One way to support independence throughout infancy and toddlerhood is to include the child in self-care tasks. Self-care tasks refer to dressing, diaper changes, bathing, brushing teeth, combing hair, etc. At a certain age, for our boys it was around 9 or 10 months, a baby is much more active and mobile. Tasks that were simpler with a non-mobile have become more challenging with a mobile baby. One way to support this change is to prepare a child-sized self-care area that helps promote the steps toward independence in self-care tasks.
Purpose of a Self-Care Area
The purpose of a self-care area is to have a prepared area in your home, likely in a bedroom, for completing self-care tasks. This area will develop and change as the child grows and their needs change. However, the purpose remains the same. This area can be a space that the child knows is for them to get changed and prepared for the day with everything needed close by.
When to Prepare this Area
There is not a specific time that you need to have an area like this set up in your home, it will depend on what you are observing in your baby. Throughout infancy, we want to have areas in our home prepared for the self-care needs of our baby. In the early days, we are going to make these areas likely more comfortable for ourselves. For example, a changing pad on top of a dresser.
For me personally, around 9 months my twins were less inclined to stay laying on their back for diaper changes. it was around this time that I started to change our environment to meet their newly emerging needs!
Here are a few indications that it may be time to begin preparing a self-care area. Remember, it is never too late to start implementing Montessori principles in your home to support independence. At any age, a child will appreciate opportunities to grow in independence.
- Pulling-up to stand (Indication that they could do standing diaper changes soon)
- Fussy, irritable and frustrated with lying down diaper changes
- Able to grasp and hold objects
- Pulling out objects
- Sitting up
All of these skills I listed above are ways that your baby is showing you they are ready for more independence. Let me give you a few examples of how you may scaffold introducing independence as your baby’s skills develop.
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Pulling-up To Stand
When my twins were able to pull themselves up to a standing position, they much preferred being upright rather than lying down on the floor. When possible, we started to do standing diaper changes. Even if the whole diaper change wasn’t done standing, I would do as much of it standing as possible. Maybe they stood while I pulled their pants down and when I put their pants back on, while the rest was done laying down.
Frustration with Lying Down Diaper Changes
As my twins became mobile, their interest in lying down for diaper changes diminished. There are times, like during poopy diaper changes, when I need them to lay down to get them cleaned up. During other moments though, I found it helpful to let them look into a mirror or be standing and holding onto something.
Pretty early on a baby can hold objects. One way they can participate in self-care tasks is by holding objects. They could hold their diaper or their pair of socks. I find this is an instant and easy way to get them involved in the process that is happening. Not to mention the interest they have in exploring the objects that are being used for the task at hand.
Pulling Out Obejcts
At a certain stage, for my boys around 9 months, they show interest in pulling objects out of things! They may be ready to help pull out wipes from the package. This is another very purposeful way to engage their concentration during the process of a diaper change.
Once your baby can sit up as well as pull up to standing, we may offer a dressing chair. This could be used in two ways. One, your baby could pull up on it and hold on while we do some of the dressing tasks. Two, they could sit in the chair while you get them dressed or put their socks or shoes on.
How to Prepare a Self-Care Area
There is no right or wrong way to prepare a self-care area. Just think about what items you commonly use and find ways to make them accessible, beautiful and functional. I will share with you what I included in our self-care area at almost 11-months of age.
A Montessori wardrobe is essentially a child-sized way to store their clothes. It is limited in size to support independent choices as the child gets older. As infants, at 10 months old, my boys are exploring this wardrobe rather than being independent in making clothing choices. However, I trust that they are becoming familiar with the area where their clothes belong and see that this area is intended for them. Check out this blog post if you want to make your own Montessori wardrobe!
Children, babies especially, love to look at themselves in the mirror! I found these small 8 x 8 inch acrylic mirrors, which would be safe and are highly unlikely to break. I attached them to the side of our Montessori wardrobe with velcro Command Strips.
Having a child-size chair is important in supporting their independence. A lot of child furniture is still quite too large for an infant or young toddler. If you are looking for a chair or bench for that 10 to 12-month-old range, you need something with a seat height of about 5 inches. I found this little chair at a garage sale, however, this adjustable chair is another good option. I also like this version, which has easy-to-grab handles.
Basket with Toothbrush and Hairbrush
With all those teeth and hair coming in, offering a toothbrush and hairbrush can be great additions to a self-care area. I have found a toothbrush and hairbrush to be very interesting to my boys. They seem to really enjoy the sensorial experience of a toothbrush.
Hook with Washcloth
Offering a washcloth on a hook is another way we can support independence in our young children.
Placing a picture at a level that the child can see is a small way we can show them that we have prepared this space with their needs in mind. I have been so surprised at how much interest this area has received just becuase it is exactly their size and prepared just for them.
Out of Reach BUt easily Accessible (Lotion, toothpaste, diaper cream)
On top of our Montessori wardrobe, I keep a few items that I want easy access to but don’t want my boys to have available to them. I keep lotion, toothpaste, and extra supplies for diaper changes, such as diaper cream.