Five month old Zach sleeping through the night on his floor bed.
My dear friend Pilar shares with us her experience and understanding of the “floor bed”. It seem to be such a controversial idea, yet when we think of it; isn’t the crib used more to comfort parents then for the freedom of visual exploration and the freedom of movement the floor bed offers the child? Read on and let me know your thoughts.
My friends Andrew and Claudia are expecting their first baby. During a recent visit to their house, they asked me (based on my experiences with my son) what items I thought were essential for a baby and what things they should avoid buying.
“The big-ticket item that you certainly DON’T need”, I told them, “is a crib.”
Andrew’s eyes widened: “We just spent a ton of money on one.”
Claudia looked at me warily: “Where’s the baby supposed to sleep, the sock drawer?”
I smiled: “No, a floor bed.”
The floor bed, a low twin mattress placed directly on the floor of the child’s room, is a simple concept that stirs up complicated emotions in people. We’ve become so accustomed to the idea that a baby must sleep in a crib, that we struggle to envision any other alternatives.
There are two main questions/concerns that parents have about the floor bed:
1. Won’t my young baby roll out of the bed?
2. How do I get my crawling/walking baby to stay in bed?
The answer to the first question is: Yes. Your baby will probably roll out of bed once or twice (as my son did), but since the mattress is low to the ground, he will be unharmed (you can place a folded blanket on the floor around the mattress to soften the fall, but most parents find that they don’t need it).
What will your baby learn from his experience? He’ll figure out where the edge of the bed is and what it feels like. He’ll discover what happens when you go past that edge. He’ll understand how to control his body and reverse his trajectory when he realizes he’s reached the perimeter of the mattress.
These lessons are extremely important for the child’s future safety and mental development, because he’s learning about cause and effect and forming an accurate perspective of his surroundings. When he begins to crawl and reaches a step, his experience with the edge of the bed will remind him to stop in his tracks. Many parents whose babies have slept on floor beds have stories of their budding crawlers scooting towards the stairs and stopping just shy of the edge, without adult intervention.
The floor bed helps the child develop an accurate sense of “body scheme”: knowing where your body is in relation to your environment, and accurately gauging how much effort to put into your movements. A well-honed body scheme is essential throughout life to be successful in sports, the arts, most medical specialties, and many other activities.
Now let’s consider the second question, getting baby to stay in bed. Won’t your crawling child be tempted to dash out of his room the moment you put him down on the floor bed? If there’s no crib to keep the baby contained, how will he ever nap?
The crib offers the convenience of keeping the child contained while the parents are not around, but at what cost? Many children resist napping in their cribs: most parents have horror stories of babies throwing temper tantrums the moment they’re placed in their cribs, and we’ve all heard of agile babies who climb out (and fall and break bones) as soon as the parent walks out of the room.
Do babies hate to nap, or is it that they hate to nap in a crib? The answer can be found by placing the child on a floor bed instead of confining him to a crib. On the floor bed, the child does not feel imprisoned, so naptime becomes a pleasurable experience instead of an imposition. The child feels like he’s in control of his life: if he wants to sleep, he can. If he’s not tired, he can get out of bed and play with the (two or three) toys that are available to him in his child-proofed room. Then, when he gets tired (which is bound to happen eventually), he’ll either fall asleep on the floor or return to his bed for a nap.
Children should not be forced to sleep on a schedule that’s convenient for the parents; instead, we should follow their developmental needs. By creating a positive and nurturing bedroom environment, we are encouraging healthy sleep patterns that will benefit everyone in the long run! Imagine putting your baby on the floor bed, patting his back, walking out of the room and closing the door while he drifts off to sleep on his own. Doesn’t this sound better than the daily tantrums of a confined child?
If you have a hard time believing that a ten-month old has the maturity to choose when to nap, you’re not alone. However, it might comfort you to know that for almost a century, parents who follow the Montessori approach have been using floor beds successfully, and have seen first-hand their children’s ability to regulate their own sleep patterns.
The floor bed requires trust, understanding, commitment, and flexibility on the part of the adults. By setting up an environment that allows a child to make choices (albeit limited choices that are in his best interest), you are helping him to become more independent, mature, and self-assured.