Even the most self-sufficient mamas can sometimes feel isolated during the first years with a baby. Moms' groups, play groups and parent-child classes offer community, connection and support during a vulnerable time—especially for mamas who don't have a ready-made group of mom-friends.

For many, a Montessori-based play group is an ideal way to meet like-minded moms, build meaningful friendships and help encourage baby's development.

By design, a Montessori-based play group is a bit different. Maria Montessori believed that education begins at birth—which is why the Montessori practice focuses on promoting children's independence and development from the get-go. Rather than comparing developmental milestones or offering structured entertainment (like singalongs and storytimes), Montessori play groups encourage parents to actively observe their children as their little ones follow their own unique developmental paths.

Here's how a Montessori-based play group works, plus how you can start one in your own community:

What is a Montessori play group?

Like most mama-and-me classes, Montessori play groups typically consist of a small number of caretakers with children ranging from newborns to preschool age. Ideally, these groups include infants or babies who are in the same general age group, or in a similar developmental phase.

Montessori-based groups celebrate each child's unique journey. Some babies are early talkers, while some are early movers, and it's often a mystery as to how each baby will develop, or at what rate. These play groups emphasize language, and later, collaboration, to involve babies and toddlers in everyday activities—both key in helping children gain a sense of independence as they grow and progress.

In-class teachers or experts are often present to offer practical information and help prepare a safe, child-friendly environment that promotes independent exploration without fear. Montessori experts are also trained to observe children's behaviors and reframe actions that might be initially regarded as misbehavior into opportunities to discover children's underlying needs.

With the support of both fellow parents and the group expert, Montessori-based classes provide a social and educational foundation for both parents and children, and a solid launching pad for independent learning.

How to start a Montessori play group near you

1. Find a local Montessori educator

Including a local Montessori specialist in the class—a teacher or parent who can provide valuable insight and guidance—is ideal, as they can help prepare the environment, answer questions and offer ideas for activities to do at home. Another option is to gather like-minded moms to form a Montessori-based group, and perhaps hire a Montessori expert to come in intermittently to answer questions and help prepare the environment. Montessori schools often offer free or low-cost parent-child classes, too.

2. Find a space to host

Rather than renting a public space, which can be costly, consider hosting at your home, or rotating with group members, which allows each mom to feel a sense of ownership in the group. Another option is to meet at your local library, either in a private event room or in the children's section.

3. Stock up on some Montessori materials

Montessori materials are generally made from natural fabrics and substances, in primary and secondary colors—nothing flashy or battery-operated. Blocks in various geometric shapes, puzzles, fabrics, nesting toys and simple musical instruments are a few materials that encourage exploratory play for babies and toddlers.

Looking for more ideas? Monti Kids offers monthly subscriptions of expert-selected, age-based Montessori toys, making it simple to get just-right materials for every age and stage. For Small Hands and Montessori Services are also great places to find wonderful materials for little ones.

For mamas in the group, Montessori books like Montessori from the Start by Paula Polk Lillard and The Montessori Toddler by Simone Davies are ideal to read and share as a group, along with the Maria Montessori classic, The Absorbent Mind.

4. Invite new moms in your neighborhood

If you're new to the neighborhood, put up a flyer at the local coffee shop, send an invite via Nextdoor or a local online group, or ask around at prenatal classes.

Making mom friends is one of the biggest benefits of starting or joining a play group. And if you feel nervous about inviting other mamas to join, just remember this—every new mama, every single one, is looking for her "village." A play group that celebrates your children's growth, independence and development is a great way to connect with other mamas, and that makes all the difference.