Every once and awhile the universe drops a little gift in your lap, like a great, big neon arrow directing you to exactly what you need (even if you didn’t know you needed it). Somewhere in the fray of birthday excitement, sleepless nights, and lots and lots of work, a game-changer came my way by way of Mothering.com. One restless night as I browsed the Community page I saw a phrase that has since inspired a revolution in our house: Montessori floor bed. The very next day I dismantled our family bed, placing the twin mattress on the floor between the queen and a wall, and excitedly explained to Coraline that this was her bed. She took to it immediately, crawling right up and proceeding to climb from “her bed” onto ours and back down again, over and over and over. It’s been three nights and while I spend at least half the night on the floor with her (I’m still nursing after all), some pretty exciting changes are happening. Like yesterday, Coraline crawled up onto the bed with her blanket when she was ready for her nap. And this morning, I got to take my time waking up while Coraline played with her toys on the floor. Things just feel more relaxed. I have every faith that this simple adjustment will make our transition from co-sleeping full-time (and maybe even night weaning) that much smoother.
Montessori is a teaching philosophy developed by Maria Montessori in the early 20th century. While it has many facets, the overarching theme is self-directed learning. The Montessori learning environment — at home or at school — is stimulating and organized, one where the child has the freedom to choose their activities and can manipulate their surroundings with minimal assistance from adults. The whole bed on the floor thing actually makes a lot of sense for a baby who is just starting to crawl or walk — when they want to get up they get up, and if they want to lie down, they lie down. They can be the king (or queen) of their castle.
You may be thinking, “It’s a mattress on the floor — what’s the big deal?” (Or perhaps you’re just thinking “Duh.”) But it’s not just the bed that excites me, but the creation of an environment where your little one can navigate safely and independently, which means a lot less stress for you, and maybe some developmental boosts for them.
Here are some of the trademark elements of a Montessori nursery:
Floor bed A mattress on the floor offers your baby and toddler not only access to their bed, but access to their room when they don’t want to be in bed. The “sleep training” that goes along with a floor bed is very hands-off. The idea is that the child will put themselves to sleep when they’re ready; if you say it’s bedtime but they’re not quite ready, you can be sure that they are safe and will put themselves to sleep when they are tired. Whether or not Maria Montessori would agree with Ferber is perhaps another blog entirely.
Kid-sized furniture and easily accessible toys While no one would ever suggest that a baby should be able to take care of itself, most parents of mobile infants and toddlers would agree that their little one exhibits a strong desire to explore and interact — it’s just what they do. The more they have readily available to them, the easier it is for them to act on their developmental impulses. By outfitting the room with pint-sized things — small chairs, a kiddie table, low bookshelves, art at toddler eye level — you’re giving your child options, empowering them with an environment where they can do some things for themselves.
Baby-proofing Crawl around the room and try to think from a little one’s perspective — plug any outlets, stabilize any questionable furniture, keep breakables out, put a gate across the door, and remove any choking or suffocating hazards like pillows or window blinds. If there is nothing that poses a threat to your child in their room, there is no reason why you can’t leave them in there unsupervised for short periods of time. This is particularly helpful if your little one is resistant to cribs, playpens, or other confining environments — in their room, happily engaged, they may not even notice you walked away.