Montessori and Learning Differences

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), over 7 million students — more than 13% of total public school enrollment — have some sort of learning difference. Teachers and faculty work diligently to make accommodations for these students, adjusting classroom environments and activities so every scholar can succeed.

Montessori classrooms welcome all students of varying abilities. In this post, we'll walk through the traditional Montessori curriculum, plus how the daily curriculum varies from the traditional school structure and accommodates students with learning differences.

What Are Montessori Schools?

In the early 1900s, Dr. Maria Montessori developed the first Montessori classroom. Montessori is an activity-based learning style that lets students tap into their natural curiosity and guide their own learning. Teachers provide learners with the tools they need for success and gently guide them toward self-discovery of certain skills.

What Does a Typical Day in a Montessori Classroom Look Like?

Children are welcomed into class by their teachers every day. Before students' arrival, teachers set up a slew of subject-specific activities. As learners begin their day, they can choose from these activity centers. They can work independently or in small groups, depending on the task and the child's mood.

While students are learning independently, teachers overlook their activities and monitor their performances. In some cases, instructors might work independently with a student or with small groups of learners to solidify a certain subject. The classroom is highly structured, and gifted children can expect to have fun and learn something new every day.

What Subjects Are Taught in the Montessori Curriculum?

The Montessori curriculum centralizes five age-specific subjects:

  • Math: At such a young age, children are actively working on developing their concrete learning. In the youngest group, this means learning the names of numbers and recognizing them in writing. Math concepts gradually get more complex, where the oldest group begins learning basic math functions like multiplication and division.
  • Science: Most science lessons are hands-on exploration. Students are encouraged to make predictions based on context clues and learn by trial-and-error.
  • Reading: Montessori education emphasizes phonics and whole-language reading skills. Students in younger groups are still learning how to read and are encouraged to sound out letters and words. Concepts grow more sophisticated in older age groups, branching into the specifics of sentence structure.
  • Writing: Younger groups practice writing skills by engaging in small-motor movements, like holding a pencil. From there, students learn more about pencil pressure and different strokes until they comprehend how to write full sentences and articulate thoughts.
  • Language: Reading, writing and language skills are typically taught in tandem. Language is debatably the most-taught skill because students are constantly communicating with their peers and articulating their thoughts and opinions verbally.

Traditional schools focus on these learning concepts, too, but using a different teaching style.

Montessori Schools vs. Traditional School Structures

You're likely already familiar with the traditional school structure, used in public schools and most private schools. Montessori varies from the traditional school structure in many ways, like:

1. Multi-Age Classrooms

Traditional school structures are separated by grade level. Students in each grade level are around the same age, give or take a few months. By default, this means everyone learns at the same pace. Or, if a student doesn't advance as fast, they're faulted by being held back a grade.

Comparatively, Montessori schools separate students into three groups of varying ages:

  • Toddlers, 18 to 3 months old
  • Primary, 3 to 6 years old
  • Elementary, 6 to 12 years old

This way, students feel more comfortable working at their own pace. They also learn how to work in group settings with people older and younger than them, a skill useful for adulthood. Older students learn how to take charge and help their young peers. Simultaneously, younger scholars learn how to take direction and accept help from older students.

2. Independent Exploration

Traditional school structures have a rigid curriculum with little wiggle room. Teachers receive the same curriculum and then stand in front of the classroom and provide every student with the same activity. This learning method works for some, but others thrive in a less academically structured environment.

Montessori classrooms rely on independent exploration, allowing students to work at their own pace. Teachers provide age groups with learning stations and act as wallflowers and monitor the learning that consequently unfolds. Students feel empowered by learning more about their interests in a fun way that engages all their senses. We'll talk more about why sensory exploration is important in the following sections.

3. Child-Directed Pacing

Along with a rigid curriculum, traditional learning structures have strict deadlines for class periods and learning activities. Teachers guide each student through the same lesson at the same pace. This setup means if one student is struggling to learn a concept, they work at the same rate as someone excelling in the lesson.

In a Montessori classroom structure, these differences are accepted and embraced. Children naturally won't learn at the same pace — each student is different and has various skills. Adolescents struggling in one area can work through activities at their own pace. There's no pressure to move too fast or slow. That way, students aren't bored or held back from learning and can excel at a much more comfortable rate.

4. Sensory Explorations

A part of the Montessori learning method is to stimulate learning through the senses. In Montessori classrooms, students employ hands-on exploration using the following senses:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Tactile—Kinesthetic
  • Taste
  • Smell

In traditional school structures, students use sight to watch the front of the classroom and read learning materials. They also use auditory senses to listen to videos or a teacher's instruction. Comparatively, Montessori classrooms go a step further and encourage learning through many senses.

