By Julia Niego
“The proper environment of the soul is one in which an individual can move about with eyes closed and find, simply by reaching out his hand, anything he desires. Such an environment is necessary for peace and happiness."
- Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood
In this four-part series, early childhood educational therapist and Montessori mom, Julia Niego, details how to set up each room in your home to create a warm, Montessori-inspired environment where your little one can thrive. First up: the bedroom.
Five years and a lifetime ago I was eagerly waiting to welcome my son into our home. Like so many parents I had painstakingly poured over colors, patterns and styles to blend with our own household aesthetic. And I had read the long list of products I was told I would need: seats, chairs and swings all with straps to hold baby in, cribs that could be lowered to keep baby behind bars, gates and locks to keep him confined to the spaces deemed safe.
Having studied the baby brain and taught for a decade in a Montessori-inspired preschool, this ran counter to what I knew and I began to rethink and question. Armed with a copy of Montessori From The Start by Lillard and Jessen—an invaluable resource—I set an intention to create space within my home that would truly welcome my baby into our home as a new member of the family.
The prepared environment is the foundation of the Montessori approach and from it the Montessori-at-home approach has evolved. The premise is clear: by setting up our home environment in a conscious way we have the opportunity to provide a natural structure within which our child is given freedom to explore our home as a respected citizen, and in doing so to practice and build skills, develop clear expectations about their world and to establish independence.
So how do we intentionally set up our homes to be an environment that matches our child’s needs on a mental, emotional and physical level?
I have undertaken this project as a working mother in the bustle of New York City—and in a New York sized apartment!—and I can say that it has proven to be a meaningful investigation of what home means to myself and my growing family. What I have found in my own journey, and in guiding other parents to create these spaces, is that the project has unexpected rewards for our own physical, mental and emotional space, allowing us to clear the clutter so that our environment fosters interest and concentration for us as well. In this way the Montessori-inspired approach naturally blends with what we ourselves, as homemakers, see as purposeful, lovely and meaningful.
The guiding principles are simple: the objects that our baby comes in contact with should be representative of the real world, child-sized, displayed beautifully and at their level, with each item having a place.
The first step is to reflect on each room in your house.
- Contemplate the important work and play that happens here.
- Clear clutter and any items that do not have a place.
- Create a child-sized space where your child can participate in practicing the skills of this work in a real and purposeful way.
@honeyfur.montessori.design/repost from @littlemissmama
“We must give the child an environment that he can utilize by himself: …some small chairs, a bureau with drawers he can open, objects of common use that he can operate, a small bed in which he can sleep at night under and attractive blanket he can fold and spread by himself. We must give him and environment in which he can live and play.”
- Maria Montessori, The Child in the Family
I invite you to walk to the doorway of your baby’s bedroom and look in. This is your baby’s first space all their own. It is for sleep, quiet reflection, and calm activities. Does the room support this or, like so many baby nurseries, is it filled with excess toys, books, clothes and blankets?
In the true Montessori approach you would see a simple, clear space. A floor bed—yes, a bed on the floor—would occupy one corner. While not every parent is quite ready for this concept, I do ask parents to consider how a traditional crib, surrounded by bars that continually grow higher to keep baby inside, supports independence when it comes to sleep.
As adults, we go to bed when we are tired and get out when we wake. In the true Montessori-at-home approach, babies are transitioned to a floor bed once they are no longer swaddled and can hold their head up on their own, which is typically around three months of age. Adaptations can include taking the legs off of your baby’s crib and removing one wall, or using the toddler bed variation from an earlier age. This shift allows your baby to learn to scoot in and out on their own as they grow.
@honeyfur.montessori.design/repost from madebycohen.com/au
The classic Montessori baby room does not add much more. An activity area can include a soft surface, with low mirror to invite reflection. A hanging mobile (pictured here is the Munari Mobile) just over the bed encourages calm focus, eye tracking, and first forays into movement. A few pieces of simple art at your child’s level beautify the space. A small selection of toys can be kept on a low shelf or in a basket on the floor. The overall effect should be light, airy and peaceful.
@honeyfur.montessori.design/repost from @fleity1
Rather than stashing your child’s clothes away in adult-sized armoires, consider a low dresser or open closet with a rack and shelves accessible to the child. A few items of seasonally appropriate clothing can be laid out so that your baby can begin to participate in dressing as soon as he or she is ready.
Julia Niego, MS holds a BA in Behavioral Neuroscience from Colgate University, an MS in Neuroscience and Education from Columbia University/Teacher’s College, and professional certification as an Educational Therapist through University of California Riverside. Over the past decade she has founded and developed curricula for Montessori preschools, directed a local network of Montessori-at-home playgroups, and consults on progressive approaches as the founder of Neuleaph Child & Brain, LLC. She continues to pursue her fascination for the intersection of early learning and the child brain, and draws deeply on the Montessori approach as an early childhood educational therapist with a private neurospychologically-based tutoring organization in NYC.