It’s so much fun to select clothes for babies, we often get caught up in how cute they are. When we think about how to dress a baby, however, it’s important to think about the baby’s development. From a Montessori perspective, we want to honor our child’s interests (are they spending time on their back looking at a mobile or are they crawling across the rug?) and observe their needs (are they rolling? are they using their fist to touch their face?).
Prioritize Freedom of Movement (and Comfort, Too!)
If your baby is inspired to reach out for toys when they see them, it’s important that their arm is not held back by heavy clothing.
Choose clothing with comfortable and forgiving fabrics and elastics, like jersey fabric (AKA t-shirt material). And choose sizes that don’t drown your little one in fabric or cut off their circulation. Be mindful of waistlines that are tight around the stomach. Clothes that are light, especially around the arms and legs, enable movement and exploration.
Select undershirts or t-shirts with loose collars. Clothing that is comfortable and simple to handle supports your child’s mobility and development of independence. It also facilitates toilet learning because flexible waistbands allow pants to be pulled up and down more easily.
Free the Feet!
Make sure to leave your child’s feet bare and free whenever possible. This allows more sensory exploration through the feet (a wood floor feels different from a shag carpet!), which are a nerve center of the body. Bare feet provide traction on indoor surfaces where socks might be slippery. Mittens and socks are great for warmth but interfere with the way your little one gets to experience the world around them.
Further reading: Why Babies Should Have Bare Feet and Hands
Clothes for Crawling Babies
If your child is crawling, shorts are preferable to pants because they allow your little one to move around more freely and experience the different textures on the floor or rug. Try to avoid skirts and dresses as they can cause difficulty walking and crawling. And, as cute as they are, save the jeans for later in life–they can be restrictive because of their fabric.
Onesies are also great when your little one is learning to crawl because they don’t bunch up and prevent them from moving. Once your child masters crawling and begins standing, you can move to pants and shirts.
For toilet learning, you’ll want to ditch the bodysuits!
Remove labels on all clothing, or find clothing with printed and non-abrasive labels. Tags can be itchy and might irritate your child’s skin or distract them from observing and learning as they move around in their environment.
Choose Breathable Materials
When your child was in the womb, unclothed, they used their body as a frame of reference and the temperature around them remained constant. But as soon as they left your body, they were covered by a new and foreign material: clothing! It is important that clothing, especially for newborns, allows your baby to maintain the frame of reference that they had in the womb by being breathable, flexible, and true enough to their form that it feels natural to explore their environment in it.
Clothing is an important aspect of Montessori because it is critical for encouraging independence in your child. And the smallest changes can make such a difference when it comes to empowering your child to participate in their own dressing.
Provide Opportunities for Buttoning
When your baby turns about 4 months old (yes, even this young!), you can begin to model buttoning for them, explaining the steps out loud as you do. Your child will perceive all the ways in which the buttons are manipulated, which will help them learn how to do it themselves later on. When your child begins to sit independently, invite them to observe and learn with you. Try to find buttoned shirts that open in the front or on the shoulders to make this process accessible to your little one. Around age 2, they will really start to button on their own.
Hint: the Monti Kids dressing frames from our Level 7 subscription box for toddlers are a great way to practice this skill! The velcro dressing frame pictured above is a stepping stone on the way to buttoning.
Be Patient As Your Little One Practices
Give your child ample time to go through the mental process of dressing and undressing on their own and undistracted. Rather than correcting them, try to offer opportunities to practice. The first step is to encourage them to dress independently. So breathe through it if your child’s shorts are on backwards or if their shoes are on the wrong feet! This too shall pass. If it is a big problem, or something that puts them at risk, ask them if their feet feel funny (often they will if shoes are on the wrong feet). If they say yes, invite them to switch them. When you support independence rather than correcting your child, it will help build their confidence and persistence!
Don’t Forget to Break Out the Birthday Suit
With all this talk about clothing, it seems an apt reminder that the best clothing for your child is no clothing at all (except diapers, of course)! If your child has access to a stable temperature in their home environment, the chance to be naked is developmentally beneficial. Make sure the environment is not too humid or dry when they are clothing-free.
Like what you see? All the clothing in these images is from Primary.com, a favorite of Monti Kids. They provide simple, breathable, comfortable, and adorable clothing for 0-12-year-olds in bright and neutral colors.