The ADHD Child and the Montessori Classroom
Imagine being a student in a classroom full of flashing lights distracting you from focusing on a task or a learning environment, where every spoken voice is amplified in your head and you can’t hear yourself think. These descriptions are designed to help you imagine what living with ADHD is like. Because of the challenges of educating a child with ADHD, parents may at some point consider Montessori education. Montessori education uses an individualized approach where students work at their own pace, with hands on materials, in an atmosphere of acceptance and respect for others, which at first may seem to meet the needs of a child with ADHD. But while on the surface a Montessori Education may seem like a perfect fit for a child with ADHD, taking a deeper look, it becomes apparent that this in fact may not be the case.
It is believed that children with ADHD experience the world in a more intense way. What may appear as ceiling lights to most people might appear as colorful flashing lights to a child with ADHD. For a child with ADHD, sounds can seem amplified such that they can’t hear themselves think. Therefore, a less stimulating and more structured environment will offer less distraction and a better opportunity to focus for a child with ADHD.
Now let us consider the Montessori learning environment. Montessori education was founded on the belief that children are naturally curious and innately driven to learn. This type of learning, which begins with curiosity, is an ideal method of education for many children. Curiosity is the ingredient in learning that brings out passion and lifts intelligence to its greatest heights. Some of the greatest inventions in human history began with simple curiosity; this is part of what Montessori education seeks to tap into. This method of learning exists in near opposition to a typical classroom where the teacher dictates what is being taught at any given time. This traditional method does not tap into curiosity but rather group structure, as well as a child’s natural inclination to please the parent and teacher; this is why grades become the primary focus in traditional education.
It might seem logical that a child with ADHD would thrive in a Montessori classroom since they can move from task to task and work at a rapid pace which corresponds to their natural rhythm. They would be learning with the passion of a curious mind and possibly excel. Many parents are attracted to this method and have great hopes that their child will not only soar but will also be accepted for their differences. The Montessori philosophy not only taps into the child’s curiosity for learning but it also teaches tolerance and appreciation for differences between cultures and individuals. Acceptance and respect are modeled and practiced on a daily basis. In theory the ADHD child would be accepted and allowed to thrive given their learning style and philosophy of acceptance.
But this is not how it plays out, what actually happens is that these children tend to move around aimlessly becoming distracted as a result of having so many schoolwork options to choose from. They might start one activity and then fail to complete it before moving on to the next. Also, because other students are independently moving around the classroom they serve as visual and sound distractions. What results, is a student who needs an inordinate amount of correction and redirection by the teacher. Not only does this place undue stress on the teacher, it forces the child to stand out as "different" even in this otherwise accepting environment. Some accommodations can be made, such as having the child work alone in less active and quieter section of the classroom or even in extreme cases, an aide can be assigned to stay beside the child for portions of the day. In reality though, the Montessori classroom is typically not a good fit for any but the mildest cases of ADHD.
For children to maintain motivation and succeed, individualized planning must take a multifaceted view of ADHD. –Mark Bertin Author of ‘The Family ADHD Solution'
A secondary issue plaguing children with ADHD is that, according to Dr. William Barbaresi of Harvard, studies suggest that nearly 40% of children with ADHD have deficits in reading, math and writing. Montessori schools are most often not equipped to provide an ADHD student with the volume of specialized assistance they need in these subject areas. The Montessori education method relies on students being primarily independent learners while students with ADHD need more guidance than the Montessori classroom can realistically offer. While some Montessori schools offer specialized tutoring, it is most often insufficient in relation to what the child truly needs.
A better option is to look to a public school that can offer not only an evaluation and diagnosis of a child’s educational needs, but create an Individualized Education Plan or IEP, for the child with ADHD. With a plan laid out, the child will work with specialized teachers either one on one, in small groups or within the classroom itself. Because children with ADHD benefit from working in smaller groups, this method can reap good results as well as offering the structure that keeps the student on task.
While Montessori Education on the surface appears to be a good fit, a deeper look reveals that public school is in fact better equipped at meeting the needs of a child with ADHD.
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Questions & Answers
© 2013 Tracy Lynn Conway