The Realities of a Floor Bed (i.e. You don’t always get to call the shots with a Montessori child)

This week, Zach came to the exciting realization that he could transport himself across a room.  Using a combination of army crawling, slithering, and rolling, he covers the span of his bedroom in mere seconds.  His new-found ability has made me appreciate the genius of the floor bed even more, but it has also reminded me that nature is in charge here, not me.

Yesterday we had to go to L.A. for the first half of the day, so poor Zach basically spent 5 hours in a car seat (mostly asleep).  Needless to say, by his 7pm bedtime he was just not tired.  I tried to put him to bed as usual to see if he would get sleepy, but instead he threw a fit.  After I tried to calm him down a couple of times, my husband decided to go hang out with him.  He didn’t really interact with him or even turn on the light in his room; he just laid down by Zach’s bed and observed him.  This calmed Zach and he decided that he wanted to go exploring for a while.  He wriggled off his bed and made his way across the room; for almost an hour he babbled to himself while happily trashing his room investigating the contents of his cubbies.

I observed all this from the hallway and when I saw that he began to show indications of being tired (rubbing his eyes and yawning), we told him it was time to sleep, put him back on his floor bed, and left the room.  He didn’t utter a peep and slept through the night.

Today, he went to the pool with my husband and came back an hour after the “official” start of his nap time (he’s usually up for two hours before needing a nap).  I fed him lunch and put him in bed, but since he was over-tired he became hyperactive and didn’t want to sleep.  I heard him rolling around in his room and pulling out his toys.  He played for about 30 minutes on his own, and then another 10 with me when I went into his room to see if he was getting tired.  I eventually noticed signs of sleepiness, so I changed his diaper and put him back onto his bed.  He again fell asleep without a single complaint.

On a floor bed, the baby decides when he’s good and ready to take a nap, but this might not be on the parents’ schedule.  The floor bed allows the baby to satisfy his need for independence, freedom of movement, and the development of the will – three essential pillars of the Montessori philosophy.  Let’s see what Dr. Montessori has to say on these topics in The Absorbent Mind (note how all three concepts inter-relate and consider how they apply to the floor bed) :

She points out why it’s essential to respect the child’s quest for independence:

“In nature’s language, the word ‘create‘ does not just mean, ‘make something‘; it means that what has been made must also be allowed to function. It follows that the child can only develop fully by means of experience on his environment. The child who has extended his independence by acquiring new powers, can only develop normally if left free to exert those powers.  The child develops by the exercise of that independence which he has gained. If, therefore, what we mean by education is to help the child’s developing life, we can only rejoice each time he shows us that he has reached a new level of independence.  So, the first thing his education demands is the provision of an environment in which he can develop the powers given to him by nature.  His impulses are so energetic that our usual response is to check them.  But, in doing this, we are not really checking the child but nature herself, for the child’s will is in tune with hers, and he is obeying her laws one by one.” 

She goes on to discuss the role of movement in mental development:

“One of the greatest mistakes of our day is to think of movement by itself, as something apart from the higher functions.  When mental development is under discussion, there are many who say, ‘How does movement come into it?  We are talking about the mind.’  And when we think of intellectual activity, we always imagine people sitting still, motionless.  But mental development must be connected with movement and be dependent on it.  Movement has great importance in mental development itself, provided that the action which occurs is connected with the mental activity going on.  Watching a child makes it obvious that the development of his mind comes about through his movements.  The muscles directed by the brain are called voluntary muscles, meaning that they are under the control of the will, and will power is one of the highest expressions of the mind.”

She then addresses the concept of the will:

“In the little child’s life, as soon as he makes an action deliberately, of his own accord, [the evolutionary force of life] has begun to enter into his consciousness.  What we call his will has begun to develop, and this process continues henceforward, but only as a result of experience.  Hence, we are beginning to think of the will not as something inborn, but as something which has to be developed and, because it is a part of nature, this development can only occur in obedience to natural laws.  Under proper conditions, the will is a force that impels activities beneficial to life.  Nature imposes on the child the task of growing up, and his will leads him to make progress and to develop his powers.  Conscious will is a power which develops with use and activity.  Its development is a slow process that evolves through a continuous activity in relationship with the environment.”

In a nutshell, the floor bed helps the child independently move at will.

Isn’t it amazing to think that a simple mattress on the floor can be such a POWERFUL tool for supporting a child’s development?

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26 thoughts on “The Realities of a Floor Bed (i.e. You don’t always get to call the shots with a Montessori child)

  1. Such a great post!! I really appreciate your research and backing information for this and other subjects you cover. I have yet to read any literature on Montessori other than your blog and what I have learned from Michael Olaf’s website and books/catalog’s. It’s not ideal but I am just starting out and am limited, and that’s why I like how thorough you are. This life seems very natural to me and achievable even if I don’t have a lot of “things” to help me out. I am looking forward to finding some of the books you have mentioned in your earlier post and getting more of a game plan for our future. I was not raised with this lifestyle and find myself battling instincts that would fit more into the controlling category. You have a great way of reminding me how to tackle these little things and to get out and learn more !! Also I am just about to introduce my daughter to her floor bed so thank you for the heads up and little trick to stave off the overtiredness and feel confident about it!

    1. I just close the door to his room because we have a sliding door connecting his room to ours so I can access it from there if Zach is blocking the main door (and he’s done that a couple of times). Some people put a baby gate at the door, and that can work well; I would do that if we only had one door. Once he starts crawling in earnest (and not just wriggling/rolling/army crawling) I will decide what to do about the stairs. I want to see what he does when he encounters stairs, but it’s too early yet. Right now the entire area of his bedroom and our bedroom/his activity area is baby-proofed so he can go from his room to ours when the sliding door is open.

  2. Very wonderfully written! I am excited to get the new babyroom ready in the next few months with a floor bed. I look forward to your future posts.

  3. I am so inspired to try this with my next child (I’ve got a bun in the oven now). I’m collecting inspiration and good practices on my Pinterest boards, and would like to pin from your site. I see you have a pin it icon, however without an image it does not work.

  4. I love the idea of the floor bed, but how did you encourage your son to actually fall asleep on it? I nurse my son and while he loves the independence of the floor bed already at only 4 months, he will begin crying after awhile and will only fall asleep if I pick him up and nurse him agian. I’d love to make it work, but am unsure as to how to help him actually fall asleep there!

    1. Hi Letty, Zach didn’t fall asleep on his own until around 5-6 months of age. Before that time, I would nurse him to sleep, and slowly, gradually, I began putting him down right before he would fall asleep. There was some crying, but I would go back and pat his bottom until he drifted off. And eventually he didn’t even need the patting anymore. It’s a process, it doesn’t happen overnight, but it works. I think the key is letting your baby know with your actions that you’re there when they need you, but that their bed is a safe place in which to rest. I hope that helps. 🙂

  5. My daughter is having her first child and wanting to do the floor bed,etc. However, I’m wondering about how their two dogs will respond? Their dogs currently sleep with them. I just know sometimes dogs can see infants as intruders, and having the infant and the bed so accessible concerns me. Has anyone else had this issue?

    1. Hi Molly, yes, one of our dogs always wanted to curl up in my son’s bed, but we just had to have firm limits with the dog, like with any other member of the family! She figured it out… Also, we started crating the dogs at night, and our limit was that the dogs couldn’t enter the room when the baby was there.

  6. I’m all about the freedom of movement and benefits that go along with it, but my crawling five month old keeps bumping his head on walls, furniture, and the floor. I’ve accepted that he doesn’t always want to stay in his floor bed, but I am worried about him really hurting himself. HELP!

    1. I feel your pain, Melissa. At that point, it’s all about padding. 🙂 We put up crib bumpers on the walls around his bed and soft blankets on the wood floor, as well as corner protectors on furniture. This phase passes quickly as they develop better coordination and awareness. Do what you can, follow your gut!

  7. I just learned about this and it sounds wonderful, however, my son is 11 months and he still sleeps in his pack and play in our room since I still nurse him at night. We were planning to do the transition to his room early next year and we have a crib setup for it, but I’m now rethinking it. Even more now that he’s climbing on everything and I’m afraid he’d be able to get out of the crib soon which would be terrible.
    First of all, is it possible to start this with a kid as old as a year? Secondly… do you make sure there aren’t any objects the kid can climb on in the room, I don’t think I’d feel safe it there were? Seems hard for us as we have a big book case and his dresser with changing table and a cabinet in there we’d have difficulties finding other places for and most people I know dont have a lot of space so guessing we can’t be the only ones with that issue.
    I’m very curious to how this would work since my kid always fights naps and not sure he’d ever go down if he can be out and discover his surroundings. But I love the idea of letting him be independent like this.
    Sorry for the long post, like I said, this is completely new to me 🙂

    1. Hi Anna, yes, the floor bed can work for an older child but yes, you have to make sure his environment is conducive to a floor bed. We have the tiniest condo and not a lot of space, but we moved all the furniture out of his room and into the basement and a storage unit – it was THAT important for us!