Students can connect with lessons more readily when their senses are activated. Senses come naturally for children, and sensory tasks benefit them by enabling their brains to make stronger connections.

5. Supportive Teaching Styles

Teachers in traditional school structures facilitate learning through lectures. Students are typically idle in their seats, sometimes for hours at a time. Teachers in a Montessori setting offer more support in comparison. Montessori instructors blend into the background and provide gentle assistance, encouraging students to learn through active exploration.

Montessori and Learning Differences

Of the millions of students with learning differences, many aren't receiving the academic assistance they need. Montessori classrooms accept all students with a natural willingness to learn, including:

Students With Learning Disabilities

Some students require extra support with learning — and that's okay. We all learn differently. Scholars with learning disabilities who may need additional care include those with:

  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Dyslexia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Dyscalculia

The ways each student is affected by their disorder varies. In school, most of these learners can work alongside their peers without much trouble. But, when a lesson or activity is harder for them to grasp because of their disability, students in traditional schools may lose their confidence because they can't keep up with their peers. The lack of needed encouragement may cause them to feel less motivated about learning new things and participating with peers in class.

In a Montessori classroom, students have the comfortability to work at their own pace. These classrooms are comparatively more supportive. Teachers and peers are available at any time to help facilitate learning. Thus, Montessori is good for children with dyslexia, ADHD and other learning disabilities.

Students With Developmental Disabilities

Students with developmental disabilities have a harder time grasping information, reading body language and social cues and coping with stimuli. Students with developmental disabilities include those with:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Asperger's Syndrome
  • Down Syndrome
  • Intellectual disabilities

Having these disabilities makes it harder to keep up with the rigid structure of traditional schools. These students are also often separated from their peers in traditional schools, greatly affecting their communication skills and confidence. In Montessori classrooms, students with autism and special needs remain with their peers and are encouraged to learn at their own rate by engaging with controlled, stimulating activities.

Students With Behavioral Problems

Some students have trouble controlling their emotions or have a harder time sticking to the rules. In a traditional classroom setting, these learners are usually punished for bad behavior and aren't given the right tools to succeed. Thus, these pupils benefit from a learning environment that is less rigid and encourages self-guided learning.

Punishment is rarely used in a Montessori classroom. Rather, negative behavior is pointed out, along with its negative effects. Teachers give kids with behavioral problems the resources to work through their emotions. Because learning also includes large peer involvement, other students can positively influence their peer's emotions and behaviors.

Students With Physical Disabilities

Accessibility plays a huge role in both traditional and Montessori classrooms. Students with physical disabilities have the right to access their classroom. Some young scholars with physical disabilities include those with:

  • Visual impairments
  • Hearing impairments
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Cerebral Palsy

Students with physical disabilities have a harder time writing, sitting at a desk and transporting themselves between and within classrooms. Therefore, these learners require a physical classroom space that can accommodate their unique needs. Although Montessori classrooms vary, most can make the necessary accommodations for each student to succeed.

How to Find the Right Classroom for Your Child With Learning Differences

Over 5,000 Montessori schools are in the U.S. alone, and even more traditional school structures exist. How do you choose the right classroom for your child? We've broken it down into a few criteria:

  • Structure and support: Students with learning differences rely on a supportive academic system. Despite their educational differences, they are capable of learning — and they want to learn. You should find a learning structure that embraces this concept. Make sure your student gets teacher and peer support during learning, which boosts their confidence and keeps them wanting to learn.
  • In-class accommodations: Make sure your child is set up for success by ensuring the school meets in-class accommodations. This arrangement can look different for every child, depending on their needs. For example, if your child gets easily overstimulated, ensure they're in a classroom environment equipped with this in mind.
  • Handicap accessible accommodations: Similarly, if your child has a physical disability, ensure the school has the right accommodations for them. If your adolescent uses a wheelchair, make sure they can easily navigate around the school, including throughout hallways and within the classroom. If your child has a visual impairment, make sure they can easily get around the school.

Traditional schools have a harder time meeting these criteria. Comparatively, because of the way Montessori education is established, Montessori classrooms are a better fit for students with learning differences.

Find Quality Education for All Students at Sapientia Montessori in Cedar Park, Texas

Are you looking for a school for your child? Consider looking into Sapientia Montessori. We've established ourselves as a leading Montessori school in the Greater North Austin area. For over three decades, our teachers have worked diligently with families and students of all needs, and we're looking forward to learning more about how we can help you.

If you're interested, learn more about Sapientia Montessori by scheduling a tour online. Or, if you have any questions, we'd love to answer them. Just give us a call or contact us online.