The Montessori Floor Bed: Connecting Space, Sleep, Play + Development.

While Dean and I have most often subscribed to Waldorf and RIE parenting philosophies over the last few years, many Montessori principles have occasionally intersected. When I was pregnant with Noah, I came across a Montessori article suggesting the use of floor beds in lieu of cribs. While it sounded appealing and in-line with the kind of natural child-rearing methods that we were in interested in practicing, there was something all too alluring and well-ingrained about a crib-clad nursery. So, when my grandmother offered to buy one for Noah, I eagerly agreed.

But, there it stood. Alone. Empty. Noah didn't do much sleeping for two long years. It wasn't until shortly after he self-weaned just before his second birthday that he finally began banking some real quality shut-eye. Thus, the crib was really never used. We co-slept until Fern was born this past May when he eagerly self-weaned, again, into his very own toddler bed. And, co-sleeping for my husband and I (besides the no-sleeping part) was wonderfully enjoyable, so we never considered any other sleeping arrangement when our little Fern came along--she would be our new bed-buddy until she decided otherwise, too.

But, Fern has been a different baby and I cannot emphasize the different part enough. Fern sleeps. She sleeps naturally, peacefully, without any voodoo, tricks, or trying. She has slept that way since the day she was born and just last week she slept, entirely of her own volition, until the wee hours of the morning with no nursing wake-ups at all. For us, this is HUGE. After a few nights of this slumber-fest, Dean and I began to wonder if moving her from our bed and into a space of her own might mean really restful deep sleep for the whole entire family--after a  v e r y  l o n g  three year hiatus. And, then I remembered the article that I had read so long ago (excerpt from The Joyful Child, Montessori from Birth to Three):
"Every child follows a unique timetable of learning to crawl to those things he has been looking at, so that he may finally handle them. This visual, followed by tactile, exploration is very important for many aspects of human development. If we provide a floor bed or mattress on the floor in a completely safe room—rather than a crib or playpen with bars—the child has a clear view of the surroundings and freedom to explore.

A bed should be one which the baby can get in and out of on his own as soon as he is ready to crawl. The first choice is an adult twin bed mattress on the floor. Besides being an aid to development, this arrangement does a lot to prevent the common problem of crying because of boredom or exhaustion.

It helps to think of this as a whole-room playpen with a baby gate at the doorway and to examine every nook and cranny for interest and safety. If the newborn is going to share a room with parents or siblings we can still provide a large, safe, and interesting environment.

Eventually he will explore the whole room with a gate at the door and then gradually move out into the baby-proofed and baby-interesting remainder of the house.

These are the beginning stages of independence, concentration, movement, self-esteem, decision-making, and balanced, healthful development of body, mind, and spirit."

It couldn't have been better timing, because just this past weekend Fern began to crawl. So, out went the (unused) crib and down went the mattress, onto the floor. Last night was the second night of experimentation and both nights have been the most truly restful in recent memory. But, even more important than continued sleep success, I am moved by how something as simple as this has inspired me to envision the connection of space, sleep and play in a way that fosters independence, confidence and the true freedom to explore, imagine and learn. Because sleep had always been such an "issue" for Noah and us by default, the ability to fathom this kind of autonomous sleep/play environment always seemed beyond all of our abilities to imagine--his, as a sleepless infant and us, as his bewildered and super-exhausted parents. But, after only 9 months of co-sleeping, our little Fern was apparently ready and we recognized the signs.

When Dean and I awoke this morning to the sound of Noah and Fern playing together in their room just across the hall from ours, I nearly cried. Fern had woken, crawled from her bed, chosen a toy, and began to play alongside her brother. Just this afternoon, I peeked into the room to observe her in her new space alone--with eyes still sleepy from a long morning nap, she cooed as she lay gazing at the mobile above and rolling from side-to-side. A few moments later she crawled off of the bed and over to a basket of toys nearby and began playing.

It's bittersweet really, as all transitions in parenthood are. I thought that I would have her tiny soft body snuggled right beside mine much longer...the soft whispers of her deep sleeping breaths and her warm nose nuzzled close as she suckled at my breast. Last night as Dean and I crawled into our cold, empty, childless bed, I asked him if he thought we made the right decision and if he missed her as much as I did. Yes, and yes, he said.

It could all change at any time, I realize. Sleep, with kids, is elusive and something that is in constant flux. Noah still occasions our bed and I am sure Fern will too--and they are both welcome, anytime, always. But, nevertheless, I have spent the last day or so preparing the kid's room for the change--creating a low shelf with just a few simple objects that I will rotate weekly and ensuring that the space is inspiring, as well as, safe for independent unassisted exploration. There are still so many things that I need/want to add to Fernie's sleep nook--a mirror next to the bed, a homemade felt story board on the empty wall above the toys on the floor, framed pictures--but it's a start.


Amy Harrison said...

I couldn't love floor-bedding more. It has been amazing for us too.

Harvest Kitchen Sisters said...

This is amazing!

I am so excited/glad/overjoyed that you posted this. We've been struggling a bit over here for the past couple of weeks, we've been co-sleeping since the beginning but lately we've been trying to get him into a crib so we all sleep better but it's been an all out NIGHTMARE!

This looks like a great alternative, I'm gonna look into it some more.

Thanks Joni!


Sophie - The Joy of Farming said...

It is so funny to me to find this post, on this day. Just this morning, I discovered (I think after seeing a very cool low bed on LMNOP) that the concept of low beds (or the more simple version of a mattress on the floor) is part of the Montessori philosophy. I coslept with my toddler in a regular bed until he fell out (if you ever meet my mom, PLEASE don't mention this to her - she'll have nightmares for a month). The very next night, I put a mattress on the floor in his room and slept there with him, as I now sleep there with my baby daughter (the toddler has his own bed now, in a different room). I had no idea that this was anything other than what I needed as a solution to our particular sleep issues - the upside was certainly that my son could crawl out (after I exited the bed before dawn) and happily entertain himself with a safe selection of toys. Funny thing is, my daughter has been crawling for months, yet she still very rarely crawls out of the bed. I just leave a few things in the bed for her to discover. Now that I've found there is a whole philosophy behind this practice, I'm at once thinking about it in a different way and realizing how right it is for us. Doesn't it just make life easier when we provide a safe place in which we can trust the littles to do as they please? How could that do anything but foster growth?... Again, so funny - the timing of this post. Happy sweet dreams to you & yours!

j o n i said...

Thanks, everyone, for your super positive responses to this post.

You know, it's funny for us to even be discussing sleep + one of our children in such creative and inspiring light. Noah's sleep challenges for the first few years seriously exhausted our mental capacity to think of sleep and infants in any other way than negative. Being able to practice this kind of sleep arrangement with Fern has been enlightening and incredibly freeing for me.

I am open to changes and challenges with this, too, as she grows, changes and develops, but the fact that we are even here is progress.

I'll e sure to update the post as things unfold. And, please share your experiences with me--I'd love to hear them--both successes and not.

Sleep Well,

eva said...

fabulous! where is this fox toy from?

Amy Harrison said...

Congrats on the mention from Harvesting Kale!

Playpen For Toddlers said...

If we provide a floor bed or mattress on the floor in a completely safe room—rather than a crib or playpen with bars—the child has a clear view ... playpentoddlers.blogspot.com

Unknown said...

Hi, I'm new to montessori but ready to jump on board with a floor bed for our 20 month old, he sleeps well and definietly ready for toddler bed. But we now have a 1 month old and I know they will need to share a bedroom in the months to come. Any suggestions to how to incorporate two floor beds ? Or would you suggest keeping baby in crib to prevent his older brother form having full access to him?


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