      The thing about the floor bed is that you can’t contain your child, so if he doesn’t want to nap, he doesn’t want to nap! There are reasons they don’t want to nap: maybe he hates the crib or knows he will wake up cooped up, which is upsetting to him. With a floor bed, you have to accept that the child will sleep on his schedule, not yours. For us, the limit was: you can roam around your room during naptime, but you can’t leave the room. He often got bored and fell asleep, because the objects in his room aren’t very stimulating (on purpose).

      If he’s fighting nap, you might also check if he’s not getting enough physical activity, or if there’s too much sugar sneaking into his diet…

      I hope all this helps, you can also visit the blog at http://www.voilamontessori.com to read a couple of posts about the floor bed.

  8. We’ve been using a floor bed with our 14.5-month old for just over a month now. We’re living abroad in a one-bedroom apartment temporarily, so we are all in the same bedroom (we’ve also put our mattress directly on the floor). Unfortunately, our son has recently started getting up to play at 3:30 or 4:00am, when he normally wakes for a feed; he’ll nurse and then scramble to get free. A few nights ago we let him play for a while (he was crying when he tried to keep him in bed) in the living room with the lights out, and he eventually was ready to go back to bed. Last night we wouldn’t let him out of bed (I sat at the end of his bed and blocked his way) and he cried and screamed and cried and screamed (we’ve never done cry-it-out with him). We’re considering abandoning the Montessori bed if this keeps up.

    How do you handle a child getting out of bed in the middle of the night?

  9. Would love to hear answer to above because we have done floor bed since birth but now out 10mth old is crawling out at afternoon nap time. The couple of times she has missed out on afternoon naps have become hellish afternoons for me, who is sole parenting and working from home. She gets crazy tired and cranky and does not do well at all. Today, for the first time ever, I had to turn her bed around so that she couldn’t get out. She fell asleep after some protesting but it goes against everything I have done in regards to the floor bed. I just don’t know what to do. I know she still needs two naps. I just know my baby and she wasn’t a natural sleeper, I had to do a lot to help her to sleep. A very overtired and grumpy baby is not what will work for her or me and the floor bed is doing it. I even reduced the first nap so that she would comfortably fall asleep for her second nap. Alas it didn’t work.
    So now, first time in her life, she is restricted in bed! I’m really upset but I don’t know what else to do. I guess I can leave her to play in her room with only 2 toys but what about her sleeping bag? If anyone is there, please help!

  10. Wonderful article! Thanks for posting. I’m so excited and fortunate to say that although I’m now a mother, I was raised in a Montessori environment and attended a Montessori school until my late teens. I loved my childhood and was very successful in school and I feel that much (most!) credit is due to the Montessori style of raising and teaching. On a different note pertaining to the article, my son is now one year old and beautifully independent. However, we’ve regretfully been using a crib for the past month or so (we had been co-sleeping until then). I just am not a fan of the crib as he moves around wildly all night and I just don’t feel that it fits his needs. Is it too late to introduce a floor mattress?

    1. Hi Nikki! It’s never too late, but your expectations have to be in line with your son’s developmental phase. If he’s been in a crib or co-sleeping, the freedom of the floor bed will take a while to get used to. I’m sure he’s walking or at least crawling well, and his newfound freedom will mean that he’ll want to move around his room and explore, so you’ll have to encourage him to return to his bed to sleep. It helps to keep him room “boring”, very few objects that will attract his attention, so he begins to associate it only with sleeping. It will be a process, but in the long run he’ll benefit from your consistency and dedication. I hope this helps!!

      1. That does help! Thank you! I just wanted to make sure it would still benefit him. I’ll try to comment back in a couple months and let you know how it’s going! Again, thanks so much.

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