One of the ideas I have borrowed from the Montessori Method, both in my Early Childhood classrooms and now in my own home, is a play space design that is comprised of simple, sensorial, real world and open-ended materials that foster concentration, exploration and engagement (as opposed to just providing ‘entertainment’). This is a space, ideally, set somewhere in your home where the surroundings are also simple and free of too much stimulation and distraction; somewhere comfortable and safe where baby can move freely (that means no baby holding devices) and become deeply absorbed in activities that sustain their interest, focus their attention and offer repeated experiences.
I created this little space in our living room, when Althea was first born. It is already a room that is simple and minimalist with no TV and because we are only a family of 3 it is a relatively calm environment. Montessori describes a play space that is part of the baby’s own, carefully designed room. However, this isn’t possible for everyone or it might not fit in with some of your other parenting practices. In our case, Althea co-sleeps with us in OUR space because it is more convenient, as well as something I believe quite strongly in. We also use a cot (and a sleepy head for safe bedhsharing) whereas montessori bedrooms usually have a futon type bed or matress on the floor. This isn’t for everyone and it wasn’t for us. So in light of not having her own bedroom I made the play space mobile using the IKEA FARDRUP Rug and a DIY Teepee baby gym so we could easily set it up in different areas of the house.
The idea behind the DIY Teepee gym stems from Montessori’s use of specialised mobiles in the newborn phase. They are used for a period of two weeks before the baby is moved on to the next mobile (visit this How We Montessori article to learn more about infant mobiles). The idea is that the mobiles provide baby with the opportunity to practice focusing, tracking movement and percieving colour and depth, before eventually moving on to grasping the object. A Teepee baby gym like this one or this one or the IKEA LEKA baby gym, which can be customised, can provide your baby with the same opportunities to focus, track and grasp. I painted a wooden ring and beads in black and white and hung these from the centre of our DIY teepee. High contrast colours such as black and white and red are much easier for younger babies to distinguish and they also work to strengthen their visual cortex. When it came to the grasping stage we bought the IKEA LEKA as it was more stable.
I also placed these WeeGallery baby art cards at the base of the teepee or against the mirror box as the beautiful high contrast black and white illustrations are a great way of encouraging baby to regularly turn her gaze in order to alleviate pressure on the back of her head and avoid Plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome).
Because the play space was mobile I placed an IKEA HYLKJE adhesive mirror on the side of the IKEA SKUBB fabric box that housed some of her toys. The idea behind the mirror is that it reflects both the room and an image of herself so that in time she can begin to connect her own movements with those that are reflected back at her. Mirrors are fascinating even for very young babies and they are great for social development.
As soon as Althea started sitting at 5 months the space started to evolve and we have since created a bigger, permanent play space for her that borrows from both Montessori and Reggio philosophies. You can read about her new play space here (coming soon)
If you are interested in learning more about Montessori for Babies I recommend ‘Montessori from the Start: The Child Home, Birth to Three’ by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jensen
If you’re in search of more inspiring Play Spaces or Montessori or Reggio Ideas then head over to the Raising Bebe Pinterest Boards.
If you’ve created a play space I’d love to see it! Please post links down in the comments.