Use The Montessori Method To Teach Students With Disabilities

The Montessori Method isn’t new, but it has so many concepts that work well with children, especially neurodiverse children.

Montessori is a method of teaching that allows students flexibility, choice, and trust. Maria Montessori opened the first school in 1907 and focused on all areas of child development in an academic setting.

Because the Montessori Method focuses children on all areas of development and independence, it can be a great way to approach education for neurodiverse children, whether in a public school setting, private school, or home.

One of my daughter’s first sentences was “No! Do it myself!” around 18 months old. So as soon as we could, we enrolled her in a Montessori preschool that celebrated that independence. We went on to enroll her in a private Montessori elementary school because it embedded everything I would request on an IEP for all students.

Basics of Montessori Education

Individual students follow their own curiosity at their own pace, taking the time they need to fully understand each concept and meet individualized learning goals.

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Montessori schools are commonly available for ages 2-5, where the focus is on developing skills. Private and public schools have adopted the Montessori Method, teaching up to 6th or 8th grade, but rarely beyond that. The methods vary depending on age and skills taught, but the underlying ideas remain the same.

The goal of a Montessori education is:

  • Independence
  • Academic Curiosity
  • Personal Responsibility
  • Community Responsibility

Some ways this is promoted in a Montessori classroom:

  • Individualized learning plans
  • Trusting children to do activities
  • Allowing students to move at their own pace
  • Giving students the freedom to choose
  • Variety of learning materials
  • Encouraging students to work together
  • Encouraging students to teach each other
  • Multiple ages of students in one classroom (6-9, 9-12)
  • Individual instruction
  • Individual pacing
  • Having students clean up the classroom

There is much more to the method and many ways these concepts are taken and changed between schools and Montessori teaching programs.

Montessori for Students with Disabilities

I hadn’t realized how much I gravitated towards Montessori-style education until I enrolled my daughter in private school and saw that they were doing things as I did at home.

Choice is a big theme in many IEPs, and this is something Montessori does very well.

By choice, we don’t mean the choice between doing schoolwork and playing video games. The choice is between educational materials, something Montessori called “didactic materials.” It can even be within a single subject. For example, choosing between math materials or choosing which book to read.

This method works very well, especially for students with ADHD who want variety in the materials presented. Students will often need a new way to approach a problem and get bored when working with the same materials each day. When the routine becomes highly predictable, ADHD students tend to rebel.

Since everyone in the class is working on their own individual program, no one is behind or ahead. Every student in the class is working at their own level and pace.

Control is a big issue in special education, even more so than in a typical classroom. All students are rushed from room to room, class to class, but students with disabilities are micromanaged at a higher level. The opportunities they get with Montessori to control what and how they learn are empowering.

Since education is individualized for all students, students with disabilities don’t stand out as different. They can work on a concept for as long as is needed or jump ahead without impacting the rest of the class.

Students can learn a concept in several ways, one of which is by teaching each other. Students learn better from other kids than from adults lecturing them. This helps the students who are teaching as well as learning because they must consider where the other student is in their education and not just what they know.

This leads naturally to social-emotional education and teaching empathy. They are encouraged to consider the rest of the community (classroom) and think about ideas outside their own experience.

Montessori classrooms are designed for freedom of movement, allowing students to move their bodies and be stuck at a desk. This idea translates very well for students with ADHD or sensory needs.

I started to understand how great it was for kids with disabilities when I realized how many students in my daughter’s class had a diagnosis or another but didn’t need modifications and accommodations outside of what was built into the Montessori classroom.

How to Implement Montessori Education in the Classroom

If you want to incorporate pieces of the Montessori Method into your classroom, you don’t need to get certified as a Montessori teacher; you can simply take some of the ideas below to incorporate them into the current schedule and curriculum already used.

Consider how you can add two of the most vital elements of Montessori: choice and freedom of movement.

Think about how you can incorporate movement into your classroom.

  • Multiple places to do work
    • Standing desks
    • A work area on the floor for sitting or lying down
  • Stations to move around the classroom
  • Allow students to make a fort of their desk to work underneath it
  • Supplement your curriculum with physical games

Adding choice to your classroom doesn’t mean abandoning your curriculum.

  • Offer multiple ways to show proficiency.
    • Paint answers to a worksheet
    • Create a game (with answers)
    • Draw a picture
    • Create a worksheet (with answers)
  • Multiple worksheet options
    • Color by answer (ie math sums)
    • Worksheets with different looks
  • Games
  • Physical learning materials
    • Blocks
    • Beads
    • Legos with numbers, letters, or words

The visibility of the options stands out visually in a Montessori classroom. Materials are on shelves and completely visible to the students at the level of the students. Students with disabilities can sometimes forget items are there, so having them readily available is key.

Encourage or pair students together by weaknesses and strengths in different academic areas. Ensure that all students are given a way to teach others and aren’t being taught in every area by another. Teaching other students can give them a greater understanding of a subject and boost confidence.

How to Use Montessori for Homeschool

Use the ideas in the classroom, but take it even further.

When planning each subject, get multiple options. If you want to use one main curriculum, find games or other fun options for days when Plan A isn’t working.

I like to find as many options as possible and include them on the schedule. For example, I currently have links to 8 different typing programs or games with the requirement of doing one for 15 minutes each day.

Homeschool allows not only flexibility but customization for each student. Use it to your advantage.

Make sure to keep the options visible on the schedule or the shelves.

If you are teaching multiple children, encourage them to teach each other where it makes sense. Some games cover multiple ages or can be adjusted to cover many years. Especially have the younger ones teach where it makes sense.

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