Montessori is an educational method that encourages independence. Using Montessori techniques with your baby is easier than you might think. Learn what Montessori is, why it benefits babies, and ways to apply this educational approach, including in your baby's playtimes.
Montessori is an approach to education that focuses on play and independent exploration. You don't need to take your child to a Montessori school for them to enjoy the benefits of Montessori. In fact, you don't even need to wait until preschool to start using Montessori methods.
A child's first three years are key to development, and children at this age are ready to absorb everything around them, so they're in a unique position to benefit from Montessori. You can start using Montessori methods with your baby now, during their playtimes.
Today, we'll break down what Montessori is, why it's beneficial for babies, and how to apply this educational approach in your baby's playtimes and beyond.
What is Montessori?
The Montessori philosophy is named after its founder, Italian physician Maria Montessori. Maria Montessori believed that children learn better when they choose their own learning activities, and independently work through them. So, the Montessori method focuses on encouraging independence, and on letting children work on and master tasks at their own pace.
A Montessori classroom or play space is intentionally designed with a wide range of age-appropriate, hands-on activities designed to encourage development. These activities may look like standard toys, but they're carefully designed and selected to build foundational skills. After a teacher or parent introduces each activity, children freely select the activities they want to work on. The parent or teacher simply observes the child as they learn and grow.
Why Montessori for Babies?
Babies and toddlers take in everything around them. As Maria Montessori herself put it, babies have "an unconscious absorbent mind," so they don't have to try to learn about new surroundings. They just naturally absorb what they encounter.
Babies' brains are developing at a rapid pace in their earliest years. Montessori builds on that crucial development to lay key foundations for future learning. With these foundations in place, children will be ready to independently and confidently discover the world around them as they keep growing.
Zahra Kassam, internationally trained Montessori teacher and founder of the Monti Kids Montessori program for children 3 and under, explains why Montessori is especially beneficial for babies' and toddlers' brain development: "85% of the brain is formed by age 3. Education is often thought to begin in preschool, but Maria Montessori observed (and modern research has confirmed) that learning begins at birth. Early brain development is the foundation for all future learning as babies establish pathways and patterns of discovery that they will use throughout life."
Learn more about the long term benefits of Montessori for your baby from Monti Kids:
Montessori For Your Baby At Home
Montessori may seem daunting, but using Montessori methods at home with your baby is simpler than you might think. Here are some easy ways to apply Montessori at home. Not all involve toys, but all draw from the roots of Montessori---encouraging independence.
Give baby room to explore and learn body control.
In their first year, your baby is naturally driven to move and learn control of their body. So, an important way to encourage independence is to give them freedom to move. Give baby plenty of time on the floor to move around, in a space where you won't feel like you have to grab or stop them. (Having a safe, 100% baby-proofed room for floor time is key here!)
Also, only put baby in positions they can reach on their own. Let them learn to sit, stand and walk on their own. As much as possible, don't prop them up in a sitting position before they've sat unaided, and don't stand them up before they've first reached a standing position. This is another way to instill confidence and independence!
Select Montessori-style toys for your little one's development stages.
Present your baby with open-ended toys that don't require batteries. They should be made from natural materials, such as wood.
Use toys that encourage baby's development. Watch what skills baby is trying to master, and introduce toys or environmental features to further encourage these skills.
For example, if they're learning to grasp, put rattles within their reach. Or, use slow rolling balls to encourage scooting and crawling, if they show signs that they're about to crawl.
Here are some examples of Montessori toys that work well for babies at different ages and stages of development.
For babies ages 0-3 months: Mobiles in black and white and color, and hanging balls. These encourage visual development and reaching.
For babies ages 4-7 months: Rattles to grasp, safe household objects like wooden spoons (also for grasping), wooden building blocks
For babies ages 8-12 months: Stacking rings, simple shape puzzles (one piece and three piece), "pound the balls" hammer toy, nesting boxes, shape sorters, drawers to open and close, simple musical instruments without batteries, slow rolling balls (to encourage movement like crawling)
(Monti Kids has plenty of examples of Montessori toys, tailored for each stage in a baby's development.)
Designate an open play space where baby can explore and reach the toys on their own.
This can be as simple as a rug on the floor. Even if you don't or can't dedicate a whole room to play, make sure the space is baby-proofed so they can safely explore and move around the whole play space.
Since the Montessori approach is about encouraging independence, place the toys on a low shelf where babies can reach them. At first, this will pique babies' curiosity. Once baby learns to roll, scoot, or crawl, they'll make their way to the shelf and grab a toy on their own.
Give baby plenty of time to play independently. During this time, just watch. Don't show them the "right" way or play with them every time. Instead, let them figure out how to play with a toy on their own, or just move on their own, to encourage independence and confidence. Baby will let you know when they want you to play with them.
Carefully communicate with your baby.
Even if they can't answer back, babies take in everything you say. So, ask them questions and point out surroundings. This shows respect for their understanding and enriches their knowledge of the world around them. This also gets them ready to communicate and respond in detail later on in their life.
Ask questions about what they see and hear. Ex. "Do you see the flowers?" or "Do you hear the dog?"
Use real, accurate and rich language. Point out things using their real names: Ex. oak tree, Golden Retriever, Holstein cow, tulip, marigold, mail truck.
Describe your shared surroundings in great detail. Ex. "Look at the ladybug. It's red with black spots. It's crawling on the leaf." Or "Do you see the marigold? It's yellow and orange with lots of layered petals." Or, "Look out the window. I see green grass, and red and pink tulips. I see a gray squirrel climbing up the maple tree."
Ask baby permission before you do something involving their body. This is another way to show respect and encourage them to respond (such as with a head tilt, gesture, or voiced response). Ask, "May I change your diaper?" Or, "May I put on your shirt?" Or, "May I give you the cheese?"
Especially ask permission before you pick them up. Ask, " You look hungry. May I pick you up to put you in your high chair?" Or, "You look tired. May I pick you up to put you in bed?"
Talk your baby through the steps of a common routine. Ex. "Ok, I'm going to change your diaper. First, I'll take the dirty diaper off…" Or, "Ok, let's get ready to eat the puree. I'm going to get a spoonful…"
Let them know what is happening next in the day. Ex. "We are going to visit Aunt Mary."
Respect baby's early communication.
Responding to and encouraging baby's early attempts to communicate shows respect and helps encourage their communication skills.
Respond whenever baby tries to communicate with you. Also, repeat the sounds they make back to them, and mimic their motions and actions. This helps them learn about conversations and turn-taking.
Respecting communication also involves identifying baby's "yes," like their head tilt, gesture or voices response, when you ask permission to do something.
Key Takeaways for Parents
How to apply Montessori for your baby?
- Give baby space to move around and play independently.
- Select Montessori toys that encourage developmental milestones.
- Communicate the details of your baby's surroundings to your baby.
- Respect baby's early communication.
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