The Beloved, Notorious Montessori Bed: What Parents Should Know

Proponents claim that Montessori beds help toddlers grow into independent, confident kids. There are also real safety concerns.

by Emily Kelleher
Originally Published: 
a sleeping toddler under a dark blanket in a montessori bed made up with dark sheets

While you may not have known its name — or the deeply trendy and sometimes controversial philosophy behind it — you’ve definitely seen a Montessori bed. One buzzword away from being a mattress on the floor, a Montessori bed is basically a low-to-the-ground toddler bed. For many parents, Montessori beds are an aesthetic choice whose benefits are limited to the fact that it looks good and provides some peace of mind, since kids don’t have far to fall if they roll out of it. For others, the perceived benefits go well beyond pragmatism and matters of taste. Some families use Montessori beds from birth as part of a larger philosophy that promises to foster empathy and independence in children. In certain corners of the internet, parents compare cribs to jail cells and hail Montessori beds as an ethical alternative that honors a child’s bodily autonomy.

But beyond design sensibilities and purported ethics, there are safety concerns to consider. For babies under the age of 1, Montessori beds are a no go, since they fall outside of the safe sleep practices outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics and aimed at reducing the risk of SIDS. For older more mobile toddlers, Montessori beds themselves doesn’t pose any grave danger, but their lack of restriction, which allows kids to get out of bed and explore as they please, means parents need to be on high alert for other dangers in the room. After the age of 3, at which point most kids are capable of staying in bed until an adult comes to get them, there’s little difference safety-wise between a Montessori beds and a traditional toddler bed. By then, it comes back down to aesthetics, and the degree to which you buy into the Montessori philosophy.

Junnifa Uzodike, an AMI-trained Montessori educator, director of the Fruitful Orchard Montessori school in Abuja, Nigeria, and co-author of the forthcoming book The Montessori Baby, used a Montessori bed with her three kids from birth. By giving children the freedom to get in and out of bed on their own, Uzodike says Montessori beds help children identify when they’re tired and choose when to go to sleep, prioritizing the child’s needs over the adult’s convenience. She credits the Montessori bed with her kids’ advanced gross motor skills and independent sleeping. She says that all of her children could get in and out of bed by around 4 months old, so when they woke up in the middle of the night, instead of crying until she came and got them, they could play with toys or crawl to her room if they really needed her.

Plenty of parents in the Montessori camp agree with her, promoting the Montessori bed as an ethical alternative to a crib that promotes independence and confidence by giving kids the freedom to determine when they sleep. With a crib, Uzodike says, “You’re not helping them to be able to fall asleep. You’re just kind of putting them in a lock where they’re falling asleep because they don’t have a choice.”

The Montessori method emphasizes helping a child identify when they’re tired, for example, by pointing out when they yawn and suggesting that they might be ready for bed. It also means recognizing when the child isn’t tired, and not forcing it. Of course, this philosophy can be applied no matter where a kid sleeps. The difference is it’s safer to leave a child who’s awake in a crib than a bed they can get out of.

The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have specific sleep guidelines developed from decades of research on reducing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Suffocation, which takes the lives of 3,500 U.S. children each year. They urge parents to put babies to sleep in the same room as themselves and on firm mattresses fitted to a crib so there are no gaps between mattress and crib, and no pillows or blankets. Since the Montessori bed falls outside of those guidelines, it’s just not worth the risk. “I’m a huge advocate of safe rooms because I have seen the worst of the worst that happens when you don’t implement those things,” says Casey Schneider, a pediatric neonatal nurse, first responder for pediatric emergency services, certified infant and toddler sleep consultant, and mom of two. “A younger baby could roll off and become stuck between the side and the wall. So I just don’t think it’s safe.” Schneider says.

After their first birthday, the safety of putting a kid in a Montessori bed depends on how well the rest of the room is baby-proofed. Before age 3, Schneider says “I just don’t think that, developmentally, they have the understanding of staying in a bed. They need the containment of a crib,” Schneider says. So if parents opt for a bed that their toddler can get out of, “You want to kind of make it so that the whole room is a big crib.” That means making sure there’s nothing they could pull down on themselves, like a dresser, and no loose cords or open electrical outlets. You also have to consider what other rooms they can get into, and whether they can access stairs. Schneider says many parents she works with aren’t comfortable with locking kids in their room, so they may want to consider a baby gate or a monitor. One benefit of Montessori beds that both Uzodike and Schneider agree on is that the danger of falling out of bed is mitigated when it’s low to the ground.

Then there’s the question of whether affording kids all this freedom does them any good. The idea that young kids are better off determining for themselves when they need to go to bed doesn’t exactly line up with mainstream theories of child development. “Babies, toddlers especially, even school-aged kids thrive off of routine and consistency,” Schneider says. “As a sleep consultant, I think that consistency, routine, and setting clear expectations are how you help them get through a better sleep at night.” She worries that a toddler who can get in and out of bed as they please will end up wandering around their room for hours at night, missing out on a good night’s sleep.

Montessori Toddler Beds

The benefits of a Montessori bed range from the intuitive (kids won’t fall as far if they roll out) to the unfounded (kids will be more confident if they’re give the freedom to explore their room). But if your kid is over the age of 3 and can stay in their bed until an adult comes to get them (or their room is completely childproofed) there’s no harm in using a Montessori bed. Here are four great Montessori floor beds to consider for your toddler.

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