Montessori: Create an Infant Play Space at Home

It’s been a busy few months in our household. We welcomed our newborn daughter in December and then enjoyed the Christmas holiday. We set up our infant’s play space shortly after Christmas, and now, at nearly 3 months old, time spent in this area of our home is definitely something she looks forward to every day.

We don’t have a large house so it was important we were able to integrate her play space within our older daughter’s play and work area, which is actually a part of our main living area. Affordability was another key component in establishing her play space, and I’m happy to say we were able to set it up for under $100 dollars.

In order to create a Montessori-friendly play space for an infant in your home, it’s important to first prepare the environment. For us, this meant the area had to be both simple and functional and, perhaps most importantly, a space centrally located in our home — not in some corner tucked away in a separate bedroom but in our main living area, where she is able to observe her family and our interactions with each other, the work we each undertake daily, and the natural rhythms in her home.

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After a few weeks contemplating where would be the best area, we finally settled upon a corner in our older daughter’s play area that is adjacent to both our kitchen and open to our living room — the three areas of the home in which we spend the majority of our time.

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Here are the 5 main components we’ve found beneficial for our infant’s play space:

Movement Mat

Freedom of movement and exploration is fundamental in a Montessori environment. Providing a space for an infant to readily engage in movement-based play such as kicking and squirming fosters both gross motor and cognitive development.  As your infant wiggles along the floor mat she is working on her proprioception skills, including body awareness, strength, and balance. Eventually, as she grows stronger and more aware of her body, she will figure out how to roll over, crawl, sit unassisted, pull to stand, cruise, and walk.

In our home, we found a work mat was essential to clearly designate and define our infant’s area for our older daughter who is 3 years old. She is learning to slow down and step more gently when approaching the mat, to be respectful of our infant’s need to work independently sometimes, and practicing patience as she waits for her turn. We use the movement mat as a lesson in Grace and Courtesy and we model how to ask our infant if we may join her on the mat to play or, often in the case of Lilly, if Alice will allow a baby doll or stuffed animal to join her on the mat.

We repurposed our travel crib mattress to use as a movement mat in our infant’s play space (see it here). It is smaller than the recommended twin size mattress, but given our small area we find it works well on most occasions. She’s beginning to spin her body around her mat, and now that we’ve installed a hardwood flooring the mat does slip and slide a bit as she maneuvers about in circles. We opted to use what we had available though rather than purchasing something separate. Another very affordable option is to simply put a blanket down on the floor. A soft quilt would be perfect.

Mirror

A clear favorite for our infant is her mirror. She loves to watch herself kick and move her arms while cooing and babbling. We positioned her mirror so that she is able to easily observe the play room as well as our kitchen. We selected an affordable acrylic mirror sold on Amazon. Alternatively, you could use a long, rectangular mirror sold at any department store if you are not concerned about it breaking. Because we have a 3-year-old with an incredibly strong arm we opted for an acrylic mirror just to be safe. IKEA also sells mirrors with a safety coating, or, if money is not an issue, you could purchase a school-grade mirror; however, they are a lot more expensive. Read this article by Pathways.org for further information on how mirrors can help your baby’s development.

At this time we do not plan on installing a pull up bar — something typically found in a Montessori Nido environment — so a small mirror suits our small play space. When our daughter begins to pull up, we’ll move the mirror to another part of the room that better suits her needs at that time.

 

Shelves

We use two low shelves in our infant’s play area to display a few simple toys and books. Some mornings she wiggles her body into a position where she can look at her toys, and one day she will eventually figure out how to move closer to the shelves and grab one of them to explore. I love the clean lines of the IKEA Rast nightstands we purchased for this area as well as their versatility. When our daughter is older, we plan on using them in our girls’ shared bedroom as actual nightstands, but they could also easily be used to set up a self-care station for your child or a snack station or even a simple handwashing station.  At only $15 dollars each, they are a very affordable option to lovingly display a child’s belongings.

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Activity Gym

We chose to build a simple wooden activity gym for our newborn for Christmas. The supplies only cost us $15 dollars, and it was a great way to get our older daughter involved in preparing the baby’s space. You can read more about our wooden activity gym here. We use it to hang our Montessori mobiles and a few other simple toys that will encourage reaching and grasping. When it’s not in use, we fold it away and store it behind our couch.

Materials

Materials can include books, toys, artwork, or plants. These are simply beautiful items displayed in your infant’s play space to give her something to observe and study. Newborns enjoy looking first at monochrome images because the stark contrast between black and white is visually stimulating and encourages faster brain growth. Board books like Look, Look and Black and White are great to display for your baby during those first 6-8 weeks at home.

I highly recommend the Montessori mobiles as well. These can either be purchased or easily made yourself. It’s interesting to see which mobiles our daughter enjoys and which she’s not attracted to yet. She’ll be turning 3 months this week, and her favorite mobile is still the Octahedron. She seems to be particularly attracted to the color blue.

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