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January 20, 2023

5 Tips For a Baby and Toddler Safe Montessori Playroom

We have a lot of kids here! Five of them! Since 2014, we've pretty much had a baby or young toddler continuously. It makes for the busiest and best times. But, it also means that we've had to be really flexible in creating our Montessori home when it comes to keeping everyone safe. I've had a lot of time and practice in creating spaces where multiple kids can work and remain safe. 

My biggest hope is that everyone gets what they need out of the spaces that we have available. A big part of that is making sure we create spaces where I don't need to constantly hover or worry about whether Penelope is safe if placed in a room. This can be a really challenge when multiple ages have to share a single space. In order to give Teddy, my toddler, what he needs, I have to place materials that aren't meant for Penelope in the space. It's always a balance. 

5 Tips to Baby Proof Your Montessori Playroom

We have mostly been able to strike that balance with a little bit of practice. I wanted to share five tips for creating a baby and toddler safe Montessori playroom. These are things that have helped me to create our prepared environment in a way that works for my youngest two. 

Intermix Baby Friendly Materials 

Babies are going to explore the entire space. So while in theory it makes sense to make a "toddler area" and a "baby area" in reality, it needs to be more mixed that that. Adding a few baby safe items around to explore can make a big difference in keeping your baby out of the toddler's things. 

In our playroom, the shelf that is closest to Penelope's movement area, has a whole shelf dedicated just to her. When she was first moving, having this item of interest right there often stopped her from exploring the other shelves with materials that were not intended for her. Now that she is older, I have a few things around the room that are meant for her so that she can be easily redirected (or even choose them for herself.) 

Use Containers Baby Can't Open

Toddlers have a lot more skills than babies when it comes to opening containers! Give toddlers a bit of a challenge and store some of their work in containers that are a bit more difficult to open. This can actually be a really nice point of interest for the toddler and help them engage in their work. And, slows a baby way down, or stops them completely. 

Some of my favorite containers include - jars with lids, drawstring bags (you can see the yellow bag on one of our shelves), boxes with snap lids, pop containers, and lockboxes. Be creative! 

Turn Containers Backwards

While it's great to use containers that a baby can't open in your playroom, there are some containers that just aren't easily used in that way. Our box of play dough accessories is like that. It's perfect for its task, but not able to be closed in way that Penelope can't open. So, what to do? Turn it around on the shelf. 

This simple change can make it harder or impossible for the baby to figure it out. It can also make the work less appealing. For me, it also gives me a tiny bit more time to discover that Penelope is using those materials before she has full access to them. In that time I can redirect or observe to make sure she stays safe. 

Use Height and Depth to Your Advantage

It might seem obvious to just keep moving materials higher and higher out of your baby's reach, but this is a little more nuanced. Yes, absolutely move tiny things higher, especially if they aren't easily baby-proofed. But, consider your baby's gross motor stage when thinking about placement of materials.

I have found that when a baby learns to stand, they almost always immediate use the shelf to pull up. Then they sit and explore the material that is at their eye line. So, those materials need to be the most safe (and it's a good place to put the baby's materials). Then, the things on the lowest shelves are often fairly ignored, making it a better place work that you don't want explored. 

Using the height of shelves to keep some material out of the baby's eye-line can also reduce exploration. For example, we tuck our pink tower nearly behind a shelf because then it's hard to see. If it isn't seen, Penelope leaves it alone. 

Adjust Your Expectations

Finally, I think it is super important to seriously adjust your expectations when it comes to babies and toddlers in play spaces together. The room is never going to be perfect for a baby and perfect for the toddler. There were always be an element of compromise when children of vastly different needs are sharing. 

A few expectations that I have had to work on include: 
  • more exploration of materials by a baby that they aren't ready for
  • needing to be more present to redirect that I would for a toddler-only 
  • being really flexible in how the room looks 
  • deeply considering my own feelings about what is safe and not safe
  • observing before stepping in
  • being ok with a baby mess 

I think the biggest for me, and maybe for many Montessorians is being ok with a baby exploring a material they aren't ready for. In a traditional Montessori environment, a child would wait for a presentation on that material. But, that's not a reality with a baby. They are going to dump, mouth, throw, and touch things that aren't meant for them. We have to learn see that as valuable baby work and balance that with a need to keep that material and the baby safe. 

Like so many aspects of Montessori parenting, preparing a space for babies and toddlers is challenging work. It often comes down to creative solutions and evaluating our own expectations.

How have you found a balance in your home? 

Five tips on how to baby proof a Montessori playroom for a toddler and baby. Practical and easy ways to share a play space from a Montessori parent


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