The Montessori model has become increasingly popular. It's based on giving a child free reign to move and learn however he desires to. I've recently been asked for my thoughts on Montessori beds and if they work for young children. Before I get into my professional opinion, let's dive in to one very fundamental fact about these beds...
Any Open Bed is a Montessori Bed
Something I didn't realize before doing a bit of research is that there isn't actually a specific "Montessori bed" that you can buy in stores. It doesn't have to be just a mattress on the floor either. Montessori refers to a style of living/parenting that allows the child to freely move and play as they please. So, a mattress on the floor allows a child to do this, but a regular toddler bed does as well. Any bed that doesn't restrict a child to stay in it is technically Montessori.
Why are Montessori Beds on the Floor?
So if any open bed is a Montessori bed, then why do you typically see them shown as just a mattress on the floor? This is simply because the Montessori model suggests that you give the child this freedom to move as they please long before you would normally transition him out of a crib. I've seen some resources suggest putting your child in a Montessori bed as young as 2 months old! So, at that age, putting him in a regular bed- even a small toddler bed- is simply not safe.
Therefore, the Montessori community decided to just use a plain mattress on the floor in an attempt to "safely" give the child that autonomy as early as possible.
Does Montessori Work For Sleep?
All of my babies began rolling by 6-10 weeks old...not consistently of course, but it did happen here and there. So that's when a baby could potentially roll off the floor mattress. Even if they don't get hurt, rolling off the mattress at that age will certainly cause them to be alarmed and disrupt their sleep.
I think the biggest question you need to ask if you're considering a Montessori bed is: Do I want my child moving freely when he should be sleeping? Honestly, I think the Montessori model is wonderful for learning and play. I love letting my children freely play with open-ended toys and watching how their imaginations soar and learn! I have no qualms about the Montessori model in this sense...however...a child isn't meant to be moving and learning while they're sleeping. Sleep is meant to give the body rest and restoration of health. A child also does more than 75% of his growth and development during sleep.
The Montessori model says you should let the child have freedom to move and learn in all areas of his life, however, there has to be some boundaries. Obviously, you're not going to let your toddler run out into a busy street just because his exploration leads him there. I block my 15-month-old from climbing up onto our playset outside even though he physically can- because he doesn't yet understand the danger of the edge and the 5-ft. drop to the ground. Setting healthy boundaries for our children is a part of parenting, and even Montessori parents have to do that in some cases.
I simply believe that sleep is one of these cases where it's good and healthy to set some boundaries rather than give the child free reign. Sleep needs to be protected and encouraged because it is very important to health and wellness. A young child is not going to be motivated to sleep when he has free reign of his room to explore. So, there needs to be boundaries set in order to teach him that sleep is important and good. Furthermore, a baby can still move around and learn in a crib. It's just a smaller, safer area to do so and there aren't any physical distractions to keep him from going to sleep at an appropriate time.
Therefore, in my professional opinion, the Montessori model is not ideal when it comes to sleep. If your child is 3 or above, then he's likely in a Montessori-friendly bed anyway. If he's well under 3, this type of sleeping will likely come with some challenges. If your child is younger than 3, check out this post: Toddler Bed Ready? to see if your child is ready for an open bed. If you love the Montessori model and it works for you and your child, then that's great! It is a great method to use with play and learning, but play and learning should not be the goal at bedtime. Do you agree or disagree? Let me know below!
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant