“These words reveal the child’s inner needs: ‘Help me to do it alone.’” - Dr. Montessori
Children love to do things on their own when given the opportunity. The satisfaction of independent success empowers children to feel capable and self-confident. Children who learn independently have been shown to work harder, perform better, retain more information, and be more creative and joyful in the process.
"When parents encourage independence from birth, they are often pleasantly surprised by how much their child is able to do by themselves from an earlier age," says Montessori parent and educator, Christie Stanford.
Here's how to set up a confidence-inspiring baby play area in any room
1. Choose a space
There are countless ways to set up a play space, so consider what makes sense for your family. The space might be in your child’s room or the living room. Find a place that’s convenient for you, perhaps where you and your family spend most of your time together. This may give you a chance to do your own activity nearby, like wash the dishes or prepare lunch, while your baby plays independently. Many parents are surprised by how long a child can concentrate and play independently when given developmentally appropriate toys and a safe, prepared environment.
2. Find a shelf
Arranging toys at your child’s eye level will further empower them to play and learn independently as they grow. You can use a store-bought shelf, a built-in bookshelf, a cabinet, or a heavy coffee table for your play area. Whatever you choose, make sure it is stable or bolted to the wall. This creates an organized place for your child’s toys and teaches the habit of putting their things away when they are finished. By having a place for everything, your child knows where to find it and where to replace it.
Here are some toy shelf suggestions from Monti Kids.
At first, you will bring toys to your child and replace them on the shelf, cleaning up the toys before your child is mobile. But as your little one observes you consistently putting things in their places, they will absorb this routine and eventually take on the habit. They will internalize the tidiness of their environment in its default state, and be more inclined to appreciate it and keep it this way as they grow. This teaches them to take responsibility for their space. And as they get older, this setup will enable them to make choices without being overwhelmed by options.
3. Display 6-8 toys at a time, and rotate them periodically
Keeping just a few toys and books on your play space shelf will help your child focus as they play. An uncluttered environment helps your child build an internal sense of order and calm. With the burden of overstimulation lifted, they are free to learn from and appreciate each toy they endeavor to engage with.
Related: See what toys we send in each subscription box >>
4. Present skills step-by-step at your child’s pace
Montessori presentations engage our children’s attention and learning. Through them, your child learns how to follow a sequence of events, while role modeling developmentally appropriate skills for them to practice so they can gain more independence. This is why every toy in the Monti Kids program comes with a short video that explains how to present it to your child to maximize their learning.
You can use this approach at home with activities beyond playing, like putting on shoes or setting the dinner table. We can break any activity into little steps based on how much we observe a child can manage on their own.
More Montessori tips for play:
- Use slow hand movements so your child can follow them
- Avoid talking while showing. This distracts your child from watching your hands.
- Use movements for which you observe your child is developmentally ready instead of completing the task the way you (an adult) might. For example, holding a toy with two hands or pushing a ball down with their palm rather than with one finger.
- Be consistent with your presentations. By showing the same sequence of movements each time, you make it easier for your child to catch on and follow through.
- Follow your child’s interests and cues to collaborate. Your child will be eager to collaborate and participate. Invite them to collaborate when it’s “their turn” and offer some help when you see they are struggling or getting frustrated: “let me show you how.”