We have all seen those Pinterest and Instagram pictures of the super cute toddler rooms with the neat Montessori floor beds that look like little houses and think we would love for our little ones to have a room like that! Some of us are die-hard Montessori followers, our little ones even go to a Montessori school, and now we would like to instill the methodology even at home. I frequently get asked about the Montessori beds and when, or even if, it is the right choice for families. So the big questions are: How does the Montessori method work with sleep & is the bed right for us...even if we don't follow the method? Let's dive in!
In order for us to really understand if it is the right choice for your family - even just the bed - we have to understand the purpose of the floor bed and the principles of the method in the first place. So let's go over just a few questions to ask yourselves before you make the decision.
What is the Montessori method all about?
The Montessori method mostly focuses on the way we educate our children in a school setting but the principles can be used in any setting...even at home! The main goal of this method is to establish will and foster independence. Being so, everything should be within reach and at their eye level because only by doing this you are able to give them the freedom to apply this independence.
Never help a child with what that they can do for themselves - Maria Montessori
In simple terms, the parents' role is to create and prepare a safe space for the little one to be independent (within limits) and establish routines to guide them.
Let's breakdown the purpose of the Montessori nursery
What does each element look like while considering sleep?
Development of Independence
In this instance, the mattress should be on the floor, low enough to allow an infant to roll off and scoot around the room. Toys, books, learning materials should be on low shelves allowing the little one to independently choose and play with what they want. If the child doesn't want to sleep, they will get off their bed and make their way to their toys.
Development of will
Just by giving your little one independence in their own prepared environment, you are supporting their development of will. What do I mean by this? You have spent time and energy preparing a space for them, considering the toys on each shelf and you know it is safe for them to roam and explore. You have given the little one the opportunity to freely and independently explore their space. By doing so, if they see a toy on a shelf and they want to go get it, that becomes their goal and they work towards achieving it. That is their will. This goes the same for sleep, if they are determined to play with the toy, they will play with the toy.
Development of movement
This just goes hand in hand with the above-mentioned developments. As a result of their independence and their will, they learn to move throughout their prepared space. As an infant, they will roll off the bed and scoot their way around to the other side of the room. As a toddler, they realize the freedom they are given and move freely throughout the space. In the beginning, your child may require assistance if they get stuck. You can even use pull up bars around the room to help foster this movement even more.
How does this affect sleep?
With the Montessori method, following the child and their needs is key. Learning your child's unique sleep cues is very important to guide them towards healthy sleep habits. Maria Montessori believed that you should never help a child do something that they can do for themselves. With sleep, you help them realize when they are tired and with routines, you can help them understand what to do and what comes next.
What should I consider?
Think about your "why" - why do you want to use a Montessori bed? Do you just like the way it looks? Do you follow the methodology? Does your little one go to a Montessori school? Do you think it will help your little one sleep better?
We first need to think about what could happen. We just learned that this method - facilitated by the bed - is all about freedom within limits. It is respecting the child's development and allowing for curiosity in a structured, prepared environment. Are you ok with this freedom? Are you comfortable giving away the control? Would you mind if your child fell asleep in the middle of the room? Would you be ok with your little one playing when they should be sleeping?
After thinking about these questions and really considering each one, is your "why" still important to you?
The way I see it is that with the bed, comes the philosophy. Even if you don't follow the Montessori method, your little one will realize that they can get out of bed at some point. Are you ok with them potentially roaming the house or making their way to your room when they'd like?
We love this method and want to follow it: What do we do now?
There are so many great Montessori resources online - Facebook groups, guides, and more - check out Montessori in Real Life filled with great information and even guides or courses to help you through your Montessori journey. In the meantime, here are some tips to just get you started with the sleep side of it:
Setting up their Montessori nursery is the first step and the biggest part of this is safety. We want to make sure that all outlets are covered or preferably up high. All furniture should be attached to the wall so it cannot fall over when a little one tries to pull up on it. Heavier toys should be placed on lower shelves, lighter toys on the higher shelf. Electrical cords or curtain pulls should be secured or out of reach. With the floor mattress, making sure that your little one won't hurt themselves if they roll off in the night is important too - consider getting a soft rug to place all around the mattress, maybe using a bed that has a small railing around it with one end that is open. If the mattress is in the corner, we want to be sure that it doesn't move or the little one could get stuck between the wall and the mattress.
A great thing to do would be to get on your hands and knees and explore the room from your child's perspective. If there is something your little one should be able to reach, get it out of reach.
How do we set up the nursery in a Montessori way but also help foster healthy sleep habits?
Like mentioned before, understanding your little one's unique sleep cues is very important. The moment you notice your little one getting tired, it would be time to make your way to their sleep space. Independence within limits again is important and we can enforce this while being in charge by using routines.
Children thrive on routines - it provides a sense of security and understanding. Your child knows what comes next throughout the day, they know what is expected of them, and they know what to do. If your child has solid routines, they will know what is happening when throughout the day, making naptimes and bedtimes easier. Routines support independence!
Use the prepared environment. While the little one is independent in their space, we have prepared it for them in a certain way: SPARCE. There should just be a few toys on the low shelves and these toys shouldn't be exciting. We don't want iPads, toys that light up or make noise. Think wooden blocks. These toys should be kept the same. Keeping them the same toys, your child knows what to expect and it is more likely that when they are tired of playing or tired in general they will go to sleep (or back to sleep). New toys or exciting toys will increase their drive to want to play!
Speaking of routines, you could start the bedtime routine early! This will allow your little one time to explore their space, get off the bed of their own free will and move towards their toys. When their desire to play is fulfilled, they will be more satisfied and can relax easier during your story before bed for example. You could use a baby monitor to watch for their sleepy cues - rubbing eyes, crying, having a hard time getting from one side of the room to another. When you notice these cues, you can go in and say something like "it looks like you are getting sleepy! Maybe it's time to go to bed!" You are helping them connect the feeling of being tired to the need for sleep. Then let them move by themselves towards the bed. If they are having a hard time you can help but the goal is to empower them to do it for themselves.
Then you can support to sleep if need be!
When should we make the change?
Of all the presentations I've watched and information read about when is best, there doesn't seem to be a right time! It just depends on your family and your desires. Here are some ideas:
The first thing I'd like to point out is that it is important to have them spend time in the nursery during the day even if they aren't sleeping there just yet. You want them to get used to the space. They will be more relaxed in a space that they are familiar with than a completely new space.
If you would like to move them at the infant stage:
As a newborn, you could have them sleep in a bassinet in your room. Then place the bassinet on the mattress (that will be their bed) and then later transfer them to the mattress itself when they grow out of the bassinet.
If you would like to move an older child from a crib to a Montessori bed, know that they will get off the bed in the beginning. It is a new experience - a learning process. It will take time for them to understand the new reality. Patience and routine are again key! At around the age of 2.5-3 years old they will start to understand the concept that they have to stay in their bed to sleep and maybe this could be the time to move them to the floor bed. You could always start to just do naps in the nursery on the floor bed and then move to nighttime sleep.