At first glance, a Montessori baby at play may look like any other baby: happily gnawing on a rattle, putting a ball in a hole, or chasing a rolling toy. But if you look closer and longer, you will see many differences rise to the surface. There is a reason that many Montessori educators call what infants are doing “work.” Indeed, Montessori play allows your baby to work joyfully to develop themselves in many ways, but also, when infants play, they are also working on concentration, independence, and coordination. Here’s how it works.
Montessori baby toys inspire concentration.
Concentration is perhaps the most unexpected topic for parents new to the Montessori method. In many approaches to children, concentration is saved for older ages. However, Dr. Montessori observed that even the tiniest of babies will concentrate. Moreover, she saw that concentration led to something magnificent – the “normalization” of their personalities. This has nothing to do with being “normal” in the typical use of the word. It is just Montessori jargon for saying that after concentrating, anyone, whether a baby, child, or adult, is happy, peaceful, and the best version of themselves.
Montessori tips for playing with baby
- Choose toys that interest babies developmentally. Thankfully, Dr. Montessori offered a guide to activities that appeal to the development of babies at specific ages. Monti Kids follows this timeline with deliveries geared toward your child’s developmental needs. By observing your baby, you will have an understanding of where they fall in this timeline and you can offer toys that are relevant to their abilities and interests. (See what’s in each of our Montessori baby toys boxes.)
- Offer limited choices. You may present a baby with two or three toys that are in their developmental area. They will naturally choose the toy that is most interesting to them and has the highest chance of eliciting concentration. Remove the others so that there aren’t any distractions.
- Protect concentration opportunities. Concentration in babies is fragile and brief. If they are focusing on their toy, give them space and quiet, and please do not interrupt! Your words will break their concentration. You can join their activity when their concentration relaxes.
2. Independence is a core value of the Montessori method – even for babies!
Montessori play gives children opportunities to build and practice their independence. How does this translate to everyday life with baby?
- Allow them to practice independence. They will learn that they can engage in the world on their own terms and that they do not need you all of the time, which helps build their confidence. For some babies, you may need to work up to this slowly by giving them a few minutes at a time while you are nearby but doing your own activities.
- Pause before intervening when you hear them struggling. It is normal for a baby to feel a little frustrated when they are trying something new. Maybe they are trying to reach a toy, put a peg in a small hole, or fit a ball into a cup. Whatever the activity, listen closely and wait before involving yourself. Frustration often comes right before acquisition. They will feel independence and pride when they accomplish their objective on their own. Of course, there will be many times that you do intervene because their brains have become flooded with emotion and they cannot regulate themselves. In these cases, the work was simply too hard at that moment. But give them a chance to do it on their own first so they can build that independence.
- Set your baby up for as much physical success as you can. This means that when you notice a toy is too hard for them to master, put it away for a few weeks before letting them try again. Also, select the right clothing for encouraging independence. A baby in tight blue jeans will not be able to move their legs under them to scoot. Similarly, a dress will constrict movement when your baby is trying to crawl. You also may notice that when your baby is first trying to move, removing socks will allow them a better grip on the floor to push off of. All of these physical aspects and more will contribute to their independence when they are playing.
3. How the Montessori method supports coordination milestones
The last element to consider for infant play is the coordination they are developing at this time. Coordination refers to gross motor, fine motor, and hand-eye coordination. Montessori toys are designed to help your baby develop in all of these areas. There are balls, rolling toys, and walker wagons for moving. There are small toys for practicing grips and small movements. And there are activities where two objects come together, like the ball and box with hole, or the pegs and holes, that encourage your baby to practice coordinating their hands and their eyes.
Playing with these toys gives your baby a chance to develop coordination in all of these areas. You can best serve your baby by observing what they are working on in their development and offering the toy that matches that need and ability. Show them how to use it and then step back and let them do it. If they are not interested, it may be too easy or too hard. Try another toy, or try again another time. Play with these learning toys will serve the development of their coordination.
The Montessori method recognizes that your baby not only is developing in many ways, but that they are joyfully capable of doing this developmental work. It is what makes them the happiest! Giving your baby time to develop concentration, independence, and coordination will let them follow their natural urges and lead to a joyful and peaceful demeanor.