Guest blog by sleep expert Lise Dullaerts from @debabyslaapcoach

Many young parents find inspiration in a particular philosophy or method that they integrate into their own parenting style. It is nice to have something to focus on and to know that others share the same vision of parenting. The Montessori method is an approach to parenting that has attracted a great deal of interest in recent years. It was developed by Maria Montessori (an Italian physician and teacher) and has its origins in education. We’re going to talk about the basic principles of the Montessori method, but it’s important to remember that none of these principles are a “must”. Let your feelings as a parent guide you on what works best for your unique family. In a world full of “high-volume” parenting advice, the best way to hear what your own heart is saying is to turn down the volume.

Confident sleeping 

Maria Montessori created a learning approach tailored to the developmental needs of children that reflected her belief in the importance of independence and a child's intrinsic motivation to explore their world. Over the years, Montessori principles have been transferred from education to child-rearing in the home.

Sleep is an important part of parenting. The Montessori method focuses on encouraging independence, respecting the child's natural sleep patterns and creating an environment that invites sleep and is conducive to a good night's rest.

“Teach me to do it myself” 

The premise of the Montessori philosophy is that a young child has a natural instinct for self-development and discovery and is self-motivated to learn.

Parents have to understand their child's needs and respond to them by providing an environment and materials that give it the space to learn (by itself).

Montessori basic sleep principles 

1. Respect the child's natural sleep patterns.

Montessori recognises the importance of respecting the child's innate rhythms and biological needs. Observe your child and respond to your little one's sleep signals rather than imposing rigid schedules. Those signals include rubbing the eyes, yawning or getting busier. Let your little one develop their own sleep-wake cycle to encourage autonomy and self-regulation.

2. Promote independence.

Montessori encourages the development of independence and self-sufficiency right from infancy. However, this doesn’t mean that Montessori advocates completely independent sleep for young babies and children. It believes that a child can participate in their sleep routine, for example by choosing their own pyjamas or a bedtime story. You can encourage your little one to fall asleep independently by offering presence, reassurance and support.

3. Encourage self-regulation techniques.

Montessori promotes the development of self-regulation skills from an early age. Encourage your child to use a comfort object, such as a favourite blanket or a cuddly toy. Explore soothing techniques such as humming or rhythmic deep abdominal breathing together with your little one. Also let them practice self-regulation methods to promote resilience and emotional regulation.

4. Stick to a regular routine.

Consistency is key in the Montessori approaches to sleep. Create a predictable bedtime routine that lets your little one know it’s time to unwind and prepare for sleep. That routine can include soothing activities such as a warm bath, quiet play, recounting the day or reading a bedtime story. This helps to create structure and a sense of security.

5. Create a peaceful sleep environment.

Montessori stresses the importance of a peaceful sleep environment that promotes relaxation and a good night's rest. Dim the lights (use warm/red light), minimise noise and distractions and ensure a comfortable room temperature (16-18°C). Create a serene atmosphere that helps your little one associate sleep with comfort and safety.

6. Adapt the environment to the developing child.

Offer your little one a thoughtfully adapted sleep environment that encourages it to be independent and explore. This space should be simple and uncluttered without distractions. Montessori method users often have a “floor bed” instead of a cot or crib. This is a very low bed or mattress that allows your little one to get in and out independently..

The reason for the choice of floor bed is developmental psychology-related and you’ll notice your child becoming increasingly mobile over time.

  • From the age of around 4-6 months, young babies are able to roll over and explore the space around them.
  • At around 6-8 months, infants start developing sitting and crawling skills so they are able to move around and explore their world by themselves.
  • From 8-12 months children start getting upright. This is the age where they tend to experience separation anxiety and may need additional closeness and comfort.
  • After 12-14 months most children start walking.
  • At around 15, 18 and 24 months the need for autonomy and control increases. This can make sleep more challenging.

Here’s a contradiction to think about. During the day, we parents are quick to praise our little ones’ motor skills and emotional development. Then, at night, when we’re tired, we want to switch all that off and sleep. But the brains of children and infants work in a very different way. A child wants to be able to practice the new skills it has learned all the time. That isn’t easy in the constricted space of a cot and can mean that our little one ends up staying awake for longer.

Parents are often advised not to move their child to a floor bed before they are 2.5 or 3 years of age. The reasoning is that it would be too tempting for a toddler or young child to crawl out of bed again and again. According to this traditional line of thinking, a young child feels safe behind the cot bars and wouldn’t want to climb out.

However, this philosophy doesn’t take a growing child’s motor and emotional development into account. Another important factor is the child's temperament. Although many children do feel comfortable and safe in a cot, there are others who feel just the opposite. Here are few examples:

  • A toddler who gradually finds the cot too confining and wants to explore.
  • A baby that has learned to pull itself up and stand at the bars, but doesn't know how to sit down safely again.
  • A toddler who doesn't like being confined and unable to walk.
  • A child who likes to climb and attempts to scramble out of the cot.
  • A child going through a period of separation anxiety that would prefer to be able to come to you on their own.
  • As a toddler’s desire for autonomy increases, the feeling of being “trapped” inside a traditional cot can make it more resistant at bedtime.

When is it time for a floor bed? 

First of all, no aspect of parenting black and white, including the decision on whether to use a floor bed or not. The important thing is to take a close look at your little one's needs and respond to them. The important thing is to take a close look at your little one's needs and respond to them.

  • In principle, a baby can be put to sleep on a floor bed from birth. This may or may not include a raised wall around the bed. However, co-sleeping, safe bed sharing and cot sleeping are also perfectly acceptable alternatives.
  • Babies that have always been with their parents and have never slept in a cot or a co-sleeping situation and find it difficult to adapt to a cot because they aren’t used to those constraints on their freedom.
  • Young toddlers (usually from 15 months onwards but sometimes as young as 12 months) who need more autonomy. These are often the children who immediately scream when you put them to bed, but remain relatively calm if you just leave them to roam their own room, with a parent present of course.
  • Little ones who suddenly find it hard to walk and clamber around in small “enclosed” spaces.
  • Infants who keep getting stuck between the bars of their cot or are starting to climb out.
  • Toddler or pre-schoolers who sleep in an ordinary toddler bed, but feel unsafe or anxious and dream about monsters being under the bed or in the room.

By applying Montessori principles to your little one's sleep, you can support their healthy sleep habits while promoting independence, autonomy and emotional well-being.

Above all, remember that every child is unique, so respect your little one's individual needs and preferences as you work together towards peaceful nights and sweet dreams!