Maria Montessori paid close attention to children’s development in the early stages of life. She observed the childcare practices at her time and gave many recommendations on how to handle infants the right way.
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at a baby mobile mattress (called topponcino) she promoted in her teachings.
What is a topponcino?
The topponcino (also known as a “Montessori baby pillow” or “security pillow”) is a soft mobile mattress designed to provide a safe environment for the baby during the first few months of life.
It makes it easier for the parents to hold and move the baby and provides comfort, support, and consistency for the infant.
The history of the topponcino
The term “topponcino” was first used by Maria Montessori to describe a small, pillow-like baby mat she recommended in her practice.
“(The baby should be) carried by means of a soft mattress, something like a hammock, so that he remains in a level and horizontal position, similar to his pre-natal position.”
– Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
This kind of baby mat has been used in various parts of the world. Maria Montessori got inspired by observing how mothers in India carried their children while she was living there in the 1940s.
While Dr. Montessori did not “invent” the method of carrying the child on a soft mattress, we could certainly say she introduced it to the world through her practice and her writings (namely The Absorbent Mind, The Secret of Childhood and Education for a New World).
The word derives from the Italian word “toppone” which was used to describe a kind of padding or mat made of various layers of fabric placed between the sheet and the mattress. So “topponcino” could be literally translated as “small padding” or “small mat”.
Why is the topponcino so great?
Here are 5 reasons why we think topponcino is a great help for any Montessori household with a baby:
It creates a familiar environment for the baby
Children love things that are familiar. The topponcino helps us to create a stable and familiar environment that is calming and reassuring for the baby, especially when everything around is new and unknown. (We could say it is the first baby’s Montessori prepared environment).
As Dr. Montessori recommended, newborn babies should stay in close contact with their mothers. In order to adapt children to the outside world, we should try to imitate the environment in the womb by preventing any big variations in temperature, light, or noise. Babies should feel safe, warm, and cozy and we should be very careful when carrying them. The topponcino helps with that.
As the baby spends a lot of time on the topponcino, he or she becomes quickly used to its texture, temperature, and smell. It is also recommended to sleep with the pillow so that it has your scent.
It is super-convenient for parents
Topponcino is very useful during the newborn stage when babies are most delicate.
Maria Montessori always stressed the importance of a very careful manipulation with babies. When we carry them or change their clothes and diapers, we should be very cautious and our movements should be slow and steady. All of this can be a challenge for new, inexperienced parents.
The topponcino protects the baby from harsh manipulation and gives a feeling of security. It offers head support and minimizes the startle reflex that often occurs when we make an abrupt movement with the baby.
Another big advantage is its flexibility – the topponcino is very light and super easy to take everywhere with you. It can also serve as a great cover when breastfeeding the baby in the public.
It protects the baby
Babies have very delicate skin, especially in the first couple of months. We should pay careful attention to the materials that surround them and with which they come in contact.
That’s why topponcinos are made of natural materials and they are usually not dyed. The reason is simple – synthetic and colored fabrics can easily irritate the baby’s skin.
With a topponcino, parents do not have to worry about placing the baby on various surfaces, whether at home or when visiting relatives or other new places (e.g. a doctor’s office) as it creates a protective barrier between the child and the outside world. Also, it protects the baby from cold hands, rings, watches, as well as rough fabrics.
It is also very practical as it has a removable cover that you can wash whenever needed.
It encourages family bonding
Holding a baby is always a joy but it can also be stressful for some family members – they may feel not qualified or worry they won’t hold the head properly and will hurt the baby with their clumsy manipulation.
The topponcino is a great help for those who don’t feel confident to hold the baby – whether it’s relatives, family friends or the baby’s older brother or sister – and makes the bonding process much easier and safer.
It provides a great place for playing and learning
The topponcino can serve as a great playmat for babies who do not crawl yet. It offers a clean and known surface so that infants have the best conditions to discover the world around them.
It is also an ideal surface for tummy time – which is very important in the baby’s first months – as it is soft but firm enough to support your baby’s first upper-body exercises.
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions regarding topponcinos:
What is the recommended age for a topponcino?
The topponcino is typically used from birth to about 3 months. It can be used as a baby playmat and tummy time surface for older infants.
Can a baby sleep on a topponcino?
Topponcinos are fine for shorter naps but the baby should never be left unsupervised on a topponcino. Remember that the topponcino is not a sleeping device and it does not replace a baby mattress.
How do you make a topponcino?
Topponcinos are not that hard to make on your own. All you need is the right materials and a little bit of patience. You can check this great PDF tutorial by VoilaMontessori for inspiration.
How do you clean a topponcino?
It is recommended to cold machine wash or to hand wash the topponcino cover to make sure it doesn’t shrink due to the heat. Always follow the instructions by the manufacturer.
Are topponcinos safe?
The topponcino does not pose any risk for the baby when used correctly. That being said, the baby should ALWAYS be under the parent’s supervision when on the topponcino.