Montessori Materials

Simple Is Better

egg-and-cupMost commercial toys try to cram a lot of “bang for their buck”. Imagine, with just one toy, your child will be able to learn colors, numbers and shapes! She’ll practice sorting and stacking while listening to classical music, and each time she does it right, the toy will light up and shout out “Good job!”

This sounds like a great toy, right? Wrong! The best toys are the simplest ones… Click here to find out why and watch a short video!

Montessori Materials, Montessori Theory

Environment As Teacher

“The environment itself will teach the child, if every error he makes is manifest to him, without the intervention of a parent or teacher, who should remain a quiet observer of all that happens.”

– Dr. Maria Montessori

Montessori Theory, On Parenting

Letter From Your Baby

Dear caregiver,

I know you have the best intentions.  When you take me to the park and “walk” me by the arms, sit me on the teeter-totter, or send me down the slide, you’re doing it because you want me to have fun.

But here’s the thing: I am a baby.  I am driven by developmental urges you can’t see.  The things I want to do may seem slow and boring to you, but they are exciting and challenging to me.  When you push me to do what you think is fun, you rob me of the opportunity to do what I know is necessary.standing

Believe me, when I’m ready to walk, I will (and you won’t be able to stop me!).
When I’m ready to sit on the teeter-totter, I will (and I won’t want to get off!).
When I’m ready to go down the slide, I will (over and over and over again!).
But right now, I want to crawl. Or stand. Or chew on a stick.
As my friend Maria Montessori wrote:

“The most important [principle] is to respect all the reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them.”

So, please respect me by backing off.  Enjoy your latte.  Bask in the sunshine.  And let me do what I was born to do: become myself.

With love,


Your baby

Montessori Materials, Montessori Theory, On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning

Now You See It…

Welcome to Theory Thursday, where Jeanne-Marie Paynel (from Voila Montessori) and I team up to share our knowledge and love of all things Montessori through text and video!

obj-perm-boxI recently received this question from a client: “My 8-month old freaks out every time I am out of her sight. I can’t even go to the bathroom by myself! What’s going on and how can I help her understand that I’m coming back?”

This is very normal behavior for babies around the second half of their first year of life. They are discovering “object permanence”, which is a fancy way of saying that people and things still exist when they’re out of view. With this new awareness comes a new anxiety in the baby’s mind: they know the person or object still exists, but they don’t know when they will return!

Learn which Montessori material is ideal for this phase of development, and why, by clicking here!


Floor Bed Confidential

It seems like there are two major complaints when it comes to using a floor bed: the baby rolls off while sleeping and/or the baby crawls off to explore the room instead of staying put and falling asleep.  I’ve experienced both situations, and I hope that I can provide some encouragement and realistic expectations for parents going through the same scenarios.  Because the truth is, when used correctly, the floor bed is an amazing tool for supporting your child’s development, both mental and physical.

Before we get to the solutions, let’s discuss the main purposes of the floor bed: encouraging independence, allowing the development of the child’s will, and supporting their need for movement.  A child on a floor bed can get in and out on her own as soon as she can slither, thereby reducing her dependence on adults and increasing her sense of self-reliance.  This experience supports the development of the will, wherein the child formulates a goal, tries different strategies, accomplishes her mission, and feels successful.  And all the while, her need for free movement is being supported, because she can use each skill (focusing her eyes, rolling, slithering, crawling) as soon as she develops it.

Like any other Montessori developmental aid (including mobiles, weaning table & chair, and every single Montessori material), it is important to introduce the floor bed at the right time.  Failure to do so can result in reduced effectiveness and increased frustration for both parent and child.

The best time to introduce the floor bed is a few weeks after birth.  At first, the newborn should sleep in a bassinet that allows unobstructed views of her surroundings.  However, around the time that recognizable sleep patterns are established and before the child is rolling, she should transition to the floor bed.  Each child and each family is different; you can read about how I transitioned my son from the bassinet in our room to the floor bed in his room here.

