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Best Selling Baby Gear vs Montessori

At nearly 18-months-old, my little baby Teddy isn't really a baby any more. It makes me more than a little sad, and sometimes I deal by looking at baby stuff online. Don't judge me. Baby stuff is so cute! The tiny little outfits and tiny perfect toys. 

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Well....some perfect toys. There is a lot of stuff out there for babies. Recently, I came across an Amazon generated list with the top best selling baby gear and activities. I had to take a look! It's the best selling stuff! 


I should have tempered my expectations a bit, because I was a little disappointed. Well, a lot disappointed. While this list is updated hourly, the top selling item was the Fisher-Price Deluxe Kick & Play Piano Gym & Maracas. This toy description boasts about its flexibility, its educational potential, and its ability to entertain. But, it really made me think about how different Montessori baby environments are from traditional toys. Yet, a baby's developmental needs stay the same. I don't want to bash this toy maker or judge anyone that uses this toy, but I want to show there is a different way. A different approach to babyhood. 

So I thought I would break down this toy, show some reasons why we would use similar features in a Montessori baby environment and give some more Montessori friendly alternatives. 

Mat and Mirror

Babies need room to move - to roll, to scoot, to sit, to look! The FP toy provides a little of that but it is restricted by the bars to the side. Instead, a simple rug or blanket will work just fine for baby playtime. It doesn't have to be anything special, anything works. 

Mirrors are also a staple in Montessori baby spaces. Babies love to look at themselves and see their body's moving. The FP toy has a small mirror but it's placed so high off the ground. It would be difficult for a really young baby (who is most interested in the mirror) to really use it other than looking up. It's also so cluttered that it would be hard for a baby to just concentrate on the mirror. 

Instead, try a simple mirror low to the ground. We personally used an acrylic mirror I found at a thrift store, but full length closet mirrors work great. Or a simple acrylic mirror - like this one - can also provide a similar experience. 

Hanging Toys

Hanging toys are the best! Little babies love to look at them, grab them, mouth them and kick them. The problem with the FP toy from a Montessori perspective is a few things. One, it's so much. Too many at one time to concentrate on and the bar is equally distracting. By simplifying we give baby's the opportunity to grow their powers of concentration and really focus on the skills they are learning. Two, they seem pretty...boring. They are too short for a baby to grab and bring to their mouth. Maybe too high to kick. They also seem fake and cold, and all pretty similar. 


In Montessori baby environments we offer a variety of hanging options and mobiles as a baby grows. Babies don't need all of these, but there are lots of great options - from visual mobiles, to tactile mobiles and hanging toys. The key is to keep it simple and use one thing at a time that really meets your baby's current needs. Tiny babies like to look at things where older babies like to explore. You don't need anything fancy to attach them to, even taping to the edge of a table or chair works well! 

The toys themselves can be interesting textures, shapes, or make fun sounds. A simple bell on a ribbon is a great alternative. Or a simple clutching toy - like this one - hung from some elastic is perfect. 

Kicking

Kicking is a wonderful activity for babies and little babies love it! I see why this FP toy encourages it and provides an opportunity for kicking. But this can really be done anywhere! Babies will kick for the fun of it, they don't need extra "rewards" or "entertainment" for kicking. In fact, the lights and sounds are more likely to provide an overwhelming experience that makes it more difficult to really learn (especially language.) They can also interrupt a baby's natural tendency to concentrate - something we really want to protect in young children. 


Instead, just let your baby kick away! Kicking different textures can be really fun - trying hanging or taping up a mini play silk at your baby's level. Teddy loved to kick our sliding door since it was cooler. He also loved to kick his bell on a ribbon.  You could also try a ball with a bell, a pillow, a cardboard box. All of these would provide simple, fun, natural ways to explore this new skill in a way that was far less overwhelming. 

Music

Musical exploration is also super important for a baby. But instead of playing fake music designed to "entertain and educate babies" go ahead and play real music for them. Try different types of music, music that's important to you, sing to your baby. All of these real experiences are far more meaningful. Musical instruments should be real so that your baby can connect the movement of their body with the sounds that are being made. Kicking or hitting something and having a whole song play isn't going to provide the same important natural feedback. 

Montessori baby toys have a reputation for being really expensive. I tried to provide some alternatives here that were all under the price of the FB toy. A few simple experiences and a loving parent are all babies really need! 

Montessori baby spaces and activities that can replace popular "best selling" baby toys and gear. Simple, natural experiences for babies are better.

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Comments

Lindsay said…
I completely agree with so much of this! I have a small home daycare and love adding Montessori elements. However, the play mat with bars is great for defining a space so an older baby or toddler sees the barrier to not climb on a smaller baby. It’s also very simple to detach the bars and wash frequently, while a rug is not. I am struggling some with the ideas I believe in and functionality for a space with 12 children playing together, ages 2 months to 4 years. I’m definitely open to tips :) I use a play mat with solid color bottom and the same solid color bar to cut down busyness. I’m excited to try using my own Montessori type toys to rotate and use to hang down instead of just the ones provided.
If you google "Montessori NIDO" you can see some examples of how Montessori for infants looks in a daycare setting. Usually shelves and washable mats are used to delineate space.

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