This is Day 11 in the series: 31 days on Living with ADHD, Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder: What We Have Tried, What Has Worked, What Hasn’t Worked, and Never Giving Up.
Finding an understanding school that is willing to work with you and your special needs child is a must. When Mr Rockstar was 2.5 I found out I was pregnant with twins. Besides being pregnant with twins (and completely panicking about survival), the speech therapists were telling us that it would help promote speech development if Mr Rockstar was around other normal children his age. I hadn’t really planned on putting my 3 year old in preschool but between the twins being born and Mr Rockstar’s speech delay it seemed like the best thing at the time.
Right after the twins were born my husband changed jobs and we moved to another state to a relatively small town. It was late in the year to be finding a preschool and there weren’t a ton of choices. There was a small Montessori preschool in town and I new I had heard good things about Montessori ….though I really had no understanding of what the Montessori method was. We signed Mr Rockstar up for the Montessori preschool and it was one of the best things we ever did.
What is Montessori?
Dr Maria Montessori developed the Montessori Method of education in 1897 while working with kids with mental and learning disabilities. Her method heavily relies on sensorial exploration and manipulatives. As much as possible concepts are made into concrete objects that the children can explore. They are allowed to freely explore these sensorial objects and as they get more familiar with the objects the teachers can do little lessons with them, building lesson upon lesson. Besides sensorial work there is much practical life work for children. Learning to water plants, clean up crumbs, prepare their own food, wash dishes, etc. All of these activities help teach focus and concentration and are building blocks to later learning to read, write and do math. Using her method many of the mentally disabled children of the time made such great progress that they were able to enroll in traditional public school. Logically the next question Maria Montessori asked is if this method was so effective for mentally disabled children wouldn’t it also help regular children reach a higher potential? She opened a school for underprivileged children in Italy and the rest is history.
This video explains how Montessori education promotes curiosity and a calm peaceful environment:
Here is video on Montessori education:
Besides being very concrete and practical, one of the best aspects of Montessori education is it allows children to pursue what they are interested in. If they are working on math, they don’t have to stop because “math” lesson is over. They have the freedom to continue pursuing that math idea with deep concentration for as long as they need. They might even do this for a few days in a row! As a parent I was worried that my child might ONLY work on one subject and not branch out. For instance Mr Rockstar tends to avoid writing because of his fine motor delays. It is not “fun” for him to color or cut typically. However, after seeing the Montessori Method first hand, the teachers don’t let the kids get away with neglecting an area of development. If they are struggling in one area the teacher tries different activities until they find one the children can engage in. So maybe Mr Rockstar doesn’t want to do the coloring work but maybe he will lace beads on a pipe cleaner (fine motor, pre-math, concentration):
or water plants (fine motor and concentration):
or cut a banana for snack (fine motor and concentration):
or wash the tables (fine motor and concentration):
or feed the class pet (fine motor and concentration):
or climb a tree (focus and concentration):
or wash his hands and dishes (fine motor and concentration):
or explore the brown stair and pink tower sensorial material (fine motor, pre-math, concentration):
or explore gemstones (one of his first obsessions at school was rubbing the semi-precious stones on his cheeks) (calming, concentration, task completion):
or play outside (calming, good for brain development):
or feed the chickens (because don’t we all wish we had chickens to feed! and could enjoy their multi colored eggs):
All of these different tasks were fun to Mr Rockstar and they also helped develop his concentration and fine motor skills so that when he came back to drawing and cutting suddenly it didn’t seem so bad after all.
Why Montessori has been a Good Fit for Us?
Maria Montessori developed her curriculum initially for kids with special needs. Having everything so concrete is amazing. Getting to feel the different shapes and sizes and textures is great for all kids but especially for kids with learning disabilities.
Practical life activities give the children a huge boost in confidence. When they can remember all the steps to feeding the class pet and complete the activity “all by myself!” they feel good about themselves. No praise required by teachers or parents.
Each child works at their own pace and there isn’t a set curriculum. Being behind in a number of areas I am not sure how Mr Rockstar would have managed in a traditional classroom. The teachers just kept introducing him to different activities that would foster fine motor skills to help where he was delayed…and waited to see which ones he would latch onto. They do push the kids to try new things so in that sense it is not entirely child led which I like. Where it is child led is when the child latches on to something the teachers stand back and let the kids explore until the child is completely satisfied.
There are grace, peace and courtesy lessons. This is something Mr Rockstar doesn’t “get” most of the time without a direct lesson so I really appreciate that they do have direct lessons and practice on this at school!
There is a high regard for outside play and exploration time. This is a highlight to Mr Rockstar’s day and helps him keep a positive attitude about going to school. He loves playing outside with his friends. Kids need this outside play time no matter what the weather is. Don’t we all need a little outside time to stay grounded?
With his sensory issues Mr Rockstar loved all the textures in a Montessori classroom. The coldness of the semi precious stones, the softness of the different fabrics, the roughness of the sandpaper letters and globe, the feeling of the clay, etc.
What to Look For in a School:
So if you have a special needs child should you find the closet Montessori school and sign them up? Not exactly. Our first Montessori school just happened to have a very experienced head mistress. She had been running the school for 30 years. Also the school was a smaller size 10-16 kids (with 3 teachers total). We were told by that head teacher plus Mr Rockstar’s therapists that many Montessori schools would not have accepted his behavior being so far out of average and would have asked us to leave. That school was a gem though. They did more for helping Mr Rockstar’s speech and guiding us as parents than any of the doctors or therapists we had at the time.
After Mr Rockstars first year of preschool we moved to WA state. When we were moving I started calling around to all the local Montessori schools. Many of them were all ready booked up for the fall. Some of them, when I asked about their experience with dealing with kids with special needs, just acted like I was crazy. Finally I found another small Montessori preschool with a very experienced teacher who said she had a number of delayed children in the past and she put my fears to rest.
Neither school has been smooth sailing (there were plenty of days I had to pick Mr Rockstar up early because of misbehavior) but they were willing to work with us and the teachers really loved Mr Rockstar and tried to understand what was going on and how to help him. While I am a die hard fan of the Montessori Method and I do think it is a great philosophy for kids with special needs, I think as long as you can find a teacher that is willing to work with you and really go to bat for your kid it can be a good fit. When my Hubby was a child he was (mostly likely) ADHD. Some teachers wanted to just immediately medicate him. But one teacher took him under her wing and came up with ways (mostly giving him more math work!) to keep him busy, out of trouble and make him feel like he could be successful. As long as you have a teacher that can see the potential in your child and is willing to work to help draw that out then you are in the right place.
What We Are Doing Now:
Unfortunately Mr Rockstar has outgrown his Montessori preschool. Because the twins were old enough to start going, I decided to try homeschooling Mr Rockstar this year. So far the actual schooling isn’t so hard. The hard part is never having a break from the drama that is Mr Rockstar even on his good days (read “Why even good days are hard“). The jury is still out on whether I will continue to homeschool him. He is making progress towards learning to read and I almost feel like I would be willing to try another school once he can read. I have been told there are therapy schools for kids with autism, behavioral issues, ADHD, etc but I don’t think we have any around us. If we did though I would probably put that at the top of my list to try! I also haven’t really looked into Montessori school for higher grade. I know there are a few around town but they are not particularly close and are hard to get into. I guess time will only tell what we end up doing with education for these kids. What are you trying?