Transitioning your child at the right time doesn’t mean that you won’t encounter challenges.  Once your baby starts rolling, chances are she’ll probably roll off the floor bed at some point.  This seems like a bad thing, but consider it from your child’s viewpoint: she’s free to move and practice her new skill; she’s developing an awareness of borders (which will come in handy when she navigates stairs and transitions to a “big kid bed”); and she’s experiencing the consequences of moving past those borders.  sleep1

Many families find that a soft rug or blanket placed just next to the floor bed is all that’s needed to cushion the baby’s “fall” (which in reality is not more than a few inches).  Some parents find that they can gently move their baby back to the bed without waking them, while others (like me) prefer to let the baby snooze on the floor.  If your child is particularly active while sleeping (like mine is), and she’s at the stage where she’s able to slither on and off her mattress at will, you can also try placing a rolled towel at the edge of the bed under the fitted sheet, or investing in the wonderful IKEA Kura loft bed (minus the slats, so the mattress rests on the floor).  This set-up won’t hinder a child’s independence as long as you show her how to get in and out, and will provide the support they need to stay on the mattress. Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 8.16.38 PM

The more stressful challenge to parents is when the child starts slithering and decides to move off the bed to explore her room, instead of staying in bed and falling asleep.  While frustrating to adults, we must remember that this is exactly what the floor bed is designed to do – encourage independence and develop the will.  You can read here about what happened when we decided to follow our child’s lead.

The best piece of advice I can give parents who are going through this phase is to keep their child’s room as sparse as possible.  On the shelves the child can reach, place only a few carefully selected items for her to explore and leave them there, always in the same order.  Don’t make the bedroom her activity or play area or feature lots of new and interesting objects at her eye-level, because this will encourage her to get out of bed and go see what’s new.  She will certainly crawl out when she first develops the ability to do so, but once the novelty fades, if there’s nothing new for her to explore in her room she’ll be more interested in resting (because all that slithering and crawling is exhausting!).

Many parents make the transition from crib to a floor bed after the child is slithering or crawling, expect them to just stay put and fall asleep, and feel frustrated when this doesn’t happen.  When a young child is given freedom, she’ll use it to further her development.  She can’t not.  It’s an evolutionary mandate.  If you’ve chosen to give your child the freedom to move, then you can’t be angry at them when they take full advantage of it!  Be patient, provide a predictable routine and clear expectations, and gently re-direct back to the bed as many times as necessary each evening.  I assure you that with consistency and realistic expectations will come success, and your child will reap the long-term benefits of the floor bed!


The One Thing I’ll NEVER Do as a Parent

When I was pregnant, people who knew I was a Montessori guide would say: “Wow, you’re going to be such an amazing mom!” My standard, humble reply was: “I’ll be a mom, like any other mom.”

But deep down inside, I had my list of things I was sure I would NEVER do, buy or use as a parent. That list was long and it was judgemental.

My mom and her best friend took me shopping for baby items. “You’ll need bottles,” they said. Of course not, I’ll breastfeed on demand.

Sippy cups? Waste of money, my child will go from breast to glass.

Pacifiers? My child is not a sink that needs plugging. How would YOU like a piece of plastic inserted in your mouth?

Stroller? I’ll babywear, thank you very much. And I’ll make my own wraps while I’m at it.

Co-sleeping? Goes against the child’s need for independence and will interfere with my marriage!

Puffs? Who would feed their child little bits of cardboard?

Disposable diapers? Only cloth for my child!

You get the picture. And, if you are a parent, you can probably tell what happened next. (You can stop laughing now.)

Zach came into our lives, and my “Never” list went out the window.

No disposable diapers? I was on bedrest for two weeks after giving birth, so they were out of the question until I was able to do laundry. And traveling with cloth? You’ve GOT to be kidding me.

