Montessori at Home

Our 6 month old accessing learning materials in baskets at home

Using Montessori principles at home with an infant can provide simplicity, independence, and confidence in family life. 

Throughout my pregnancy, I researched a wide array of information about healthy pregnancy and natural birth options. I had a mostly healthy pregnancy and a natural, intervention free, and out-of-hospital birth. Upon the birth of my first child, I didn’t follow any major philosophies about child rearing or home learning for infants and toddlers. Mostly, I was caught up in the day-to-day struggles of trying to survive alone each day with an infant since my husband returned to work a week after she was born. We planned on following attachment parenting principles of baby wearing, breastfeeding on demand, and co-sleeping. But what philosophies would we discover to guide us as infant teachers? I use the phrase “infant teachers” because as parents we are our babies’ first teachers. Home learning begins from the time a baby is born, and babies are naturally programmed to explore and learn about their environment. Learning about the world commences even before we are born, as babies gather information about their environment in-utero.

If you have ever breastfed a newborn, you know that it involves a lot of sitting or lying around with your squishy bundle of amazing goodness. However, I spent a great deal of time reading while my baby slept on my chest. I discovered Montessori principles and realized that those ideas resounded with what I knew intuitively about my baby. I am not a “Montessorian,” but I do believe that many principles of Montessori theory are highly applicable to the natural ebb and flow of infant learning and family life. I have narrowed this philosophy down to three big ideas that I gathered and applied to our daily life with an infant that have helped us thrive.

Three Montessori-Inspired Ideas

1. Preference for Order

From the early stages, infants are rapidly absorbing information about their environment. The baby studies their mother’s face, the sound of their voice, the smell and taste of their milk, and the warmth of their body. These are early preferences for order in infant life. The term “preference for order” refers to the need to organize sensory information into predictable routines and sequences to place daily happenings into order. A sense of order provides a feeling of safety and security for an infant, and later helps to build their confidence as they begin to learn and explore more of their world. Order refers to daily routines and physical surroundings such as the organization of the home.

2. Freedom of Movement

There are a wealth of videos available on you tube that illustrate a newborn’s ability to slither up towards their mother’s breast and latch on to nurse. For some reason in American baby culture, we take away an infant’s natural ability to move freely. Think about how active babies are in the womb. I remember my baby was incredibly active, with kicking, twisting, and jabbing seemingly all day and night. Once babies are born, most parents cover them up and restrict their movement immediately through baby mittens, swaddles, and highly restrictive and overly elaborate clothing. Babies are the world’s most kinesthetic learners. They learn through movement and interaction with their environment. Leaving a baby’s hands, legs, arms, and head free (with common sense applied for weather) allows them to experience their world and use their senses to learn.

Later, this philosophy applies as babies start to discover their hands and then their feet. Parents often place their infants into devices that seriously restrict their ability and motivation to move using their own will and skills. This includes bouncers or baby seats that sit an infant up before they are ready to sit on their own. A wealth of information has been presented by physical therapists that explains how these seats are detrimental to babies. Essentially, infant seats such as the bumbo place infants into a position that their body is not ready to do independently. The muscles of the back, hips, and torso are not able to support baby properly in this position and it can lead to challenges in the back and core[i]. This also applies to the use of walkers, jumpers, and exersaucers, which can often be outright dangerous for babies. These infant contraptions also take away the pure joy and confidence the baby receives from being able to move their body independently. When we constantly sit a baby up, we rob them of the joy of learning to do it themselves.

Freedom of movement also means that it is very important for the physical environment to be prepared to allow the baby to explore. This means childproofing areas of the home to enable the baby to safely access their environment. Cribs, playpens, and play yards often keep babies safe but restrict their learning to a very small space.

3. Follow the Child

The term “follow the child” refers to watching your child closely and meeting them where they are at with their interests and learning. Let the child lead the way of their learning and exploration. This means resisting the temptation to teach a baby how to crawl or walk, as they are programmed to learn to do these actions and will meet these milestones in their own time according to their own developmental rhythm. Babies can have a variety of materials available to them for play and learning around the home, and their space can accommodate these materials. The child can choose their own activities of their own will, rather than having their toys thrown into a toy box for a parent to initiate activities.

