::Long intro, if you don’t have time, skip down to the blue paragraph::
One of my biggest bones to pick with the Montessori method is that while it is undeniably exceptional education and child care, it is financially out of reach for many people. By and large, the Americans who know about Montessori and who have the financial access to Montessori programs or products are middle to upper class, predominantly Caucasian (and maybe what Ali Wong refers to as “Fancy Asian”) families. It’s less common to see latinx, black, indigenous, and other minority students in American Montessori classrooms, either because they don’t know about it at all (arguably a privilege issue), or because they can’t afford it.
The accessibility truth about Montessori in America is going to offend some people. But it’s a truth we unfortunately can’t deny in the Montessori community in this country. Not everyone can afford Montessori. Not everyone gets to know about Montessori.
Once upon a time, the Montessori method was created specifically for socially rejected, special needs children; and for the poorer working class families and street children in Rome, Italy that couldn’t afford nannies. The Montessori method was a revolutionary answer to a social inequity problem: no one cared about the forgotten, special needs kids in asylums. No one had a solution to keep unsupervised kids from vandalizing the city while their parents worked all day. Then Dr. Maria Montessori came along, and opened the Casa Dei Bambini (The Children’s House). And those kids she worked with in the asylums? They actually ended up out-performing typically-educated children on scholastic aptitude tests of the time after being exposed to the Montessori method!
In modern times, over 100 years later, the Montessori method is now a huge money-making industry. Just the word “Montessori” alone means that preschool or daycare program is going to cost you a premium in comparison to other daycares and preschools that are “play-based” or “regular”. Tuition in all the schools I have been hired to work for was no less than $1000 a child in 0-3 programs, even for part-time enrollment. The same is also true for sourcing and acquiring formal Montessori toys and materials. If you want to source the real deal materials from Montessori distributors, each one is going to cost you a minimum of around $30, to as high as hundreds of dollars per material. It costs on average $10K to create a 0-3 Montessori center-based program correctly, from the ground up.
Many of us who would love to be able to give our kids the best opportunities for growth and development. But we either can’t get our kids into a waitlisted and packed Montessori program; we would prefer to keep our babies at home to save money for later years of their education; or we just straight up don’t make the kind of money that justifies spending thousands of dollars a month on tuition, or even $300 on one MontiKids set of toys. I spend $45 a week on groceries just for myself; and I live paycheck to paycheck. It takes me months of saving to be able to afford say, a $300 emergency, to be fully transparent. And I know there are people who make even less than I do and can’t afford to save money whatsoever; such as a single mom friend of mine.
Did you know that I ironically can’t even afford Montessori for my own kids as a working, fully trained Montessori guide? I’m literally the only guide in my entire state who has my Montessori credentials; and on my income alone I could not afford to send my kids to my own job. Nor would it be wise for me to be throwing down over $900 for the first year’s worth of developmental aides for my baby if I was to use MontiKids on my Montessori teacher’s salary. I can’t afford MontiKids… and I have the exact same training as the founder of that company. and no, they don’t give discounts to other trained guides. Early childhood educational professionals are at the bottom of the income rainbow over here. The only way my kids will be getting Montessori education is if I work for a school willing to give my family free tuition, or if I homeschool my kids myself.
All that being said, I’m now going to show you guys how I would go about sourcing my Montessori baby materials when you don’t have the financial privilege to afford Montessori. (this will NOT be a post showing people how to DIY wanna-be Montessori materials out of recycled containers and whatnot. I’ll do that later).
Level 1: Newborn/ non-crawling Infant
- Movement mat (goes under the baby while using their baby gym), $18 Any pilates-style thicker workout mat will do, with a pillow case over it for when the baby throws up or drools. Whenever possible, avoid spending money on any parts of Montessori sets that are baby-exclusive and stage-restricted, when you can spend your money on things for the whole family that last for years. A general, thick workout mat will also come back around in a couple years if your toddler likes to swing or jump off of things and needs floor covering for safety. Workout mats are also designed to be easy to clean with spray cleaner and a rag or paper towel. Removing and replacing the covers on customized Montessori movement mats is not fun, trust me. This is way easier and cheaper!
- Any wooden baby gym you can source or DIY for cheap, such as this one from Etsy, $12. I would try to choose one that is on the taller side, because Montessori kinetic mobiles are kinda long. Otherwise, you can try to hang the mobiles as short as possible.
- A half to full-length horizontal mirror, mounted safely on the wall flush with the floor, $15? Any cheap one from Target or WalMart will do.
- Etsy-sourced Montessori kinetic mobiles of your choice, $30; or hop on youtube and get DIY crafty, $30. These mobiles are made out of paper and string; so they cost literally dollars to make. It’s just tedious/ meticulous work. The correct developmental sequence for the classic infant mobiles is: Munari > dancers/ Octahedron > Gobbi
- A Montessori kickball (Etsy, $12). You will then tie it to the baby gym with a ribbon so the baby can kick it and bat it.
