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?




Yes, You CAN Travel With Your Baby!

Our cross-country road trip with a 7 month old became the most stress free trip we’ve ever taken. Here’s how:

“Somebody give that baby a bottle!” proclaimed the 1960’s classic television show, The Honeymooners. The comedic legacy lives on today, where many moms lament the challenges of having an exclusively breastfed baby. This holiday season, my family embarked on a cross-country road trip with my 7 month old breastfed baby and 50lb dog in our tiny Ford Fiesta. Many people told me that I must be crazy or courageous to take such a trip with an infant. However, our cross-country road trip with our 7 month old became the most stress free trip we’ve ever taken.

My Thoughts on Packing

Packing for a trip has always been a stressful, last-minute rush for me and is usually a pretty dramatic experience. I decided that I didn’t want to live on the last-minute edge anymore and created a packing list for each person. This helped me to see the things we needed and pack only the necessities. We traveled in a Ford Fiesta, which is a tiny subcompact car. With very little space to carry luggage, packing light became a necessity.

For the adults, my husband and I, we packed about five to seven days of clothing, basic toiletries, and some cold-climate gear. We knew we had access to laundry, so we didn’t worry about packing too much clothing. We only packed the basic natural toiletries that we all use, and skipped anything we don’t use every day. For the babe, we packed 8 outfits, onesies, pajamas, socks, and a coat. In the car, she wore knitted legwarmers or a sleeper rather than pants for quick diaper changes. I also brought her blankey, although it was probably not necessary. This all fit into two carry-on sized suitcases in the trunk.

For diapering, we brought 2-3 days’ worth of cloth diapers (prefolds and covers) and made a gallon sized freezer bag full of wet cloth wipes. We also brought a few disposables for backup in case we needed them. We also brought our small travel wet bag for our stops and a larger laundry wet bag to store dirty diapers in the trunk. We put all of this, including our laundry detergent, into a cloth shopping bag.

Many people believe that kids need to be entertained constantly with technology to be content on a long car trip. I remember being plugged into headphones constantly in the car as a teenager (we didn’t have the fancy digital toys that are available today, but I see this as a predecessor to today’s technology). In the past, when my daughter was really struggling in the car, I used some baby sign language videos on my phone to cease the endless screaming and fussing. However, I thought about how that sets up a precedent of expectation for a young child. If they are exposed to dvd’s and digital media in the car as a way to stay occupied, they may come to expect that level of stimulation while traveling and develop a need for this technology. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that television and other media should be avoided for children under 2 years of age, as children learn best through interaction with people rather than screen time[i]. The AAP also links the use of infant screen time to language learning delays[ii].

I want my children to be able to be focused on the present and live in a connected way, not zoned out into a screen while traveling with family. I want my daughter to experience her surroundings through movement, play, and human interaction. However, I am not a luddite. As our children grow older, it will be increasingly important for them to make smart independent decisions about their technology usage and we can set this example in our family life. I don’t think there is any harm in trying some educational media if your older child is exceptionally fussy or cranky in the car, but I don’t want to set the precedent for my children as infants. If you have a cranky kid, you do what you gotta do to get through it and drive safely.

Instead, I allowed us to bring one electronic toy. We brought the top of her play table with us because we were able to set it up on her lap to play with. It has a few lights, plays music, and makes different sounds while interacting with buttons and spinners. However, I saved this toy for times when she really had a hard time focusing on anything else and became really restless in the car. The electronic script talks about colors and animals in songs, so it also had a bit of educational value.

Other items I brought for her in the car included a selection of books (especially touch and feel books) from our local library, some wooden toys like the Skwish and blocks with patterns, cloth books, teethers, rattles, music CD’s that we can sing along to and practice our signing, and some stuffed toys. The key was to select some new things for the trip that she hadn’t explored yet, and to keep a good rotation of some toys handy. She especially liked the new touch and feel books from the library, giving her new items to explore. We didn’t have any fancy car toys or new products.

On the Road

Overall, I was really surprised that it took us about the same travel time overall with the whole family as it did with just the two of us adults in the past. We stopped on average every 2-3 hours or so. We found ourselves getting into a routine in the car. I sat in the back seat with my daughter for most of the car riding time. She would start out hanging out in her car seat with her blankey for a while and taking in the environment. Once she seemed bored, I would offer her toys, books, and music to play until she got fussy. When she was fussy and upset, that became a sign that she was tired and wanted to fall asleep. I would tuck her in with her blankey and sing to her gently until she fell asleep for a nap in her car seat. She would sleep for about an hour or 2. When she woke up from a nap, we would make a stop to rest, nurse, eat food, walk the dog, and change her diaper.

One of the most irritating challenges we encountered on this trip was the lack of changing stations in public restrooms. In the south, we encountered very few baby changing stations. I do give credit to Georgia though for having a changing station in their trailer-style welcome center. I ended up changing her in the car (ugh), on counters, across sinks, and other random places. On the way back, I learned it was much easier to leave her in a fleece footed sleeper for the car trip to make changes easier. Then we didn’t have to struggle with a coat and pants while changing a diaper.

Like most moms, I tend to get stressed out about my baby getting upset and fussy. While she was sleeping in her car seat, I used breathing and meditation techniques to make sure that I was not carrying any tension around with me while we were traveling. I also brought a book for myself to read while she slept, keeping me engaged in thoughts and ideas aside from baby keeping along the way. I think this helped me keep my energy up so that if she did become cranky or unhappy, I was able to soothe her without becoming stressed.

During our breaks from driving, it was really important to make sure that everyone got out of the car and stretched. I set my daughter down to play in the grass or on the ground as much as possible. I allowed her to play with leaves, sticks, and dirt while roaming around. I feel that this connection with the earth is really important for grounding, especially having a baby away from home for the first time. She was able to feel the earth before we were held captive in the car for a few hours. It helped the adults feel connected and refreshed also, as we stretched and walked with the dog outside.


My daughter has been exclusively breastfed since birth, and started eating some solid foods around 6 months. She still doesn’t consume very much solid food and doesn’t need it right now because breast milk supplies all the nutrition she needs. While traveling, we didn’t worry about giving her solid foods unless we were stopped somewhere at a restaurant and we happened to have something healthy for her to eat. We do baby led weaning, so she has never eaten a puree at all, making it really easy to go out and travel. No need to bring jars of baby food or spoons. Many people believe that babies need to eat solid foods at this stage, but it is a “nice to have” and not a “must have.” Traveling with a breast fed baby is really easy, since you don’t have to worry about washing or sterilizing bottles or pump parts, or mixing formula. My daughter never wanted to take a bottle anyway, as well as a pacifier. Potentially, this led is to making stops more often at times for nursing breaks. But really the best thing is that I was able to provide her with warmth, comfort, and nourishing milk during these breaks which kept her really content through the stretches of driving. The car cuddles were invaluable in between riding in her car seat for long stretches, and I saw this as nature’s way of making sure we all were rested, comfortable, and loved throughout the trip. In the past, I traveled with a manual breast pump and a bottle just in case of anything, but this time I just left it all behind.

This cross country road trip was one of the most stress free travel experiences I have ever had. Using minimalist principles helped us to feel connected and bond with each other throughout the trip as well. If we ever take this trip again, I hope that it goes just as smoothly. Also, this trip was a huge confidence booster for me also. It convinced me that I am able to easily travel with my daughter, and helped me to feel more confident as a parent. Happy travels!