I get e-mails and questions about Fern’s sleep set-up quite often, so I thought I’d finally share a full post about our Montessori floor bed experience…the what, the why, the when and the how.
A floor bed is exactly what it sounds like…a bed on the floor. It sounds super weird to a lot of people in our culture, but it’s totally normal in other parts of the world. The idea of the floor bed is based on Montessori principles of allowing children to explore and learn through their environment. As such, Fern’s room has always been set up in a way that was geared toward her and in a way that was totally safe for her stage of development.
We started Fern out in her floor bed between two and three months of age. Before that we were bed sharing and as much as I loved the idea, I was getting zero sleep and just couldn’t deal. I had so many aches and pains from sleeping in weird positions and Fern just wanted to nurse non-stop since she could smell my milk. It just didn’t work for us.
At this stage she obviously wasn’t mobile and was still being swaddled at night, so honestly this wasn’t much different than her being in a crib since she wasn’t exactly going to be getting up and exploring on her own yet. Our set-up was a crib mattress which we put in a corner of the room to prevent rolling and on the open side of the bed we cut a pool noodle to the length of the mattress and stuck it under the crib sheet to create a barrier.
Fern took to the floor bed immediately. This is her when we first started her in it at 2-3 months.
As she got bigger and started scooting out of her bed, she would wake up in the mornings and play with her toys. It was nice for both of us, because she got to learn and explore on her own, creating a bit of independence and I got a happy girl who didn’t wake me with screaming every morning. Many mornings she would play happily for up to a half hour on her own.
Sometimes she would wake up and play for a bit and then fall asleep again for another hour or two (usually on the floor) – actually this is what happened most often. I loved this. She would wake up non-stop to nurse all night long, so the mornings felt like a bit of a reprieve for me and it was wonderful. I will admit – floor beds are the easier when babies aren’t yet mobile, or have limited mobility, for obvious reasons.
I will say that setting up a room for a floor bed does require a little extra effort. The amount of things you can keep in a Montessori style room is limited, because you want to create an environment that is calm and promotes sleep, but also one that provides encouragement for exploration in a way that isn’t too overstimulating. The only toys we keep in Fern’s room, even now that she is older, are soft toys/dolls, books and a select few manipulatives. I want her to have things to do in her room, but not too many things, because I want her to actually sleep, and so far it’s worked well. All of her other toys are in baskets for her to play with during the day throughout the rest of our house or stored away to rotate out as needed.
Things worked really well with the floor bed for awhile, but here are a few challenges that we had…
1. Nap time.
This girl wasn’t a good napper until she was about a year old. Naps never really happened on the floor bed. We’ve tried them, but they just never really took. Fern refused to nap unless I laid with her for the first 9 months of her life and then she finally decided to get on board with the Pack ‘n Play and she’s been napping in it ever since. Recently I’ve tried to get her to nap in the floor bed, but it was a fail. She’s just not tired enough in the afternoon to lay there and sleep. She will nap like a champ in the Pack ‘n Play, because she doesn’t have any other options, but in the floor bed she could stay awake all day. I’m pretty sure she’s going to be one of those kids who drops naps early anyway, because already she will go a day or two without naps despite my best efforts. I know she needs them still, but she’s stubborn and will fight them to the bitter end. I know using the Pack ‘n Play isn’t very Montessori of us, but I don’t care. It works for us and that’s what parenting is all about – finding out what works for your family and your child and doing that.
Our other challenge with the floor bed was…
2. Becoming mobile
When Fern started crawling in full-force around 10 months of age, she decided she hated the floor bed. Like…hated it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. Every night when I would lay her down for bed she would scream and cry and crawl over to the door and bang on it until I came back to rock her. She would do this over and over. I was never into letting her cry it out. Tried it for a bit and it just wasn’t my thing, but at this stage since she was a little older, I would let her cry for a few minutes and if she did stop, it meant that she fell asleep while banging on the door and would fall asleep laying right in front of the door. Not very safe in case I needed to get in quickly which totally stressed me out.
After a few weeks of this, I realized this just wasn’t working for the here and now. I felt like I was pushing the floor bed so hard because I really wanted it to work, but the fact was, it wasn’t working for my child, and eventually I got rid of my pride and listened to her and what she was telling me she needed. We moved her Pack ‘n Play into her room and she started sleeping like a champ again. Like…12 hour stretches…insane.
I was resigned to having her sleep in her play yard until she went to college, because honestly I was just so happy to finally be getting sleep and I didn’t care how I got it. My husband kept nudging me to try the floor bed again now that she was walking so proficiently, but I resisted. I just didn’t feel like dealing with it. Then I went away for a weekend work trip when Fern was 15 months old and Craig reintroduced the bed again and she was totally ready. She didn’t miss a beat and it was like she had never stopped sleeping on a floor bed.
The only thing was…she didn’t really like the actual mattress. Every night after I tucked her into her bed, she would get up and go sleep in her teepee. I think she really liked the fact that it gave her a bit of a boundary which helped her to feel safe, but also gave her the freedom to get up and explore. After about a week of this, we ditched the mattress and just started putting her to sleep in her teepee. I layered a bunch of quilts as a mattress and filled it with cozy pillows. She loved it! Sometimes when I was rocking her to sleep, she would look up at me and say “Teepee Mama.” to let me know that she was done being rocked and ready to go sleep in the teepee. It was really sweet.
Fern enjoyed her teepee from 15 months until just a few weeks ago. At 22 months of age she was getting a bit long for her little teepee and we felt like the quilts probably weren’t super comfortable for her to sleep on. We decided to upgrade to a big girl bed. We decided on a full so she could grow into it and I’m so glad we did. It gives her plenty of room to move around while she sleeps without me worrying about her falling off and I like that I can lay down next to her when I’m singing to her at bed time.
I was a little worried about how the transition would go, because I knew how much she loved the teepee, but it was totally fine. She loves her new bed and I love that we have our not-quite-two-year-old in a kid’s bed and we avoided all the challenges that can come with a transition to a kid’s bed. I watched friends have to go through that and it’s definitely something I’m glad I was able to avoid.
Here are a few final questions that I get asked often and would like to address:
1. How do you get her to stay in her bed?
The short answer is, I don’t. That’s the point of a floor bed. Your child is free to get up and explore their environment. Some nights when I lay Fern down to sleep, she is ready to sleep. Other nights she is not and will get up and collect all the dolls in her room to play with or lay in bed singing songs for an hour or more. I give her the freedom to trust that she will sleep when she is tired. This might not work for all kids, but it works for us and for the most part she stays in bed and goes right to sleep.
2. If I tried this my kid would just keep opening the door and coming out of their room. How do you get her to stay in her room?
I think because we started so early, Fern just knows that her room is a place for rest. She doesn’t come out in the night. Actually, she did come out of her room the other day for the first time right after I laid her down. She came out twice, but I think it was because my parents were over and she knew they were still here. I walked her back to her room and told her it was time for rest and I needed her to stay in her room until morning and she did. She hasn’t done it since.
3. Would you do it again?
I would absolutely use a floor bed again and fully intend to with our next child. I think the key is knowing your child and listening to their needs and cues. A floor bed might not work for every kid and it’s important to hold onto the idea lightly. As you can see we have modified our approach quite a bit to work with Fern and her needs at certain stages of development. Remember that it’s OK to try it and abandon it for awhile if it isn’t working and then maybe come back to it again. Do what works for you and your child.
Any other questions I’m leaving out? Hopefully this is helpful for those of you considering a floor bed!
Love and sleep,