- Grasping beads (Etsy, $9)
- DIY ring on a ribbon, $5 or less. Take any sturdy and safe ring made of wood, metal, or even an invisibobble for your hair, and tie that thing to a ribbon. Then tie the ribbon to the baby gym. I like to string a bell onto it, too, and then thread it through the ring so when the baby grabs it, they get that satisfying jingle feedback.
- Any wooden rattle you like (pay what you want). IMHO, a wooden rattle is a Montessori baby “must”.
- Music box in a box or case, $7, amazon.com. Search for “music box acrylic case”. These come in pull cord or crank variety. You can actually play the music box for the baby in utero; and when they emerge, they will remember this familiar song and it will be comforting and familiar outside of the womb (this will come back around in the toddler years). The music box is soothing auditory work; and all music is inherently mathematical.
I would also recommend a couple of black and white board books (which will be just as fun and come back around in the toddler years), and lots of face time and talking to your baby amidst your cycle of nursing, sleeping, snuggling, and diaper changes. These are all the “work” of a newborn baby.
MontiHacked Level 1 DIY Grand total= $115, not including shipping or board books. Montikids Total= $300
Level 2 & Level 3: later non-walking infancy
A baby in what I might call “late non-walking infancy” can roll over for tummy time, is learning to sit up, can sit up with support maybe in a bumbo chair, or with a boppy pillow around their waist for support, or even independently. They can now use hands and arms for work in the transverse plane (like in a tabletop orientation, while upright; as opposed to all work involving lying on the back like in Level 1). They may even begin to army crawl or crawl.
- Weaning Placemat, $10 Etsy; or DIY with your sewing machine and some fat quarters of fabric. You can source the dishes yourself from Cost Plus World Market, Crate & Barrel (mainland), Target, Daiso Japan (Hawaii). You just need a demitasse spoon and some very small ceramic bowls and plates. These will also be utilized for the next 2-3 years. I will never waste my money on child-advertised dishes, except maaaaaybe a couple of the cute wooden animal, compartmentalized plates for eating out, because I think they’re so cute. But not because they’re necessary. If you’re afraid about the dishes breaking, use wooden or metal dishware.
- ball with protrusions $7, neinhuis Montessori
- Interlocking rings –OR- interlocking discs $12 to $18, Etsy. (these toys start helping the hands work their way into functional grasps called “cylindrical grasp” and “lumbrical grasp”. They also allow the baby to teethe, they introduce math concepts, and they offer hand-to-hand transfer opportunities which is a baby’s first foray into crossing the midline of their body. This helps with left-and-right brain work; because the left side of your body is controlled by the right brain, and vice versa.
- bells on a cylinder (a fun, cause-and-effect wooden rattle that promotes grasp, hand-to-hand transfer, creates sounds when the baby moves it)
- Montessori spinning drum toy (anywhere from $7.50 to $75 depending how much you want to spend. Use Etsy or a google search).
- Suction Montessori “Punchball “$10– These are in dwindling supply, folks. So I might even just buy one for myself right now in case I want to have a baby in the next 5 years.
- Object permanence box $15
- Basket of balls that roll slowly= slow-moving balls promotes the desire for the baby to start army crawling forward to reach toys that move just out of reach. The goal is :s l o w: rolling balls or things that lumber. Crocheted hackey sacks. Your kicking ball with the ribbon taken off, from level 1. Your ball with protrusions from level 1. If it rolls too fast, it’s not gonna work for this purpose. Also you want balls that are relatively soft indoors. Trust me, the baby WILL launch that ball. LOL.
- Ring stacker on stable –OR-rocking base. $15-20 The stable base is easier, the rocking base is technically more difficult. Any format of stacker will do. Will still be fun into the toddler years. Give an infant one ring to work with; and once they master one ring, give them up to 3 rings. When they grow into their toddler years, you can offer all the rings in the set.
- Optional: Montessori 3D shapes nesting exercise $9, Etsy.
MontiHacked DIY Total: $102. MontiKids Sets 2 & 3= $600.
Finally, all of these Montessori sourcing hacks are valid for 0-3 guides who are tasked with supplying your infant classroom. I have helped curate about 6 classrooms now in my career; and all of them were not an adequately prepared environments (…it is plainly clear whether a trained lead is put in charge of a Montessori program, or not, based on the condition in which you receive a pre-existing classroom). So it was always my job to “correctly prepare” these environments and get the kids on track. Many of the materials suggested above are definitely relevant for supplying a Nido (Montessori infant) center or home-based environment.
…. I went to training for months and spent thousands of dollars to learn what I just gave you for free. Every baby deserves the best opportunities to learn and grow. You’re welcome (: