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.