A frequent question I hear is “When can I start Montessori at home?” The answer is that Montessori can be implemented anytime, as early as birth! It is never too early or too late to incorporate Montessori principles at home. Though the environment and materials are an important component of Montessori, there is much more to the philosophy than beautiful toys. Now that we are lucky enough to be back in the newborn phase with our 2-week-old baby boy, I thought I’d write a bit about what “Montessori from Birth” looks like for us.
A beautiful book I read during my Montessori training was called Understanding the Human Being, and it describes the first 6-8 weeks as the “Symbiotic Life”, or “life together”. It is a time when the newborn and mother are co-dependent, each requiring something the other gives. The newborn requires the mother’s nourishment and by breastfeeding, helps the mother’s uterus contract and body heal. Additionally, the bond formed between mother (or primary caregiver) and baby in the time spent together in the first weeks ensures a securely attached child and mutual love for each other. From this secure attachment, the baby learns to fully trust their environment and mother/primary caregiver, knowing they will be taken care of, loved, and are safe to explore independently when ready. It helps me to think about this Symbiotic Life period as it gives meaning to the wonderful, but exhausting, time with our newborn. The attachment we form sets him on the right path forward towards becoming his own capable little being, and for now I can just soak up the sweet and valuable time we have together.
Equally important to the love we show our baby is the respect we hold for them. A key component to Montessori philosophy is respect for the child, and this includes the way in which we interact and talk to children, as early as birth. Rather than try to quiet or distract a baby, we acknowledge their needs and feelings.. For me, respect means slowing down and taking the time (when possible with two littles) to nurse in a quiet spot, and giving Baby S affection and attention while he gets his nourishment. It also means talking to him about what I’m going to do before/as I do it. For example I might say “It looks like you have a wet diaper. Let’s go get a fresh one on.” and then when he gets upset during a diaper change, “I know it feels cold when I take this diaper off. I’m just wiping your bottom and now we are putting a clean diaper and clothes back on. Now you are dry and warm - that feels better, doesn’t it?” I don’t narrate every part of our day, but I try to talk to him when we are doing something together, like starting to nurse, change, or when he’s alert and looking at me. Janet Lansbury’s book Elevating Childcare elaborates on ways to speak respectfully to babies, and is a great book about respecting babies and toddlers in general.
While in these first few months Baby S spends a lot of his time on or with me nursing and sleeping, I also make sure he has plenty of time for natural movement throughout the day. I set up his primary “movement area” in our living room, where he can rest or wiggle around on his topponcino and gaze around the room. From there he can see his family, our movements, and the environment that he will call home. When he lies on his back here, he is completely unrestricted in his movements. He is free to stretch his arms and legs, suck on his fingers, and turn his head side to side. Other times I will carry him on his topponcino outside or into another room where we are spending time, so he can join us while still having that freedom of movement and ability to see what’s going on around him if he’s awake.
Though he is unswaddled and free to move in the day, we do swaddle him at night to help him sleep for slightly longer stretches. The swaddle is so useful for the first few months when babies’ startle reflexes are strong, often waking them up unintentionally. My favorite swaddle with Baby S is the Ollie swaddle, which is easy to put on/take off and keeps him safely tucked inside. He also spends time in the day in the K’tan baby carrier, when we take walks or I need two hands and he wants to be held close. For us, it’s just about finding that balance of cozy mama time, restful time, and uninhibited movement time.
As Baby S’ awake time increases, we have and will introduce a few traditional Montessori materials to encourage his concentration and capture his interest. For the first couple of months this includes mobiles, high contrast (black and white) images, mirrors, familiar faces, and the sights and sound in nature. Already he has begun to spend a few minutes each day gazing at his Munari mobile as it slowly spins with the air circulating. As babies can only see up to 12 inches in front of them, and only in black and white, this is the first mobile to encourage eye tracking, concentration, and visual development. It is beautiful to watch him watch the mobile. :)
* If you are interested in Montessori materials for babies, my friend Bridget of Montessori in Motion and I launched The Montessori Guide this year, which includes month-by-month activities and links to materials to help you set up a Montessori environment for your child. You can read more about that here!
** If you are looking for a full Montessori subscription box for your baby, with materials delivered straight to your door, you can also check out Monti Kids! Use code REALLIFE for $30 off your first box.