Monday, June 13, 2011

No crib in the nursery?

example of the Montessori movement mat area
My nursery will probably be crib-less.

I can’t even believe I’m actually considering this. Especially since only two weekends ago I stood in a baby store with my husband Brian and drooled over an expensive, gorgeous nursery furniture set, crib included.

“You realize that none of this is Montessori, right?” he said to me in the store, squashing my dreams. This took me from zero to frustrated instantly, since I was still feeling skeptical of the Montessori nursery setup he’d been advocating for months.

Most people have heard of Montessori school or driven by one on the street, but have no idea what Montessori actually means. It’s kind of hard to explain if you’ve never seen it in action. The Montessori Method takes a unique approach to learning that’s very different from conventional public school. If I had to sum up what the kids experience into three words, I’d say: independence, exploration and community. It sounds very crunchy-granola-like, but I just fell in love with the method after Brian started working in marketing for one such school in Colleyville and my stepson experienced it firsthand.

We’ve already pretty much decided on starting this new little one in the school’s toddler program once he or she is 14 months. So it would probably benefit the child for us to incorporate some Montessori ideas into his or her environment right off the bat.

Which brings us back to the expensive, gorgeous furniture set, and my initial skepticism.

While I absolutely love the school, I found myself struggling with some of the ideas for the nursery that seemed…well…a bit out there.

What exactly is a Montessori nursery like? It’s meant to be visually appealing to the child and not the adult, which made sense to me but was tough to swallow. I LIKE the idea of having a nursery that is beautiful to ME! Selfish, right?

Here are just a few examples of what it’s like based on what I’ve learned from Brian’s school, blogs, and from reading “Montessori from the Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age Three” by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen:

No crib. “A crib is not an inspiring place for an infant,” write Lillard and Jensen. They’re too confining and they don’t allow the child to fully explore their environment, physically or visually. In the beginning, you place the newborn in a bassinet in your bedroom. When they’ve outgrown it, they sleep in what’s called a “floor bed” in the nursery – basically a toddler or twin mattress on the ground so that if the child rolls off onto the floor they won’t get hurt. This allows the child to explore the environment and get in and out of bed on his own power. You majorly baby proof the room so that, essentially, the entire room is their crib. It’s one fluid environment. My thoughts: A crib is not inspiring, but a mattress on the floor is? I thought to myself while reading the book. I struggled the most with this idea. The crib is like the nursery icon you mentally build your nest around. How would my nursery look with just a mattress on the floor? (Montessori enthusiasts would say: it’s not for you, it’s for the child!). Also, how do you get them to nap if they’re free to get up and play with toys whenever they’d like?

I warmed up to this concept once I saw it in action on other Mom blogs, like here, here and here. Seeing examples of how creative and cute these spaces can be helped ease my concerns a bit, as did reading forums where Moms talked about doing the same thing and loving it. Also seeing an actual baby sleep in one (like this) made it seem a lot less foreign and, amazingly, like a reasonable thing to do.

And the nap thing? As the toddler guide (Montessori teachers are called guides) at Brian’s school explained, if the child needs a nap then he will go to sleep. If he doesn’t need a nap, don’t force it. Just stick to his schedule and he'll be extra sleepy at bedtime.

Toddler-sized everything. Drawers and shelves should be low to the ground so that the toddler can access toys, books, and clothes for dressing themselves. (Yes, you read that right, the toddler dresses himself.) My thoughts: this is an idea I can get behind, it’s just tough to find accommodating furniture. The heavy-duty drawers in the expensive dresser I was drooling over would not be easy for a toddler to open and close. Sometimes you have to be a bit creative with furniture – or, as Brian and I are considering, you can get something custom made to fit your needs.

Movement mat. This is the baby’s development/play area, separate from the sleep area. It includes a twin-bed-sized foam mat, mirror, hanging mobiles that can either be homemade or purchased, and Montessori toys (more on that shortly). My thoughts: I love this space, especially the homemade mobiles. Yet another chance to get creative!

Limited toys out. Keep it simple, and give the child access to only a few age-approved items at a time, switching them out with others frequently. Lillard and Jenseen say this helps the child learn to hold his attention on one thing at a time and develop concentration. Also? Nothing electronic that he would just sit and stare at. Active child, passive toys. Most Montessori toys (called manipulatives) are made of natural materials and are very simple, specifically designed to help the child with development of things like hand-eye coordination, gripping, muscle tone, and understanding of cause and effect. My thoughts: Seemingly bland, these toys serve a specific purpose and I’m told kids are very attracted to them. And, bonus, you probably won’t find them on a recall list.

Nothing unrealistic. No talking cartoon animals or things that don’t belong in the “real world” before the age of six. The idea is that you want to teach them immediately what’s real and what’s not. My thoughts: some of my earliest, fondest childhood memories are of making my father read Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Thinks You Can Think!” and “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?” to me over and over again, both of us laughing at the silliness and the characters. What’s wrong with a little silliness? This is one I probably won’t stick to.

Other notes: no swaddling blankets (too constraining), pacifiers (encourages a dependency), or high chair trays (the high chair is scooted up to the table so the baby can eat with the family and learn how to act during a meal).

What a fun baby shower guest-of-honor I’ll be: “Um, no pacifiers, swaddling blankets, or toys that are not from my list of specific Montessori-approved items.” It makes me feel a bit like the crazy Mom from the movie "Away We Go":

We WILL be using a stroller, of course. That’s just an analogy.

This Montessori stuff may come off a little militant – but walk into any classroom environment at Brian’s school and it’s warm, energetic and full of spirit. I’m amazed by it. These are just ideas we're interested in trying, and we have wiggle room to adapt things to make them fit for our family. We'll have to experiment and see what works when the time comes. Finding that groove will be challenging.

As if being a first-time Mom isn't challenging enough.

Megan Brooks is a Senior Public Relations Specialist for Texas Health Resources who is 18 weeks pregnant and trying to stay open minded.

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