Ongoing engagement with your baby is the first healthy step towards a strong developmental outcome and doing Montessori with Baby works great for this. In her book, Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain (Dutton; 2015), author Dana Suskind shows the profound power of talking to infants from birth, sharing a methodology that makes parents their baby’s own neuro-developer.
According to unarguable research, the first three years of a child’s life are the most important in terms of development, so Suskind’s work plays right into the case for Montessori at home from the start since it requires a good deal of talking.
The Montessori Method
Developed in the late 1800s by Dr. Maria Montessori, the Montessori method today is a widely accepted instructional system that gives any child more ownership of their learning and environment.
“In traditional education, the teacher stands in the front and leads the class,” says Simone Davies, a Montessori teacher and author of The Montessori Toddler (Dutton; 2019). “In a child-led approach, we let them learn through play and their interests,” she adds.
And learning how to do this with your child can begin as early on as infancy.
Montessori with Baby
1. Create a development-centered nursery
Montessori says that children 3 and younger have an “unconscious, absorbent mind.” Because of this, their environment becomes a part of who they are. Because of the enormous impact of a baby’s environment, you can design a room for them that isn’t just cute, but supports them developmentally, too.
Montessori nurseries are orderly and aesthetically pleasing, Davies says. They are calm, with plenty of open space and, ideally, natural light. Montessori families opt for a floor bed rather than a crib. This allows Baby to see the whole room, with an unobstructed view, and gives him the ability to get in and out of bed on his own once he starts to crawl.
A baby’s play space can simply be a rug or mat on the floor. A wall mirror can provide a mesmerizing touch since babies like to see their reflections. A black and white mobile is generally hung above Baby’s play area, progressing to different colors as Baby gets older.
Montessori nurseries use sturdy low shelving to store toys so Baby can see them and eventually learn to crawl over. Putting things within a child’s reach is one of the ways that Montessori encourages independence all the way through school.
2. Communicate thoughtfully
Here’s where Suskind’s work related to talking a lot merges with Montessori. From birth, infants absorb language. The way you communicate with your infant can have a real impact on their language development, as well as how they perceive themselves.
Here’s how to communicate using Montessori:
- Tell Baby what you’re doing. Even if it seems too early for Baby to understand you, tell her what you’re doing, like when you’re about to change her diaper and talk about each step. Tell her she may be hungry and you’re going to see if she wants some milk. Baby will feel the respect you’re showing her by including her in your actions.
- Ask permission. With Montessori, always ask permission before picking up your baby. Approach Baby from the front so that he can see you, rather than picking him up from behind. You might say, “May I pick you up to bring you to your bed?” Ask questions and wait for a response. You may be surprised at how soon your baby will respond in some way.
- Use real words and details. Using rich language with your baby from birth is a great gift to your child, Suskind says. This is the time when they are listening closely, absorbing all of the language around them. In addition, use real words for everything rather than simplified versions.
There is much more to incorporating Montessori at home with your baby — or toddler — including allowing freedom of movement and supporting independent play. Many books are available; you can also visit a Montessori classroom for a tour to see how the philosophy works for yourself in person!