No pacifier? After eight weeks of the “nurse baby until he falls asleep, then unlatch and watch in dismay as baby wakes up, rinse and repeat” routine, I bought five different brands of pacifiers. Zach took a pacifier for three merciful nights, and then started sucking his index and middle finger. Hallelujah, praise the Lord.

No stroller? Sure, I made my own slings and wraps, got an Ergo, and wore my baby religiously (front, side, and back carry) – until he got so freaking heavy that my back started giving out. Now I love our BOB almost as much as I love coffee. And that’s a lot.

No bottles? Zach demanded breast milk ferociously every 90 minutes, day and night, for the first three months of life. I still remember the first day I pumped and was able to leave my baby with my husband for more than an hour while I went to get a haircut. The clouds parted, the angels sang, and I bought stock in Tommee Tippee.

No sippy cups? Because taking IKEA glasses to the park makes perfect sense, right?

No puffs? Take a hungry 99 percentile toddler with no capacity for delayed gratification to a restaurant and you’ll be throwing puffs at him faster than you can say “we’ll take our food to-go”.

No co-sleeping? While Zach has been sleeping in his own room since he was about 6 weeks old, there are plenty of nights (especially when he’s teething or sick) where he’ll come into our room at 2:00am. Thank goodness for king-sized beds, is all I can say.

So, after two years of parenthood, is there anything I will absolutely NEVER do? Yes.

I will absolutely NEVER say never again.


Floor Bed Round-Up

Zachary on his floor bed at 5 months of age.

I’ve been getting a few questions about floor beds, so I thought I’d do a quick round-up of what I’ve written so far and share my experiences… Hope someone finds it helpful!

Floor bed and infant development:

With a floor bed, the child calls (some of) the shots:

Quick overview of sleep arrangements from infancy through toddlerhood:

Transitioning your infant from your room to their own (and from bassinet to floor bed):

Modifications for a toddler who loves to roll: 

If baby rolls off the floor bed:




I absolutely love RIE, an approach to infant care developed by Magda Gerber based on the work of Emmi Pickler.  I found in RIE a simple, practical, and effective path for helping my baby navigate the rough waters of his first years of life.  One of my favorite aspects of RIE is the belief that a child deserves to be treated with the utmost respect and his feelings need to be acknowledged.  Here’s a great article that goes into more detail, courtesy of one of my all-time favorite bloggers, Janet Lansbury.

Since reading about RIE, I have gained a new awareness of young children’s emotions.  Recently, I have noticed several people telling Zachary “It’s ok” or “You’re fine” when he cries after falling down or bumping his head (which happens often, now that my little daredevil is standing upright!).  With his cries, he is most definitely letting us know that he is NOT OK; it’s hard to know if he’s telling us that he’s hurt, scared, or frustrated, but we have a responsibility to acknowledge his message and try to understand it.  Surprisingly, being able to verbalize the situation by briefly “sportscasting” what happened and providing gentle reassurance has made me feel less useless as a parent while my child cries.  I think that’s why most adults say “It’s OK“; we don’t know how to fix the problem, and so we want to make it go away!!

Browsing through Maria Montessori’s book The Child In the Family, I came across this passage and realized that Dr. Montessori had the RIE thing down many decades ago!!

To say to a child who has experienced something unpleasant, “It’s nothing!” serves to confuse him because it negates an impression of his own for which he sought confirmation.  Our participation, on the other hand, gives him the courage to encounter other experiences and, at the same time, shows him how to relate to them.  They must not be denied, or talked about too much, or analyzed too deeply!  A tender and affectionate word is the only consoling response.  Having had this, the child can continue his observations and experiences by himself, freely, and his physical development will benefit greatly.

RIE and Montessori mesh so well together… My child and I have both benefited from the work of these pioneering women and I am so grateful to them!


The Basket of Known Objects

The Basket of Known Objects is one of the most simple and effective Montessori activities for babies.  It promotes exploration, language, sensory development and movement… Best of all, it’s 100% FREE!!

