Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Infant and Young Toddler Montessori: Part One

One of the questions that I often get is "What can I do with my (for example) ten month old to practice Montessori?" or "Your ideas are great for my 2.5 mos old, but what can I do that's Montessori-style with my 13 mos old?" I hope these posts will help those of you with these questions! Though they naturally blend together at times, part one will show Tyler's physical environment, inside and out, while part two will talk about the relevant materials and activities we did during that time.

First of all I want to say that a lot of this is inspired by the Montessori philosophy, not pure Montessori. I didn't even learn about what Montessori really was (other than some common myths I held) until Ty was nine months old, and didn't begin fully practicing until just after his first birthday. That being said, my heart was Montessori without even knowing it. I followed his lead, I watched closely to see what activities he liked so I could provide him more of the same, and I worked on creating an environment that would allow him to feel success and to be independent. We child-proofed absolutely everything so that we rarely ever had to chase him around saying "no". We didn't need a play pen or to stick him in the confines of a crib thanks to the childproofing either. He was free to crawl around and check-out his environment (i.e. learn!) as he pleased.

Pure infant and young toddler Montessori does all of this but also uses particular materials (some of which I had), such as wooden rattles, balls of yarn, Object Permanence Box, low mirrors, a pull-up bar, lovely mobiles, treasure baskets, and infants often sleep in a "low bed" (mattress on the floor). You can find more information in the links that I've posted at the end of this blog.

I began Peaceful Parenting when Tyler was about fifteen months old (you can search by date in left sidebar if you're looking for older posts), so this post will take us back to before that time. I have to say that I got all misty-eyed looking through old albums to find all of these photos. Many of the moments seemed like they happened just a month or two ago. I know it's cliche to say this, but really, hold those babies close...they don't stay little for long.

I wish that I had better pictures of this (that's a recurring theme in this post!), but who knew I'd be writing this blog someday! Basically, once Ty was crawling well, I put our couch cushions against our bay window so that he could climb/crawl onto them and onto our bay window to look outside. I put toys on the window areas as well. I placed a yoga mat or fluffy blanket on the floor in front of the cushions so that when he crawled down he'd have a soft spot to land.

We also used a slide in this nicely padded area. Tyler was going up and down the slide (on his belly) well before he could walk and he couldn't get enough. The slide also served as a nice object for him to hold so he could stand by himself. I would often place a favorite stuffed animal at the top of the slide to entice him, and pushing the animal down the slide became a lot of fun! Having the slide here also meant that he could skip the first step and get up easier.

When he got a bit older and didn't need the cushions anymore, we moved the slide and put alphabet mats all around it. With us spotting him, he used the slide on a regular basis on his own.  

In our kitchen, I designated one cupboard and two drawers as Tyler's, filling them at first with toys and books, and later kitchen items for him to explore. He loved the act of opening and closing during this time, so he not only felt like he had a place to call his own while we prepared meals, but it gave him lots of practice in an area he was trying to master. They were also great for him to hold onto when learning to stand independently. I hadn't yet done it before these this photos were taken, but I also used contact paper to affix some pictures inside the cabinet door for him to look at.

We kept many of his favorite books on the chair and couch to promote standing and cruising.
It may be hard to see in the above picture (look off to the right), but once Ty was cruising on a regular basis, I made a circle of furniture for him to cruise around, putting favorite toys on each to entice him. As he got better at cruising and was taking a step or two, I pushed each piece of furniture a bit farther apart.

Ty was given many opportunities to touch and explore items around the house. I wanted him to experience as much as he could and would walk him around the house finding things for us to examine and explore. Before I knew about "treasure baskets" I often had a collection of random, safe objects for him to handle.

This "Infant Stim" mobile from Manhattan Baby was a huge hit with Tyler! He could stare at the simple patterns and photos for a long time and I loved that you could interchange them. We removed the cards from the mobile long ago and he still likes to look at them on occasion.

We hung Tyler's first work of art when he was about 13 mos old. It was also his first canvas painting. He really enjoyed having something he created on display!

Babies love to look at babies, so I made a magazine collage of babies for Tyler and hung it on the back of his playroom door with contact paper. He still enjoys looking at it!

This was Tyler's playroom as an infant...clearly before I had learned about Montessori. It visually overwhelms me to look at now, but key elements were the low mirror for him to see himself in and everything (except the stuffed animals on top of the book shelf) being accessible to him so that  he could play independently. I also kept a book large book or two open on the floor for him to look at.

After a few months I spread things out more and started to sort toys a bit by category.

Tyler got his first shelves just after he turned one. I talk more about the activities and materials used here in part two of this post.

We spent time outside every day that we could. I would spread a blanket on the ground and brought out a bag of toys, books, a ball, and often stuck a pinwheel into the grass for him to watch or play with. He also enjoyed watching people and cars pass as well as crawling around in the grass.
Starting with the day after we brought Tyler home from the hospital, we went on daily walks. Unless it rained all day or the temperature was below about 25 degrees, we would dress him appropriately, put him in the stroller, wear him or simply carry him, and head out to look at the world and get fresh air.

Once Ty was about five months old, walks also meant getting down and exploring, as kids naturally do. I can't tell you how much time we would spend in the middle of sidewalks exploring sticks, leaves, little rocks, nuts...whatever he could find. I stopped using the stroller at this time so I could easily put him down and let him poke around wherever he pleased. He often tried to jump out of my arms to let me know where to stop1

One of the best things to happen was the push handle of this car breaking off (it was purchased used from Craigslist). The car quickly turned into a walker for Ty, which meant even when he wasn't walking on his own yet or feeling steady, he could take off down the sidewalk and walk on his own all around the neighborhood with me. He loved feeling like a big boy on our daily jaunts.  

We took a couple hikes, once bringing a bucket to fill with objects Tyler found interesting so that we could make a nature basket and explore the objects further at home.

Once Ty could walk around a bit (or even before), he was rarely in a cart or stroller in the store. My husband or I would walk around with him and let him explore while the other would shop. He loved touching things and checking everything out his surroundings.   

We spent a lot of time looking at and handling produce in the grocery store when he was a baby (and we still do). I'm not sure if it's the colors or the feel of the produce that attracts him but it's a great time to teach him new vocab and to learn from real objects. 

Here are a couple great links on the Montessori infant environment that you may find helpful:

Part Two, focusing on infant activities and materials, can be found here!


  1. How great! Thank you for this! Looking forward to the next post!!

  2. Thank-you for sharing this post! It's so frustrating to figure out how to incorporate an 8 month old into your day to day activities. Logan is at a point right now that he is just starting to walk by holding onto things and he is much more interested in what we are doing than in his toys. It's hard to figure out what activities to do with him right now. I love the idea of the slide, I'll have to look into that, I'm sure Logan would love it!

  3. Awesome post, Jen! Great ideas for the infant toddler 'Set'. Love the encouraging movement, sensory stimulation, reading, art, and the little environments you've created - transitioning now to preschool-looking shelves. Really outstanding! It's going to be fun following you & this great little guy - little for awhile anyway, they get big way too fast!

  4. Great post! We're starting to set up a play room for our little one who is 9 months. I'm inspired!

  5. Love these ideas for how to incorporate the methods for infants & toddlers! I've been intrigued by Montessori for awhile now but never am sure quite what I'm doing… Your ideas here seem pretty doable, even for me. :)

  6. At 13 months did you have a problem with him trying to take the pictures off of the wall? I know the pictures are supposed to be at the child's level, but I would think they would try to take them off. Also, with him having a drawer in the kitchen, I would think getting their fingers caught would be a problem. Just curious if these things were an issue. Thanks!

  7. Thank you everyone! I'm glad this post has been helpful!

    He did take things off of the walls on occasion. Even at age two he would do this once in a while. I expected it. :)I. I used ticky tack and was a bit concerned that he would pry it off and try to eat it but that never happened. Another option is to use clear contact paper and affix things to the wall that way. We never had a problem with pinched fingers but i'm sure it's possible.

  8. My son is 2 months, and we're looking at floor beds for him - what kind of mattress did you get, and did you like it?