The Montessori Baby: How to encourage independence from the start
Wondering how you should be helping your baby develop independence and reach important developmental milestones? In this guide Early Learning Educator, Christina Clemer, shares five simple Montessori tips as well as her favorite toys & decor picks.
When people think of Montessori, they often think of school-aged children, but the Montessori philosophy actually starts as early as birth.
The way you talk to your baby, the freedom you give them to explore, the toys you offer them – all of these shape the way they see the world and their place in it.
Wondering what you can do to help your baby reach important developmental milestones and begin to develop independence? In this guide I’ll go over:
- What the Montessori Method is
- Five Montessori steps to help your baby reach important developmental milestones and gain independence
- The best Montessori-inspired toys & decor for babies
Scroll down to learn more!
What is the Montessori Method?
Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was one of the first women in Italy to be granted a diploma as a physician. She devoted her life to studying the physical, social, cognitive and emotional development of children around the world.
From her observations, she developed the Montessori Method of education, which encourages natural curiosity, self-directed activity and hands-on learning in a supportive, nurturing environment. Her method has been used around the world for over 100 years.
Five Montessori steps to help your baby reach important developmental milestones & gain independence
Here are five simple things you can do now to help your baby grow into an independent, focused child.
#1 Encourage freedom of movement
Giving your baby plenty of time for free movement allows them to develop the skills they need. It also sends the message that the world is a safe and fascinating place to explore.
- For a newborn, free movement simply means placing your baby on a soft blanket, inside or out, for stretches of time, rather than always carrying them or having them in a swing or bouncer seat.
- Time on the floor allows them to explore the space visually, even if they can’t move independently yet. It also sends the message that they’re safe even when you’re not holding them.
- As babies grow and learn to move on their own, try to have at least one room in the house that is completely baby-proofed, where your baby can move around and explore without you needing to interrupt them or tell them “no.”
- Freedom of movement also means not putting your baby into positions they can’t yet get themselves into. For example, in Montessori environments, we don’t prop up babies to sit. We wait until they can reach the sitting position on their own. Similarly, we don’t place babies in walkers, we wait until they learn to walk on their own.
This may seem like a minor thing, but Montessori is all about self-discovery, the child using the environment to teach themselves. Letting your baby discover how to move on their own is the beginning of this process.
#2 Use respectful communication
It is never too early to talk to your baby about what’s going on in their environment and to begin offering them choices.
For example, tell your baby before you are going to pick them up. You might say something like, “I’m going to pick you up for a diaper change now” or “I’m going to see if you want some milk.”
Offer simple choices, even if they can’t yet respond. You might ask, “Would you like me to hold you?” Then pause and wait for a response. Your baby might give a subtle smile or slightly reach for you.
Use detailed language to talk about the world around you. Describe what you see when you’re out walking.
This early communication sets the tone for respectful communication in your relationship. It shows your baby that you respect them as an autonomous person.
This is a great habit to get into when your infant is young and will help establish healthy communication between you as they grow.
#3 Put things within reach
You can arrange your baby’s room for their independence from the beginning. Montessori infant environments use low shelves containing just a few simple and beautiful items.
Even if your baby is not yet mobile, a low shelf with carefully selected toys allows them to look around the room and see interesting things. Eventually they will begin to reach for them or try to roll or crawl to the shelf to explore the items you’ve selected.
When your young baby is playing on a blanket, you can place a few toys around the blanket so they can potentially reach for one if they wish.
This gives them the independence to select what they want to play with, rather than just handing them a rattle or shaking a toy for them when they may not be interested.
#4 Offer a simple, calming environment
Montessori places a high value on concentration. A simple, calming nursery can help even the youngest babies begin to develop their concentration.
A room too full of bright colors or toys that make loud noises can be overstimulating and prevent a young child from concentrating on any one thing.
Instead, try selecting a beautiful mobile to hang above your baby’s play area. You might place a mirror in their room for them to explore their reflection. A few simple toys and books will round out the type of minimalist room that breeds concentration.
#5 Look for moments of concentration
After you’ve set up a peaceful environment for your infant to play in, look for moments of concentration.
Are they staring intently at their hand? Are they looking at their mobile with fascination? Protect these moments of budding concentration. Wait until their focus shifts to change their diaper or offer kisses.
These earliest moments of concentration are precious and respecting them will help your child develop longer and longer stretches of focus.
While it may seem that young babies aren’t capable of doing much, their brains and their sense of the world are developing so rapidly. How you approach your newborn can have a great impact on their development later on and even small changes can help them become more independent.
The best Montessori-inspired toys & decor for babies
All Tot Tested and approved, here are the best Montessori-inspired toys for babies!
Created by a Montessori-certified teacher and mother, the Monti Kids Level 1 Infant Program includes a wooden activity gym, 9 Montessori attachments including 4 classic Montessori mobiles to develop your baby’s attention, concentration, visual focus, color discrimination, and shape recognition as well as 5 reaching, grasping and kicking toys to strengthen gross & fine motor skills, physical coordination and body awareness.
The program also features guides for parents including short, how-to videos, articles and access to a private community moderated by certified Montessori educators.
Unlike mainstream play gyms that feature flashing lights and loud sounds, the Lovevery Play Gym helps babies reach important developmental milestones by focusing on 5 development zones. Complete with 12 months of age-based activities, it also includes an organic cotton, high contrast Montessori ball, an ergonomically designed wooden batting ring, an organic cotton teether with BPA-free silicone ring, black and white cards with high contrast images, a mirror card set, a common objects card set as well as a body parts card set.
The best part: it transitions into a toddler play tent!
When it comes to facilitating freedom of movement, a playmat is a must. Toki Mats has a wide range of non-toxic (and super cute) playmats that conviently fold up and can be packed away. While you’re get loads of use for tummy time and back-play time, it will also be a soft place for your baby to learn to sit up and then can eventually catch their toddler tumbles!
Ranging from $195 to $305
Available in more prints and sizes
Ranging from $165 to $275
Available in more prints and sizes
Together with The Tot, I helped create The Tot Play & Learn Sets. Featuring a detailed booklet of developmental activities as well as six non-toxic toys that can be played with in a variety of ways, each set is specifically designed for babies to reach age-specific milestones.
Made with non-toxic materials, the HART + LAND Double Silicone Rattle is easy for little hands to hold, while mixing materials like silicone and wood can provide and exciting sensory experience.
Available in more colors
Wooden rainbow stackers are a hallmark Montessori toy, but Dena made the activity baby-friendly (aka mouth friendly) by making theirs out of silicone. Fun to stack, nest or arrange in both 2D & 3D designs, this is the type of toy you’ll even want to play with.
Designed with high contrast images, Alpha Baby Designs’ Color & Shapes Flash Cards are something you can use from birth! First with you showing and describing the cards and then eventually encouraging your toddler to match objects around the house to specific colors and shapes!
Made from solid and sustainable rubberwood, the modern and minimalist PlanToys mobile is a fantastic option to hang over a crib or change table.
Another mobile option I love is Pehr’s Dream-a-Little Dream 2 Tier Mobile collection. Made from 100% wool felt, it’s understated, yet highly effective when it comes to helping babies learn to focus and concentrate.
Available in more colors
GATHRE mats are great because they can be used for tummy time, craft time, meal time or even as a wall decor! Made from bonded leather and backed with flocked suede, they’re wipeable and water-resistant – without the nasty chemicals!
When it comes to easy-to-access shelving and book storage, you can’t go wrong with these simple solutions from Babyletto! Made with sustainably sourced wood and finished with non-toxic water-based paints, they work with any decor!
More Montessori Tips
- Consider these Montessori-inspired items for an intentional registry that will encourage a calm and independent tot. See our guide to creating a Montessori-inspired baby registry.
- Art is an important part of the Montessori classroom, but it looks a little different than art in traditional schools. It is much more focused on the creative process than a cute result. See our guide to letting go of Pinterest-worthy projects and embracing art the Montessori way.