five + two =

How do I improve my child’s motor skills?

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 3:41 pm | By Stephanie Woo

I’ve been letting Brooke and Mackenzie loose at the park. They love to pull up on the park benches and strollers (especially ones with dangling new toys that are not ours). They’ll walk along the bench or the stroller to play with toys and each other. Mothers with toddlers who are older but not yet walking have asked me, how come B and M were already cruising at 9 months old?

Babies who are held or placed in high chairs/strollers/walkers ALL THE TIME are often severely behind in their gross motor skills for one reason only – they haven’t had enough practice! Montessori has the perfect set-up for babies to practice their motor skills. Aside from the floor bed, which gives your baby ample freedom to move, the most important thing you can prepare for your baby is the movement mat, mirror and shelf.

Mackenzie doing tummy time on her mat at 2 months old

Movement Mat

The movement mat can be located anywhere in the house, but it needs to be in a consistent place for the baby until he starts to crawl. This is the place where the baby does tummy time while he is awake. This is a time for him to be on his own, without anyone talking or playing with him. Start with a little amount of time and increase that amount of time as he gets older.

The movement mat can be any of the following

  • A piece of foam that you cut to twin-size
  • A folded blanket or quilt (put a non-slip surface underneath) to make it flat
  • A piece of carpet with a sheet over it
  • A thick yoga mat

The general purpose of the mat is to give the child some cushion so he doesn’t bump his head too hard on the floor but at the same time, provides a surface firm enough so he can get some resistance when he pushes against it. If he falls asleep on the mat, move him to his bed. This is not the place to sleep. It’s important that he can make a connection between a place and its function: this place is for sleeping, this place is for moving. Read more about this here.

Mackenzie (left) and Brooke (right) at 4 months old hanging out together on their mat


Place a full-length mirror turned on its side along the edge of the mat. The mirror is excellent for developing his cognitive skills. It also lets him see himself and what he is doing. At first, he will think the image in the mirror is a friend, but at some point, he will see you in the mirror and see you outside of the mirror and he will understand, that is a reflection. It’s a profound moment! Watch a video of Brooke playing in the mirror at 5 months old.

Brooke and Mackenzie at 7 months old. They spend 70% of their waking hours on their floor mat exploring their environment and practicing their gross/fine motor skills. The mirror is behind them.

Low Shelf

Also, place a low shelf nearby, where the child’s toys and materials can be kept. Before they start pulling up, you can use a wooden shoe shelf. Once they start pulling up, they will love to pull up on this shelf, so make sure you have something sturdy.

Toy shelf for our 10 month olds. A 7 month old should have just 4-5 things on the shelf. Younger babies should have 2-3. Always keep the toy shelf orderly, everything has its place. Babies cannot maintain the order, but they crave the order you create for them in the house.

The shelf should contain a few pieces of material that the child is using at the time. These materials need to be applicable for his age. Babies can be easily over-stimulated, so they should not have many things. Little by little, they will slide to the shelf and take what they want to play with. Always keep the toy shelf orderly, everything has its place. Babies cannot maintain the order, but they crave the order you create for them in the house. Do not put all their toys on the shelf, pick a few that will fit nicely on the shelf, then rotate them weekly.

Reader Comments (3)

  1. I know this is a super old post, but maybe you can share a thought. My son has been free to move most of the day, RIE style, and slept on a floor bed since the end of co-sleeping at 9 months. I have and still do very much limit car/stroller/carrier time.

    Anyway, he’s 13 months now, and only just cruising. Why did it take him so long? I’ve had basic trust in his development, and yet it took him 10 months to start crawling, and 13 months to start cruising. It’s been hard to talk about the benefits of Montessori and RIE parenting to people when he’s taken longer than most to reach his gross motor skills milestones. And social milestones, too. He still doesn’t point or wave…

    Do you have any ideas how I could further encourage him?

    Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 6:12 am | Anna
  2. Hi, where did you buy that low shelf? It’s really hard to find a low and sturdy shelf!

    Wednesday, May 29th, 2013 10:32 pm | Jen
  3. I’m just discovering Montessori now, as my second child is 16 months. I’ve read many if your posts in the last couple of days with interest, thank you for sharing with us. This is the only one that has got me questioning the content. All children will reach milestones in their own time. I feel sorry for the Anna who commented above. There was nothing wrong with her child. Sometimes providing stimulation doesn’t guarantee results. My first was stationary til 9months but cruising at ten and we expected independent walking by their birthday. She was a week short of 18months before it happened. At seven months, my second would not have spent much time on a tummy mat as he was already crawling. However, he has only just started toddling.

    Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 2:54 pm | K Ward

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *