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.

Walking on Tiptoes

Monday, October 10th, 2011 3:20 pm | By Stephanie Woo

Why is my child walking on tiptoes?

It is very common for toddlers to walk on tiptoes when they start walking. A couple weeks into it, they will start walking on the soles of their feet. If they don’t, it generally means they have very tight and short Achilles Tendon, that’s why they can’t put their foot flat. The best thing to do is to massage their Achilles tendon. Start with a gentle massage and then get a little deeper. If it is very severe, the child might need surgery. However, start with a good massage and see if that helps.

Read! Nap! Cook! How to do it all with twins

Monday, October 10th, 2011 2:46 pm | By Stephanie Woo

Brooke and Mackenzie occupied with their favorite book with removeable pieces

45 minutes…60 minutes…75 minutes…I am watching the clock to see how long Brooke and Mackenzie can occupy themselves without needing anything from me. I am cooking, cleaning, checking email and don’t even look at them unless they call out to me. If one of them babbles something that is clearly directed at me, I look at her, repeat what she said, then add, “Okay, mommy is cooking,” and go back to cooking. They then go back to doing what they’re doing.

At 9 months old, Brooke and Mackenzie can play up to 1.5 hours by themselves. If they crawl to me, I will pick them up and talk to them/play with them for 5 minutes, then put them back on the floor. If they call to me, I will respond by saying something to them. If they cry, I will pick them up, of course. I am on alert for danger, but I never interrupt them unless it’s necessary.  It’s hard, but I have to stop myself from even looking at them because my stare distracts them and pulls their attention to me. They are completely happy playing by themselves.

From very early on, when they were less than 2 months old, I would allow them to do tummy time on their floor mat without interrupting them. Unless they cried or needed to be fed/changed, I allowed them to “play” by themselves. As they got older, I would give them a toy or hang one above them (see mobile), and do my own thing (cook, clean, read, etc.) while they played. When Brooke was 4 months old, she could play with a toy for 20 minutes by herself. And if I switched out the toy, she could play by herself for at least another 20 minutes. The time stretched as they got older.

I cannot stress how important it is NOT to interrupt a baby when he is exploring a toy, doing tummy time, looking at himself in the mirror, crawling around, just cooing to himself, etc. During that time, do not touch or interact with him.  Do not even look at him. Your look is distracting.  Model for your baby what it means to do your own thing. He needs that time to play and explore by himself, which builds concentration, motor skills and teaches him to occupy himself.  Start this trend when they’re newborn and soon enough, you’ll be reading books, cooking extensive meals and taking much-needed naps…all while they play.

Read more here.