On the one hand, I've tried to put a lot of thought and time into its design because a "prepared environment" is one of the hallmarks of the Montessori approach. On the other hand, I've tried to prioritize other important things, like exercising, eating healthy foods, thinking about how to strengthen our partnership in preparation for the baby's arrival, reading about birth and parenthood, etc. It can be easy to get consumed with the physical and material preparation required for a major life transition (hello, weddings!), as an unconscious way to avoid thinking more deeply about the impending rite of passage and what it means for our ever-shifting identities and lives. I think I was able to reach a good compromise between these two approaches by stretching out the nursery process over several months.
Our goal for the nursery was to create a simple, calming, and functional space. Since we only have two bedrooms in our tiny, 1930s bungalow, we had to give the space multiple functions. Here are some of the many hats it wears:
- Guest Room: It's important to us to have a welcoming and private space for guests. We don't have overnight guests all that often, but when we do, we want them to be able to have a comfortable bed to sleep on and a door to shut. That's why we decided to get a sleeper sofa for the baby's room [Extorp from IKEA]. If we're still co-sleeping with the baby (like when my mom and brother come to visit right after the birth), then it won't be an issue at all. Once the baby transitions to sleeping in his own room, we can simply move his Montessori floor bed (i.e., crib mattress) to our room for the night.
- Office: The baby's room is my favorite room in the house because of the way the light comes in all day long. I didn't want to give up my office to create a nursery that we barely ever used. Also, in the Montessori philosophy, babies are supposed to be incorporated into the activities of daily life as much as possible. I decided to set up a desk in the room, so I could do my work, while the baby does his "work" (basically lying on his Montessori floor bed and staring at his mobiles or working on lifting his head and building his core muscles by looking in the mirror right next to his bed). Because of the size of the sleeper sofa, we had to work hard to keep everything else small. The desk is a vintage child's desk that we picked up on Craigslist. We can either use a smaller folding chair we already had, or we can sit on an exercise ball, which is great for our posture. We also worked hard to minimize the amount of stuff on the desk, so we would have maximum room for a laptop. The only thing that sits on the desk is a small lamp. The desk has a small drawer that we use to store scissors and pens. I found a vintage sewing drawer and drilled it to the wall to serve as a shelf for a tape dispenser, a stamp set, and sticky notes. We use a vintage matchbook dispenser to hold markers. We moved all of our other office supplies to other places in the house.
- Craft Room: Crafting is a big part of our lives, and we wanted to be able to continue with our passion once the baby came into our lives. Fortunately, we have a giant closet in the nursery, so we use half of it for the baby and half of it for our crafting stuff. Although it means we had to move some things to the attic (like our costume box) and we have to get our sewing machine out of the closet when we want to use it, it really hasn't been too much of an inconvenience. The little desk is a perfect little sewing spot.
Despite having many different functions, the room is still a very child-centered space. It is designed to meet the infant's needs, and we will continually update it as he grows and his needs change. Right now it includes:
- Montessori Floor Bed: In the Montessori tradition, we avoid using devices that limit the child's independence and natural movement. For example, instead of using a crib to safely confine the baby, we turn the whole room into a "crib" (by completely child-proofing the room and closing off the entrance to the rest of the house with a gate). Right now, the room is not completely child-proof. We will be more meticulous about it once he starts rolling. Twin futon mattresses work well for Montessori floor beds, but, again, we were working with very limited space, so we opted for a thin crib mattress [VYSSA SLOA from IKEA]. The mattress is only three inches off the ground, so a baby is not likely to hurt itself if it rolls off (our plan is to add a thick little rug right next to the bed to ease the transition). The sheets are from DwellStudio, and I made the house pillow.
- Montessori Mirror: We put up a giant acrylic mirror next to the baby's bed to encourage him to raise his head and strengthen his muscles and to allow him another angle for viewing the entire room. We bought a $12 wooden frame from an antique store and painted it. Then we ordered a custom-size piece of acrylic mirror from this company. Initially, they accidentally sent us a piece of acrylic without the mirror. Then they shipped us the acrylic mirror but the corner was shattered. Finally, I just asked Matt to drive to their Houston warehouse (we got lucky!) and pick up a new piece. I used a piece of the cardboard shipping box to hold the mirror against the frame. Then I took the whole thing to Hobby Lobby and asked them to shoot little pieces of metal all around the cardboard to secure everything in place (like the little tabs of metal that hold a picture into a frame). They provided this service for free! Finally, we drilled the mirror securely into the wall.
- Montessori Mobile: During the first couple weeks of a baby's life, they are working to strengthen their eyesight. Black and white mobiles help provide the perfect amount of stimulation and important work for the infant. We received an acrylic mobile hanger and a whale mobile off our registry. This mobile will be changed out as our baby grows and his needs change.
- Artwork: Artwork is an important part of a Montessori environment. It helps to beautify a space and cultivate a child's appreciation for art. It's important that it be hung at a lower level for the child. We bought a book of Charley Harper prints and then framed them using IKEA frames.
- Montessori Shelf: In a child-centered environment, child-sized furniture facilitates independence. Along these lines, we purchased the Expedit bookshelf from IKEA and turned it on its side. We used the Branas baskets that we already had around the house to store the baby's blankets, our wireless modem, extra baby supplies, etc. Initially, the storage is more for us, but once the baby starts moving around his environment, we will switch out the stuff in the shelves. On top of the shelf, we have his books (organized into fiction and non-fiction), a natural wood container from Target that holds a fish rattle and a circular rattle from Nova Natural Toys and Crafts (since rattles will be his next Montessori development tool after the mobiles), two plants, and a sock monkey held in a wooden box. We tried to keep with the Montessori tradition of using as many natural materials as possible.
- Comfortable Rug: The large rug will allow us to find comfort on the floor in a house that only has wood floors. We purchased the soft rug from Overstock.com.
I put lots of pillows on the couch to facilitate breastfeeding, and my portable breast feeding station is on top of an old table we sanded and painted. The table lamp is from Target. The basket under the table holds more stuffed animals and toys for the baby that we will switch out when he needs new simulation. We wanted to keep the environment as de-cluttered as possible.
We opted for a large laundry basket from World Market for now (new baby = lots of laundry!) but will move it into our room and purchase a smaller basket for our child to carry when he's old enough to help with chores.
Our family has already been using the room a lot. I work in there every morning before school, and oftentimes, Hoss, Matt, and I spend our evenings in there. I work on my computer or do some sort of craft at the little desk, Matt practices his banjo or watches TV on his laptop on the couch and ottoman, and Hoss sprawls out on the comfy rug (after we kick him off the baby's bed). I look forward to introducing our little boy to his room and to adapting the room to fit his growing and changing needs!