Recently I was doing some cleaning upstairs and while I was cleaning Joshua was moving about and entertaining himself by playing with a few things in his upstairs work space and also just following me around and watching what I was doing. Vacuuming the floor, cleaning the sinks, until he moved off into his own bedroom. I thought nothing of it until I noticed it was all quiet and when I went in to check on him he had gotten into bed himself and had put himself to sleep. This is the first time that he has done this and I started thinking back over how much our home has changed since we implemented Montessori into our lives, specifically the spaces we have tailored for Joshua’s accessibility.
Montessori advocates strongly for the child’s freedom of movement. This was something that I did not understand before becoming a parent and before following Montessori. Opportunities for the child to move need to be provided and in all areas of life.
Joshua’s bedroom was a major focus of our changes. Prior to this we had what would be considered a traditional set up. A book shelf, a cot, a chair for reading, nursing and sitting on. We became serious about making changes after we realised that Joshua was unhappy with his bed setup. He could not get in or out of his cot without assistance. Bedtime which had previously been quite easy and was now a struggle, all coinciding with his ability to walk.
After consideration of our set up we decided we could go a few options:
- Cot – we did not do Montessori from the start so putting Joshua into a floor bed would have been disruptive as he was already used to sleeping in a cot. Go through the usual adjustments at some point to change him over to a big bed.
- Floor bed – we could put a large mattress down onto the floor or put the current mattress in Joshua’s cot onto the floor to serve as a floor bed. Alternatively there are several suppliers of special beautiful floor beds that I am aware of so this would have also been an option and Joshua would sleep in the bed for many years.
- Toddler bed – either adjustment to current cot or buy a toddler bed.
So why do this?
There are many reasons that floor beds are preferable to cots. A wonderful summary is in this post by The Full Montessori. The three essential pillars of Montessori Philosophy are independence, freedom of movement and the development of the will. The floor bed allows all of these things.
For us the changeover was an adaptive process to bridge the gap between floor bed and use of the cot as we had already purchased a cot and did not want to feel that this had been wasted. A few other considerations came to mind as well:
- If we went from a cot to a floor bed we would still face needing to transition to a bed in a short while. We intend on keeping the same arrangement for the first three years of Joshua’s life as per Montessori advice but were keen to, if possible, keep the idea of having his own little bed as a transition to a bigger bed (he loves climbing on our bed so is aware that bigger people sleep on bigger beds).
- Joshua was already used to sleeping in the cot. We were reluctant to move him from the bed he has always known and loved.
- Joshua was already on the move so suddenly providing such freedom for sleeps could pose sleep disturbances, especially at night.
We decided on a compromise and took the side rail of the cot off. This allowed Joshua to get in and out of the cot with ease. It also allowed him the freedom to choose to get into bed when he wanted to nap and when he was finished with nap time he could get out of bed and head to the door to come out of his room.
The difference in Joshua has been interesting to watch. We have noticed he wants to do things himself more. He wants to get in and out of bed on his own. Go to the potty and get on by himself (and dictate when he goes rather than being offered every 40 minutes or an hour). Put himself to bed when he is ready. (Yes. Put himself to bed when he is tired and identify that he is tired, to feel that he needs to go to sleep, not have his sleep time determined by me, me do it Mama). Get his drinks and snacks on his own. Not sleep in a sleeping bag or be wrapped or have anything limiting his ability to move while asleep. To this day he still moves about his bed but has learned where the boundaries are – with a little help from some rolled up towels – and sleeps with a blanket and some cherished toys.
So practically how did it work when we changed over?
- Transitioned initially using the side off for a day sleep so that Joshua would become familiar with the changed bed and be able to adjust to it.
- Continued with use of usual bedding for some time and introduced changes slowly to change over to just blankets during the day then at night.
- After a week we then put in some rolled up towels when it became obvious that Joshua was struggling to know where the edge of the bed was. As it is a bit higher we did not want him falling out of bed and hurting himself.
Issues we encountered:
- Freedom of the child
Yes he got out of bed. Frequently. For about a month we found him sleeping wherever he fell asleep, the floor near the chair, leafing through books, near the door, near his stuffed toys. We persisted in putting him back into bed if we found him on the floor. He now understands that the bed is to sleep. Now if he is having trouble falling asleep he will play with his toys a little, read a book in bed and will go to sleep there. This took some persistence, patience and time but no matter what stage you are at with your child – whether it be putting them on a floor bed from day one or what we are doing, at some stage your child will need to transition to a bigger bed so these issues will come up. The will of the child is expected and desirable! Making the choice to sleep in his bed is so satisfying for us to see.
- Falling out of bed
Joshua fell out of bed a few times. A few times a massive thud and then silence, other times he would wake and cry and try to get back into bed himself. He grew out of it with some help from placing rolled up towels under the fitted sheet to mark the edge of the bed. We could have put a child rail on the bed but we decided against this as it inhibits a child’s freedom to move in and out of bed at will. The idea is to mark the edge of the bed, not inhibit the child from getting in and out easily. I have seen other people put a pool noodle under there which does the same job, that would be suitable for a proper floor bed as it is larger, we might consider doing this for when Joshua moves into a proper bed.
- Coming out of his bedroom
Joshua has had a growth spurt recently and can now pull the handle on his bedroom door and open it to come out (our door handles are higher than average so to get out of his room requires some skill). After several early morning wake ups from our little visitor we encouraged him to either go to the toilet first before seeing us or to stay in his room and call for us if he needs/wants us rather than come to our room. He has his favourite toys and books available so he seems happy to entertain himself in the mornings if he wakes early. He can open the door and come out but he chooses not to now that he knows we prefer him to wait and call for us if he needs us.
We chose to do this to support Joshua’s independence and growth. At some point all children need to sleep in a bed and we feel that we will continue as we mean to go on. Seeing Joshua so happily getting in and out of his bed was a light bulb moment for me – when I first heard about floor beds I was skeptical, I have heard so many people talk about keeping their child in their cot as long as possible as a physical barrier to freedom when in fact everyone is so much happier now that we have demonstrated our support of Joshua’s independence, freedom of movement and development of will.
Was it a difficult process? Moderately. There were disturbances and tweaking of the environment was required as well as patience and love to help Joshua through the transition. But we got there. Freedom within limits is achievable, it may require adjustments to support this but we feel it was totally worth it.
There are some beautiful floor beds available on the market (I would prefer handmade) however if we were going to go the floor bed option we would probably just go the larger mattress option with sheets as I feel that the simpler option is desirable.