The two-position child mirror (link) made of acrylic and wood with a stable base.

Think of something luxurious: chances are you might think of dazzling diamonds, a sparkling sports car, or a glittering gold ring. Is this association between lustre and luxury just something our culture fosters in us over time? Not necessarily. Our gratitude for glitz starts from birth.

This innate attraction has been noted by researchers who have observed that infants tend to lick glossy objects more often than dull ones (including licking shiny surfaces on the ground, as if drinking from a puddle). Their research ultimately argues that our love for lustre may indeed be an evolutionary artifact of our primitive desire for water — and so anything resembling water (shiny, wet, fluid) is sure to attract attention.

Babies love mirrors. A mirror is a staple of many Montessori baby rooms and nurseries, usually placed next to a movement area, providing an interesting and interactive element for baby to engage with, independently.

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Benefits of a Wall Mirror

Even though research suggests that babies don’t recognize their own reflection until 18 months old, installing a mirror arguably has many benefits, including:

  • Visual tracking – Helps baby focus on and follow moving objects in a reflection.
  • Concentration – Humans (and especially babies) are innately attracted to glossy surfaces. The mirror is great at holding a baby’ attention for a long time.
  • Promotes independence – The mirror helps babies entertain themselves, reducing reliance on the adult for entertainment.
  • Promotes movement – “Is that what it looks like when I move my arms?” The mirror gives the baby very interesting visual feedback about their own movements. It encourages baby to the try different movements to see how they look.
  • Promotes coordination – Do you know why dance studios have a wall mirror? It’s so that dancers can practice the movements they’ve learned, and to see what they might not feel. This instant feedback encourages the dancer — or baby — to keep trying different things.
Wall mirror tucked behind a wall-mounted shelf.

What kind of mirror should I get?

There are a few different options.

  • Least expensive: Many parents get a simple long, low mirror (available at many big box stores) that installs with adhesive strips or brackets. These can be as low as $10 but are made of glass so require supervision. There are also simple acrylic sheet mirrors available, like this.
  • More expensive: Others get a long, low “toddler mirror” cased in a sturdy wood frame like this one that comes with its own stabilizing base; the mirror can later be stood upright.
  • Most expensive: Some spring for a larger wall-mirror that can be used with the pull-up bar (like this one by Jonticraft).
  • Variable price: Some get creative with acrylic mirror paneling, baby-safe designer mirrors, or even fun, foldable “floor mirror toys” like this one (small but safe and do the job).

What kind of material should the mirror be?

  • Acrylic or metal. Without a doubt, get one that’s made of baby-safe, shatter-proof material like acrylic or polished metal. (Yes, it may not be as visually perfect as a glass mirror, but high-quality acrylic mirrors do just as good of a job at attracting baby’s attention. Your baby’s safety is worth it.)
  • Some people do choose to use glass, but do so at your own discretion and always supervise when in use.

How do I display the mirror or attach it to the wall?

  • If possible, get a free-standing mirror with a sturdy base. This type of mirror is also moveable, which is another advantage. Example: Freestanding Mirror by Childcraft
  • If it’s a lightweight acrylic sheet, you can use adhesive strips. If it’s heavier, use mirror brackets (most mirrors will come with them).
  • You can also place the mirror against the wall and stabilize the ends with something sturdy in the play area (e.g., a sturdy chair, a low shelf, a pile of textbooks). Make sure that whatever is stabilizing the mirror does not pose a danger to baby.

Where should I keep the mirror?

  • The mirror should be installed next to the baby’s movement area (usually a mat or quilt on the ground in the living room, play room, or bedroom).
  • It should not be installed next to the bed as the glossiness can distract baby from sleep.
Acrylic mirror in a school’s play area attached with adhesive strips.

Are there any downsides to using the mirror?

Many parents who employ the Montessori method at home also apply many principles from her contemporary Magda Gerber. According to Gerber, mirrors are too complex for infants who don’t yet understand that the baby in the mirror is their own reflection. They may try to interact with the mirror and cannot understand why the “other child” is not interacting with them.

The mirror becomes a “magical thing” instead if something that teaches them about the real world, since they are not yet able to understand how it works.

“Mirrors are too complex for a very young child. Simplicity and honesty should be consistently maintained in all aspects of child rearing. A mirror is a deceptive reflection of reality and is confusing to a young child who does not understand that it is a reflection, not a real person.” “… A Mirror is fine for an older child who understands what it is.”

Magda Gerber

Even without mirrors, most babies do end up seeing their reflections in bathwater, shiny toys, metal spoons, and other glossy surfaces, and no mention is made of those.

Still, those surfaces play and distort light and don’t look so much like a “world” hiding behind the glass (which looks so realistic that many cultures even today maintain superstitions about mirrors)!

Get a Mirror that will will Grow with the Child!

The mirror is arguably more important for older babies and children, so try to get a mirror that can “grow” with them:

  • Can be be installed upright near a pull-up bar between 9-12 months
  • Can be installed near the self-care or dressing area (12 months+)
Infant coordination mirror (link) is one that can be used for both babies and toddlers.

What do you think about mirrors? Do you have one in any of your baby’s play spaces?

The Montessori Wall Mirror

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