We live in a small two-bedroom condo, which has posed some fun challenges as we work to continually adapt Zachary’s environment to meet his growing needs. One of the four areas that make up a Montessori baby room is the activity area, where the little one has the opportunity to stretch out, roll around, observe mobiles, and play independently. It is a simple set-up, consisting of a low mirror and a thin pad or large rug. A hook or tripod for hanging mobiles is also essential. Eventually, a low bar should be added when baby starts sitting up. There should be one or two low shelves where a few toys are kept.
Our baby’s bedroom is tiny, and the only bare wall is actually a sliding door, so it was impossible to set up an activity area there. Luckily, our bedroom is pretty big, and we’re hoping to turn it into a family room once my husband finishes building the loft that will be our new bedroom. Therefore, it made perfect sense to set up the activity area there, since it will eventually become a place where the whole family can hang out. I should also note that my husband turned one of the walls in this room into a rock climbing wall several years ago, which came in handy during the mirror set-up!
When Zach was a newborn, the activity area was nothing more than a pad, a low mirror attached to the wall, and a hook on the wall from which to hang mobiles. This worked for about 2.5 months, until he started rolling and trying to grab the mobiles. I tried putting a picnic blanket on the floor, but instead of rolling towards his toys, Zach would lay on his tummy and pull the blanket towards him until the toy got close enough to grasp! Sneaky little bugger… We bought a couple of cute and sturdy IKEA rugs, and the problem was solved!
My husband added the low bar that will eventually encourage Zach to pull up and cruise back and forth. He chose copper piping instead of a wooden rod because the bar has to be thin so the baby can grasp it; a wooden bar long enough to cover the amount of mirror space we set up would be too weak. We have a huge length of mirror because we had the space, but one standard mirror (like those that you can put on a door, but placed horizontally) is plenty for a young baby. When you choose the bar, make sure your baby can wrap his fingers around it! We got our mirrors at IKEA; they’ve withstood plenty of banging and were very easy to mount.
The shelves are also from IKEA and they are just the right height so that when Zach starts pulling up he can reach the two upper cubbies. I love to see Zach roll over to the shelves and pull out a toy on his own. Having only a few toys makes it very easy to clean up when he’s done playing; each toy has a permanent spot, and I only rotate out one toy at a time every week or so. We have 5 books available at any one time, and we also rotate those out every two weeks with other books that are kept in his room. (Note how my husband used to bar to stabilize the shelving unit so it wouldn’t topple over.)
The toys we have out right now are not necessarily “Montessori” toys (if such a concept even exists), but they are all toys that have an intelligent purpose and satisfy Zach’s current interests. A few of the items Zach explores right now actually belong to toys that are designed for older children. I’ve offered the part of the toy that Zach currently finds interesting and put away the part that he’ll be into later. For example, we have several wooden geometric solids that go into a hexagonal container. He’s too young to be interested or capable of inserting the shapes into the corresponding holes, but he loves to take them out their basket and shake them (they have little beads inside that make them rattle).
These are some other examples of the toys we have out:
- Four fabric rings of different colors, sizes, and textures (these are actually stacking rings, which Zach is not interested in stacking yet, so I haven’t shown him the pole)
- The Takane ball (this ball hung from the wall when Zach was younger, and he developed enormous leg strength from kicking it. Now it helps encourage him to roll and crawl, and is great for him to practice grasping and hand-to-hand transfer.)
- The geometric solids (I found a great basket for them at a thrift store and made a liner out of an old felted woolen sweater.)
- Stacking/nesting cups (I only set out three cups right now for Zach to explore. He’s not really interested in nesting or stacking yet; he’s currently happy to explore them with his mouth.)
- The Squish (This is another great rolling toy that’s also perfect for grasping and has a lovely rattling sound.)
- A rattle (Our wooden Haba rattle is actually quite heavy, so it’s a great workout for him, especially now that he’s using wrist motion instead of just whole arm motion.)
There’s also a ring with a bell hanging from a string and an elastic; Zach loves to pull on and let go because the ring bounces back and makes a jangling sound against the copper bar. Sometimes I hang the Takane ball from there, as a variation. We have a bead maze that he’s too young to really play with, but it’s too large to store and he does roll towards it to inspect it sometimes.
Not surprisingly, Zach’s favorite activity right now is simply moving. If I leave him in his activity area and return five minutes later, I will find him halfway across the bedroom. He wants to explore and he’s trying to figure out how to crawl, so toys are of secondary importance to him right now.
We recently had two 13-month twins over for a visit. It was amazing to see them being sucked in to the activity area. They were delighted by a space that was just for them and spent a long time exploring. They especially loved the bead maze and the Takane ball (which was hanging at that time). Their parents commented on how peaceful and orderly the environment seemed, and how in contrast, the toys they had at home were “positively ADD-inducing” (these were the mom’s words, not mine!).
Our room is almost completely baby-proofed in preparation for Zach’s crawling stage. It makes me happy to think that he’ll be able to crawl from his room to ours when the sliding door is open, so he’ll have a large area in which to move, explore, and play independently.