this from the beginning? Why didn’t I design Leo’s room like this from the start? Why didn’t I read up more on Montessori at home or Montessori for infants and toddlers when I was pregnant? All of these questions I kept asking myself. But the truth is, motherhood is a journey, not a destination. For the most part you just figure it out as you go along. And no matter how much you research, plan, and prepare, there will always be something you didn’t know or wish you would have done sooner. I am just glad I am finally able to provide Leo with the type of home environment I knew I always wanted him to have.