In the twenty-first century world of parenting today, there are countless approaches and philosophies offering insights into raising happy, independent, and confident children. And perhaps the most popular of all these is Montessori — a renowned educational philosophy that doesn’t just apply to the classroom but also extends to the home, even for newborns.
For those who aren’t familiar with the philosophy, or haven’t yet read The Montessori Baby (available for borrowing in The National Library or Libby app), there are some guidelines that seem to go against the grain of traditional parenting, all in the name of promoting early independence and learning in infants. Let’s explore seven surprising Montessori-inspired tips that challenge traditional Asian parenting practices and promote early independence and learning in infants.
1. Instead of a conventional crib, give your child a floor bed
Out with the cribs and in with the floor beds! One of the most striking Montessori baby practices is replacing the cot with a floor bed. This promotes independence and instils confidence, empowering babies to explore their surroundings and learn to move about freely while fostering a sense of autonomy. It also simplifies night-time interactions, making it easier for parents to comfort the child.
Note: While the floor bed can be a very comfortable and unrestrictive sleep space for baby, it is important that the entire room is child-proofed in this scenario to ensure your baby’s safety.
2. Instead of putting up a baby fence, open up a “yes” area
Instead of confining babies in playpens or bouncers, the Montessori Method encourages parents to create a “yes” space where babies can explore freely.
This space, which can be their own room if your home allows, is designed to be free from hazards, allowing the child to make independent choices and develop their sense of freedom, fostering a sense of responsibility and a love for learning. The “yes” area should be safe, comfortable and a space where baby is not exposed to risk.
3. Instead of high chairs, use baby-sized furniture
Tied into the idea of having a “yes” space, Montessori philosophy recommends using child-sized furniture made of baby-safe materials which can be secured to the wall or ground, making the home safe for child exploration.
This includes having the floor bed as mentioned earlier, a child-sized table and chair where they can sit with their feet touching the ground, and even a child-sized wardrobe (we love using the IKEA KALLAX shelf for this) where they can pick their own outfits once they’re old enough. The Montessori method also advocates having art hung at eye level and toys put on a low shelf for crawling babies.
Using appropriately-sized furniture means that your child cannot endanger themselves by climbing or tipping over high furniture, or getting trapped behind or under unsafe furniture pieces. This helps your child feel competent, secure, and independent, aiding them in the early development of appropriate skills like climbing in and out of a floor bed or low chair.
4. Instead of pacifiers, let your baby suck his thumb
The Montessori Method also discourages the use of pacifiers, emphasising the importance of understanding and responding to a baby’s needs instead of shushing them with a pacifying “device”. This practice promotes communication and bonding between you and your child, ensuring that you discover the true cause of their discomfort or distress instead of “muting” them.
Not using a pacifier also promotes self-soothing and the development of oral motor skills. This approach may seem unconventional, but it aligns with the Montessori emphasis on self-reliance.
5. Instead of assuming it’s okay, ask for your baby’s permission before dressing or touching them
This one might come as a surprise to most parents, as we’re used to simply dressing or changing baby whenever it’s needed, and communication doesn’t usually come into play.
The Montessori method advocates asking for permission — but this doesn’t necessarily have to mean waiting for a yes or no, especially when our babies are not yet able to express themselves yet. Instead, we’re advised to let baby know what we’re about to do by telling them “I’m going to change your diaper now” or “Let’s go for a bath”. Your baby may or may not understand the words as such, but they’ll learn that you talk to them before handling them, and this cultivates a sense of self-awareness and encourages cooperation.
Similarly, asking for permission before hugging or kissing them, or picking them up, enforces the idea of respect, freedom and choice — important concepts that we can and should impart to our children from as early as infancy. After all, we really should not touch someone else’s body without permission!
6. Instead of plastic, silicone or bamboo, give your baby breakable dishes
Yes, you read that right! Montessori recommends giving babies real, breakable glassware, dinnerware and cutlery instead of plastic alternatives. They’ll definitely break a dish or three, but this teaches them to handle delicate items with care, promotes fine motor skills, and encourages proper table manners. It also inculcates a sense of responsibility, capability, inclusion, and a better understanding of natural consequences from an early age.
Maria explains, “Thus the child is led to correct himself, and he accordingly trains himself not to knock against, overturn, and break things; softening his movements more and more, he gradually becomes their perfectly free and self-possessed director.”
Our advice, if you choose to adopt this guideline, is to stick with the plates from IKEA that you won’t mind being broken.
7. Instead of always playing with them, encourage your baby to play independently
The overarching lesson from The Montessori Baby is the importance of fostering independence from infancy. Encouraging your child to actively participate in daily tasks, make choices, and explore their environment independently builds self-confidence and lifelong skills.
This also means encouraging babies to have independent playtime, even at a very young age, because this allows them to discover, learn, and develop their creativity and problem-solving skills on their own. Babies are perfectly happy exploring even simple things like a wooden block, and do not need toys that make noises or light up.
Being comfortable playing alone has long-term benefits too — it will help your child become a self-motivated individual later on in life who’s secure enough not to succumb to peer pressure or seek social validation. Also, think about all the time and energy you save by not having to entertain your kids every weekend.