“Follow the child” also means that it is important to respond to your baby’s needs throughout the day and night time as well. The baby will have a need for independence while working and exploring, and it is valuable to avoid interrupting them when possible. However, the baby will also come to the parents for a need for closeness, connection, and love. It is important that we respond positively to the needs of the child for independence, learning, and connection or attachment.

Practical Applications: What do we do at home?

I know that it may seem like these philosophies are really fantastic and idealistic, but how does this actually apply to daily life? There are very simple ways that we try to live these ideas to the fullest in our everyday lives. We certainly aren’t perfect and don’t always follow these ideas, but that is because they are simply ideas, not rules to live by. Any philosophy can become dogmatic when applied too rigidly when it no longer makes sense or creates hardship. So yes, occasionally we “cheat” but we mostly follow these guidelines. Here are some ways in which we apply these Montessori-inspired principles in our daily family life:

-We do not use infant seats, exersaucers, jumpers, or walkers of any kind. We have found these to be highly unnecessary in our daily life and produce plastic clutter in the home. We give baby as much time as possible on their tummy, or held snugly in a wrap, to strengthen neck, core, and arm muscles. Many people believe these devices teach babies how to sit or walk, but there is no evidence that these items help babies meet milestones. There is significant evidence that they actually can cause milestone delays because they prevent infants from using their muscles in developmentally appropriate ways[ii][iii]. Meeting milestones early is somewhat insignificant. However, to disprove this idea, I’d like to offer that my daughter sat unassisted at 5 months and was walking around the house at 10 months. Many people feel that they need these items because they are alone with the baby without help throughout the day and need to keep them entertained. I promise, there are many other great ways to keep your child engaged while you work around the house when needed.

-We minimize clutter around the home and only put a small selection of toys out for our daughter to access. We place these items on low shelves in baskets so that she can access them independently. We don’t buy many toys, but rotate them. I find that every time I reintroduce an old toy, she sees it in a different way and interacts differently with the item.

-Our daughter sleeps on a floor bed in her own room for naps during the day and we co-sleep in our room at night. The floor bed and co-sleeping promote a positive breastfeeding relationship. The use of a floor bed also allows her to wake independently from naps and choose toys to play with or books to read until she needs me. She rarely ever cries when she wakes up from a nap and usually will do quiet activities in her room until she is ready for me. It has been a great opportunity to build independence and confidence.

As our daughter has grown in her first year, she is becoming more and more confident in her abilities and is learning every day. I’m offering these suggestions and ideas to illustrate how the overarching Montessori principles can be applied simply in the home environment for infants. Do you use any of these principles with your children? How do you accomplish this in your family life?




Birth Story: Alana Artemis

[I am excited to share my daughter’s birth story, which was written shortly after she was born. Before reading, I want to add a disclaimer to this story. I suppose I had a challenging birth, and sometimes when I tell people my challenges they assume that I had a negative birth experience. That couldn’t be further from the truth! I had an amazing and empowering natural birth experience that was the most proud and powerful moment of my life.] 

 Alana Artemis – Born April 22nd, 2015 (11:17am)

As we evolve and grow throughout our lives, pivotal moments become pillars that define the skeleton of our soul. We build muscle and tissue around this structure as we challenge our expectations of ourselves and derive new meaning from our simple daily existence. Evolution, like the metamorphosis of creatures small and large, requires us to heed the call of our wild, natural selves. Cultures around the world have named this call as the criatura. The criatura represents the wild woman within us that exists in nearly every culture across time and distance. Every woman is left to discover their own criatura. As I reflect upon Alana’s birth, I am called to recognize the change that occurred in my spirit and my own metamorphosis into this new phase of our lives. Concealed facets of ferocity and a tenacious mental focus reigned supreme over the wisdom of relaxation and peace in birthing.