As its name implies, this activity requires placing 4-6 safe objects that you find around the house into a child-sized basket.  It can be introduced around the age of three months, or when you see that your child is beginning to grasp objects.  If your baby can sit up against pillows, you can introduce the basket in a sitting position.  Otherwise, you can place it on the floor next to your child and let him turn towards it.

The main purpose of this activity is to help your child explore the objects in his environment before he’s crawling; it’s like bringing the world to him!  While not a formal language activity, you can eventually introduce the names of the objects by conversing casually with your child as he explores.  However, first give him ample uninterrupted time to explore the basket and its contents.  Now is when you can grab that elusive shower or make dinner!

Our first basket was too big!

When I first introduced the activity to Zach, he was more interested in the basket than in the objects.  This was a little frustrating until I realized that this is the norm with infants; unlike pre-schoolers (with whom I am accustomed to working), babies will spend a long time just exploring the material and its container before engaging in what we would consider the actual purpose of the activity (of course, this exploration is also purposeful and incredibly important because for them, EVERYTHING is new!).

Our Basket of Known Objects has evolved with Zach’s interests (and, I must admit, my creativity).  At first, I chose four random objects (a measuring cup, a teaspoon, a baby food jar and a hand cream jar).  Note that these are real objects from our environment, not plastic toys.  As I moved around the house, I would encounter other items that could be introduced (a bracelet, a small box, a seashell, a coin purse, etc.).  Every few days, I would replace one familiar object in the basket with a new item and then offer the basket again.  We quickly realized that Zach would zero in on the new object.  Every. Single. Time.  Try it and see what your baby does!

When Zach began showing interest in crawling at around 6 months of age, I modified the contents of the basket so that they all rolled.  This provided lots of opportunity for chasing round objects around the living room!

Now that Zach is eight months old and on the verge of understanding language, I’m preparing a new basket, this time with objects that belong to the same category.  I’ve chosen to start with types of brushes – toothbrush, nail brush, hair brush, and basting brush – since that’s what I have around the house.  This activity will provide re-enforcement of the word “brush”, and will help him understand that within the category “brush” there are many types of brushes.

If you choose to offer this activity to your baby, use common sense to make sure all the objects in the basket are safe.  Tightly screw the caps on small bottles and check them often (some people even glue them on); avoid objects that can poke (especially before the child develops good coordination); if you are offering an object made out of glass, don’t leave baby unattended and make sure  he’s exploring on a soft surface away from walls.  If you choose the objects with care, you can leave your baby exploring on his own for as long as he’s interested (sometimes Zach would work with his basket for over 20 minutes).

Have you made a Basket of Known Objects for your baby?  Do you have any suggestions for parents who want to try this activity with their child?  Please share your ideas or experiences in the comments!


He Likes to Move It, Move It…

I had the good fortune of capturing Zach on video while he worked on his gross motor skills. (Please pardon the wonky camera angle; I didn’t want him to know I was filming him.)  I want to share what I recorded because I feel it illustrates several key principles for supporting the development of movement…

Motives for movement: The development of movement is two-pronged.  There is an evolutionary drive to move that comes from within the child, but it must be met in the environment by a reason to move.  Fortunately, babies are curious by nature, and don’t require expensive, flashy, and noisy toys.  A simple pinecone becomes a delightful plaything in the hands of a baby, and offers him a bounty of information in terms of texture, smell, weight, shape, sound, taste, color, etc.  (Make sure to check your pinecone for any tiny inhabitants before you give it to baby!)  Use your imagination to offer your child objects from nature and from around your house that satisfy his current developmental needs.

Clothing for movement: When I put Zach on his blanket, he was wearing cotton pants.  He quickly rolled over onto his tummy and began to do his military crawl, but his legs kept sliding out from beneath him.  I removed the pants and his traction improved considerably!  At all stages of child development, dressing for independence and freedom of movement is a key element for success.  Common clothing-related obstacles include: sleeves and pant legs that are too long; fabric that’s too stiff (e.g., denim and taffeta);  pants and overalls that are difficult to undo for going to the toilet; long and frilly skirts that get in the way during crawling and toileting; and socks and shoes that don’t let feet get the workout they need.  What do you think is more important: a fashionable tot or an active and independent one?

