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Creating a 'yes' Space for Babies and Toddlers

Creating a yes Montessori space at How we Montessori

Have you thought about making a 'yes' space for your baby or toddler? Some parents I speak to say they have baby-proofed their entire house, but it isn't the same thing. A 'yes' space is a room or an enclosed space made specifically for the child where the child can feel 100% safe and confident. They can move, touch, and, explore confidently knowing this space is for them and they won't be reprimanded or told 'no'.

Magda Gerber, founder of RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) was an advocate for 'yes' spaces but it fits very well within a Montessori home. If your child is using a floor bed, then their entire room needs to be a 'yes' space.

"Remember Magda's definition of a safe play space? It's one where if your baby was left on her own all day, she would be hungry, upset, and need a new diaper when you returned but she would be physically unharmed." - Baby Knows Best: Raising a Confident and Resourceful Child the RIE Way

Creating a 'yes' space isn't always easy, but it is worth it. 

"When you safe proof one room one hundred percent, you are being respectful of your child and of yourself. In this way you can both relax. Your child can explore with no danger of being hurt and you can feel comfortable about leaving her there. Pick a room - her own room, the den, or a playroom - and take steps to create a safe and child-friendly environment." Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child's Natural Abilities - From The Start

"Some parents are reluctant to put up gates or to sacrifice space to provide a safe area for their babies, but when they do, the common refrain is that life becomes so much easier, and they can finally relax." - Baby Knows Best: Raising a Confident and Resourceful Child the RIE Way

Creating a 'yes' space isn't just about the parents relaxing, or about safety. A 'yes' space can also allow the child to;

  • develop independence and independent play.
  • experience pure uninterrupted play.
  • develop concentration.
  • choose, to make their own decisions on what to do and when to do it.
  • experience freedom of movement, the child can move without restriction, children will move more in an area in which they feel safe, comfortable and without risk or being told 'no'. 
  • experience greater calm, contentment, fulfillment in having their developmental needs met and experience less frustration in their environment.

But how is a 'yes' space achieved? We use the baby's bedroom with a baby gate at the door. The room only contains child-size furniture and it is 100% baby safe. The toys and materials are also developmentally appropriate. Many parents within the RIE create a 'yes' space in the living or play area of the house.

"Safe proofing means considering what your child may do next, and making your home ready for it sooner than you think you need to. Don't wait until your child show you what trouble she can get into." - Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child's Natural Abilities - From The Start.

  • Use child-size furniture and/or secure furniture to the wall. It is important that the child cannot climb on or tip high furniture or get trapped behind or under furniture. Child size furniture is not only safe it also demonstrates to the child that the environment is for them, and they can use it! It helps the child to feel competent and develop new skills like appropriate climbing (like in and out of a floor bed).
  • Consider using a baby gate to secure or enclose the area. A baby gate allow the child to clearly verbally communicate with you, rather than closing the door and you may be able to peek into the room without disturbing the child.
  • Depending on which country you live, consider covering all electrical outlets in the space. Electrical items can be hazardous even if up high the child may be able to pull on the cord. If you can't cover the outlet or if it isn't recommended (like in the UK) consider blocking them off. We have put furniture in front of our outlets so they are not accessible.
  • Remove poisonous or dangerous plants. Our 'yes' spaces don't have plants on the child's level, we have hanging plants, a vase with flowers and a few pot plants in the high window sill. 
  • Remove or secure curtain cords or cords on blinds.
  • Remove any unnecessary decoration or hazards, we had to put our bunting up higher after finding Otto could pull it down and wrap it around his neck. 
  • Securing hanging pictures to the wall, remove glass, try acrylic plastic on picture frames instead.
  • If using a mirror in the area ensure it is safe, perhaps consider an acrylic mirror.
  • Remove any potentially hazardous furniture such as rocking chairs.
  • Ensure the room and furnishings are in a good condition, remove or repair flaking wall paint, any loose latches or loose door frame hinges.
  • Ensure the carpet or flooring is in a good condition and is clean.
  • Provide developmentally appropriate and safe toys and materials. Many Montessori style toys and materials have small parts, keep these in a supervised area. The 'yes' space should not contain any choking hazards or small parts. Our nature basket, Pop Up Toy, Car Tracking Toy, Matchstick Threading Toy, Pegging Toy, crayons are all on Otto's shelves in our living area, not in the 'yes' space due to their small parts. I've also removed large play silks from our 'yes' space as Otto has also wrapped these tightly around himself. 
  • All toys and materials need to be checked regularly to ensure they are in a good and safe condition. 
  • Think about books. We only have board books in our 'yes' space, this removes any concerns about tearing (or eating) paper books. If the child chews board books it may be worth removing them too. 
  • Make the space a no outdoor shoe area to help keep it clean. 
  • Consider using a baby monitor to supervise the child. This can allow you to check on the child without disturbing them or breaking their concentration. 

If you are not 100% sure on the safety of the room spend time in the room observing your child. You can ask another adult to have a look over the room. You can also use the baby monitor to start with to ensure you haven't overlooked any areas. As your child gets older the hazards will change, keep on observing and of course keep the child's space up to date with their development. 

Some thoughts on baby gates:

"Although gates may seem prison-like to adults, for babies, gates provide limits and a sense of security. It's ideal to put up gates before your baby starts to move because then the gates will just be a part of her familiar environment. Conversely, when a baby starts moving and a gate suddenly appears, she will naturally protest this new limitation to her freedom of movement." - Baby Knows Best: Raising a Confident and Resourceful Child the RIE Way.

Creating a yes Montessori space at How we Montessori
As a Montessori parent, I feel confident using a baby gate on Otto's bedroom door. The baby gate assists to provide freedom within limits. Otto can feel safe knowing he can play and explore in his room. If he wants to leave his room he needs to do so with another family member. He is free to explore the rest of our house which is mostly baby proof however, he needs to be supervised. He has his own area including shelves and toys in other rooms including in our living room, but these areas require supervision.

I often see 'yes' spaces that wouldn't work for Otto, your 'yes' space needs to work for you and your family. I've found that Montessori infant rooms and Montessori 'yes' spaces are generally minimal for all of the above reasons. I love this quote from Susan Stephenson "Remember that a supportive environment is sometimes distinguished more by what objects are left out, than by what are included." - The Joyful Child: Montessori Global wisdom from Birth to Three

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