Initially, my labor with Alana slowly came into its own powerful rhythm. I experienced prodromal labor, waves of inconsistent labor contractions that would become regular than fade, for several days before I fell into a consistent labor pattern. This time was exhausting for me, it was impossible to sleep much and I really couldn’t relax because I was always wondering if the “real” labor would start. At one point, I leaked what looked like a few tablespoons of clear fluid with some pink bleeding. I was concerned that my water broke or was leaking, and it was enough fluid to arouse my suspicions. Shea (one of our midwives) asked us to come into the birth center to have the fluid checked out, revealing that it was not amniotic fluid. Thankfully, it was just a good amount of normal discharge. We went home and relaxed and I went out with a friend that evening and we walked around the neighborhood for a while. Within the next few days, I had a copious amount of bloody show and lost my mucus plug.

A few days later, after experiencing more early labor contractions, I was fed up and my whole body was aching. I had a very intense rash called PUPPP at the end of my pregnancy, most likely caused by the development of cholestasis (which I found out I had after she was born, coincidentally). Because of the rash, I was unable to take more than a slightly warm shower for a few weeks. I had enough and needed some relief from the aches I was experiencing, so I decided to take a relaxing hot shower. While in the shower, I noticed I started having contractions much more close together than I had been experiencing previously. After the shower, I started timing them and they grew to be about 2-3 minutes apart and getting stronger. I set myself up in my kitchen with some music on (Ani Difranco’s albums Evolve and Little Plastic Castle) and went through the contractions while standing for a while. After a few hours of these contractions, I decided I should have my husband, Tom, come home from work because this was markedly different than the early contractions I had before. Tom arrived around 5pm and started helping me through the contractions I was having and preparing some things around the house. I had Tom call our midwife (Hope) to let her know that regular contractions were happening. We wanted to wait around the house for a while because I wanted to make sure these contractions weren’t going to fade away like they had over the past few days.

After about 4 hours of regular contractions at 2-3 minutes apart, everything started to feel much more intense. I continued to labor around the house using the yoga ball and standing positions. I felt better able to manage the pain I was experiencing while being upright at this time and moving around. I could move and sway with the music and create my own soul space. I had Tom call Hope to let her know that things were getting more intense and I felt that maybe it was time to come in to the birth center. In the car, I started having contractions that I had to moan through and work out with a different type of energy than the relaxation I called upon earlier. When we arrived, Hope checked my cervix and it was only open to 1 cm. Bummer! My initial thought was, “How could I have been having contractions for days and be hours into labor and still only be at 1cm? Some women walk around for weeks dilated a few centimeters.” However, she did explain that the baby was in a posterior position (facing out instead of turning towards my back) and she gave us some important tricks to try to get her to turn over during labor. I had a feeling she was going to end up in this position, even though I did a whole series of Spinning Babies exercises daily. I felt frustrated, but understood the science behind what needed to happen for further dilation to happen. We went home to try and get her to turn and let the contractions dilate my cervix further.

I worked through contraction after contraction on my hands and knees or using the yoga ball, resting on my side every so often to give my knees and arms a break. I made a floor nest using practically all the pillows in our house and we kept the lights low. After every few contractions, I would ask Tom to use the rebozo technique in between to sift the baby into the proper position. The rebozo method involves using a long piece of woven fabric to gently pull up the baby belly and gently sift from side to side, prompting the baby to move and shift. During this time, I went deep inside my mind and spirit and blocked out everything else that was happening around me. I had to disconnect to maintain mental acuity while working through the intensity of each contraction. I also used deep breathing exercises, and I recognized that ten deep breaths with some vocal expression on the exhale were all it took to get through each contraction. During each wave, I could soothe myself by recognizing that by the time I reached the count of five, it would soon pass. Eventually I felt like I needed a break from the floor and laid down on our futon. A contraction started and I felt a strong pop and an intense amount of pressure previously unknown to me. My water broke and things started to get much more intense when I didn’t think they possibly could. By 1:30am we had arrived back at the birth center and I was 5cm dilated.