Space for movement: Playpens, walkers, jumpy swings… They are all sold under the pretense of keeping the child safe and entertained while the parent isn’t around to supervise.  However, they are an obstacle to the development of movement at a crucial time in the baby’s life.  If nature is driving the baby to move, we need to let him move!  Remember, a baby’s intelligence depends on his ability to move naturally and freely.  There’s nothing natural and free about a walker or a jumpy swing; they are expensive containers that infringe on a child’s freedom to develop.  A room, or even a section of a room, that has been carefully prepared to meet the needs of the child is a lot safer – and more intellectually stimulating – than any contraption (Trust me, those lights and bells on an exersaucer aren’t helping baby learn a darn thing).

“If a child is prevented from using his powers of movement as soon as they are ready, this child’s mental development is obstructed.”

Time for movement: Babies are often the victims of our rush-rush lifestyle; many spend the better part of their day in buckets car seats, strollers, and carriers, being carted from stores to siblings’ extra-curricular activities to restaurants.  In order to support a baby’s development, it is essential to block out some time every day for him to move on the floor.  Get creative: if you’re taking your older child to soccer practice, bring a blanket and let baby hang out on the grass.  If you’re making dinner, set down a blanket in a safe corner of the kitchen for baby to roll around on.  If you’re working out while pushing baby in a stroller, pause halfway through your run and let baby stretch out on a blanket while you do crunches.  Yes, it’s important for children to adapt to our schedules, but we also have to keep their needs in mind!

Baby sets the pace: Infants move slowly and deliberately.  It takes a lot of effort to coordinate movements during the early months of life.  The brain has to process a HUGE quantity of new data all day long! Be patient when your baby is taking his time reaching, crawling, exploring a toy, or simply looking around the room.  If you get used to waiting and slowing down now, you’ll be in a much better position to support your child’s burgeoning independence during the toddler years.

Maximum effort: Babies exert 110% effort when trying to reach a milestone.  Those evolutionary drives are no laughing matter; they push a child to his limit in the quest for development.  When I see Zach straining and grunting, a part of me wants to make him happy by helping him to accomplish his goal.   Moving the pinecone just a little closer to him, or giving him a little nudge in the right direction, should help him achieve his objective, and that in turn will make him feel happy, right?  WRONG Unlike adults, babies don’t work for an external goal.  Zach might seem interested in reaching the pinecone, but his real (albeit subconscious) interest is in developing the ability to crawl. (Did you notice how he would toss the pinecone every time he reached it?).  They repeat the same activity over and over and over, not because they’re masochists, but because they want to perfect an ability.  By “helping” him, I’m actually hurting his development!

“The ostensible aim of the child’s work is not its ultimate purpose; all the child does is to obey an inner impulse.”

Work without interruptions: Seeing your child reach new milestones is exciting!  It’s normal to want to encourage your baby or to bust out the camera so you can capture the moment.  Sadly, every interruption to a baby’s work weakens his innate ability to concentrate; chronic interruptions lead to an inability to focus on any task.  It is therefore essential to get out of the way and allow the child to finish his work – even if what he’s doing makes no sense to you at all!

“There is a vital urge to completeness of action, and if the cycle of this urge is broken, it shows in deviations from normality and lack of purpose.”  (Normality, in Montessori terms, refers to a child who is peaceful, focused, happy, helpful and autonomous – all qualities that develop if the child is allowed to concentrate on purposeful activities.)

The next time you are observing your child hard at work, remember Dr. Montessori’s wise words:

“No guide, no teacher can divine the intimate need of each pupil and the time of maturation necessary to each; but only leave the child free, and all this will be revealed to us under the guidance of nature.”