Essential Details of the Montessori Mirror
Ideally, your baby’s mirror is in a separate area from their bed. For your little one’s sense of order, their bed is for sleeping, and another movement area is for their play and work. That being said, when there is a space or practical constraint, most babies will manage just fine should you choose to put the mirror by their bed. Some might be overstimulated by their image and struggle with sleep, and in that case, you can try to find another solution.
Use a mirror made of plexiglass rather than real glass for your baby’s room for safety standards. If they roll against it, bang it, or kick it, especially as they are older and stronger, then the plexiglass can withstand the abuse better than real glass. Similarly, make sure that the mirror is fixed securely to the wall. Even if it is a baby-safe mirror, you don’t want it falling on your little one.
For the first year or so of life, you will want a large mirror (about 2’ high x 3’ wide) placed along the floor line, so that it fills your baby’s visual field. This provides the largest impact on their experience with the mirror.
The Role of the Mirror for Newborns Through Early Babyhood
When you first bring your baby home from the hospital, they will enjoy looking at their faces in the mirror. As human beings, babies like looking at faces more than anything else. The mirror, then, provides this pleasant constant as an object for their study.
Child psychologists believe that children do not recognize themselves in mirrors until they are 18 months old, but having the mirror is an interesting stimulation, as well as an exercise in cognition. As your baby moves their body while they are looking at the mirror, they will see the other baby make identical movements. This is an experience with cause and effect, and the truth is that adults cannot fully know what a baby is making sense of when they study the world around them. The mirror is based in reality, and it provides an ideal level of stimulation for your little one because what they are viewing won’t move any more quickly than they can!
Additionally, lying close to the mirror provides an open perspective on their entire room. As their vision improves, they will use the mirror to study the angles and objects in their bedroom, as well as the faces of their parents and caregivers when they enter the room.
Finally, looking at the mirror in front of them during tummy time encourages your baby to push up with their arms and lift their head so they can continue to look at their own face and the room behind them. This work builds their core strength, which they will eventually need for sitting up and moving.
A Mirror for Your Moving Baby
Once your baby is moving, they will crawl towards the mirror on their own. At this point, you can place a bar along the mirror, a few inches off of the wall for your baby to pull up on. The bar should be about the height of your little one’s chest–just above the waist. With the mirror as visual encouragement, your baby will eventually pull up on the bar and see “the baby” in the mirror have the same success! Thus, the mirror and bar together will support your baby in their gross motor movement.
Your baby also will continue working towards understanding the mirror as a cognitive concept. They will absorb the cause and effect of their movements, and they will eventually make sense of themselves in relation to the child they see in the mirror.
A Mirror for Your Toddler
After about 18 months, your toddler will fully understand how the mirror works. At this point, when they look in the mirror, they understand that they are looking at themselves. They now can also learn the practical uses of a mirror. At this point, you may consider trading the large mirror for one that shows only their body, or the upper half of their body. The purpose is no longer for visual stimulation. Now, your toddler just needs to see their own body.
At this stage, the mirror supports your toddler’s independence by allowing them to care for themselves. Once you have the mirror situated in your little one’s room, you can build a small self-care station near it. You may place a small brush and cloth here. Show your toddler how to brush their hair while looking in the mirror, and how to use the cloth to wipe their face before they leave their room. You also can show them how to check their outfit in the morning: “Socks, pants, shirt.” This encourages your little one’s journey towards independence. (See how other parents use self-care stations)
The mirror is a beautiful and simple addition to your little one’s room, no matter what their age. It serves different purposes at different stages of life and supports your child’s development in many ways. It is useful, classic, and always relevant.