At the birth center, I labored in the birthing tub for quite a while. I held myself mostly on my hands and knees and could rest my upper body over the side of the tub when needed. A strong inner focus and perseverance through each wave was crucial during this time. Tom was a great coach by wiping my face with a cold cloth, providing water and juice as I would take it. I had little desire to eat anything during most of my labor, as I also was experiencing bouts of vomiting. After hours of laboring in the tub, I felt my body starting to bear down uncontrollably. Hope checked my cervix and I was almost there, but there was a small lip of cervix left. Eventually, she told me to push while she pulled back the remaining cervix. The goal was to try to push baby’s head past the remaining lip to continue to move her down through the birth canal. Some of the details are foggy in my mind at this time as I transitioned into the pushing phase.

I worked at pushing in the birth tub while on my back, pulling my knees toward my shoulders. Some progress was being made, but not enough. Hope suggested I switch to pushing on my back on the bed, pulling my feet back towards my head to help move the baby down. With each contraction, I bore down with all my might using every ounce of strength I had in my muscles and tried to summon any kind of spiritual energy I could put behind each push. Each contraction yielded progress, albeit very slow progress. We tried to shift to a squatting position using a stool with Tom’s support, but my muscles just didn’t work efficiently that way. Back to the bed, continuing slow bouts of pushing the baby down with all the ferocity I could muster. I had to keep pumping myself up because this was exceptionally draining, telling myself I could do it and that she would eventually come out after all of this energy. Hope, Jen, and Tom were incredible during this time, telling me that each push was moving the baby.

During this time, I had to summon ferocity unknown to me and a determination like no other. Keeping my eye on the prize, I slowly worked her down with each push, with everyone reminding me that we were making progress each time. Between contractions, I moved deep inside myself and stored up more energy to regain my roar for the next push. Jen, our birth assistant, and Tom helped by providing cool cloths, water, and juice as necessary for some physical fuel to assist my mental flow. The cool cloth was key for some reason, magically relieving the pain and tension after each pushing contraction. Finally after five long and fierce hours of pushing, she was crowning. I felt the infamous “ring of fire” but it was nothing compared to the process of pushing her down to that point. I felt so relieved to be feeling it, knowing that an end and a beginning were simultaneously coming into fruition. Her head came out fairly quickly, and her body easily slid out. Hope discovered that her arm was wrapped around across her head, making it more difficult for her to move under my pubic bone and down the birth canal. She did eventually turn over on her way out, relieving my anxiety about birthing her face-up.

The moment she was born was a time of sheer bliss and relief that I have never experienced before. I was so happy she was here, and so relieved to have gotten her out after working so hard during the birth. She had passed a little meconium during the birth, but once I heard her loudly pronounce her presence in our lives with her first cries, I knew she was well. Hope placed her on my chest and I was absolutely in love with her. I held and kissed her while we waited for the placenta to pass, which was relatively painless. I did have a small tear, but nothing that needed to be repaired. Alana Artemis was born at 11:17am, weighing 8lbs 4oz, and measured 21 inches long.

Upon reflection on my birthing experience, I feel that I really surprised myself. Throughout our Bradley class, we focused on relaxation techniques for labor that would help us to have a peaceful birthing experience. When I pictured my labor, I expected to have a peaceful, serene, calm, and quiet birth using all the different techniques I had learned during my pregnancy. I watched videos of mothers silently birthing their babies in water, seemingly painless and totally at peace. I thought for sure this would be my birthing experience, since I had so much practice with relaxation. I don’t know if it’s because I spent so much time in my teenage and college years getting straight A’s in relaxation, but I am normally very proficient at relaxing when the conditions are right. I called upon these skills in the early phases of my labor and through each wave of contractions to dilate my cervix. However, the experience of bringing Alana into this world forced me to wake up. I had to summon a new ferocity within myself and roar my baby out with each contraction. We had to fight our way into this new world of ours together, a metamorphosis into our own little family.