The Montessori Method and occupational therapy (OT) are both powerful tools for families and educators, especially when children are struggling with learning and reaching developmental milestones. Delays or problems may occur with motor coordination, attention, organization and behavior. Both OT and the Montessori Method focus on physical and cognitive development, using age-appropriate “real life” activities. Whether reading, writing or arithmetic, OTs and Montessori teachers focus on the child’s strengths using developmentally appropriate lessons and tasks that are meaningful to the child at home or school. For example, if a child is struggling with letter or word recognition while his peers seem to acquire these skills easily, the teacher will allow the student to develop other skills like pairing words and pictures or objects and sounds. Multisensory and academic skills are embedded in real-life activities such as counting, sorting, cleaning silverware, setting a table, matching patterns, etc.
Dr. Maria Montessori was a physician who worked with mentally and emotionally challenged children, often from disadvantaged homes, during the first half of the 20th century, way before technology and television. She believed that acquisition of academic skills comes naturally according to each child’s unique mental, emotional and physical makeup, and when presented with challenges and new skills, they will gravitate towards those activities when they’re ready. She believed that the environment should meet the needs of individual children, while teachers and parents guide them, without manufacturing expectations by standards of age or grade. Often, Montessori Method classrooms consists of students of many ages in one classroom, yet individual development is honored and encouraged. Classrooms are designed with room for movement and desks as well as chairs and manipulatives sized to enhance natural development and independence. Equipment is created with excellent craftsmanship and designed and maintained carefully to encourage respect and care when handling to avoid breaking or damage. Montessori teachers are specially trained in the unique Montessori Method via professional development activities and mentoring by experienced teachers. Parental involvement is highly encouraged and respected so that they can collaborate with teachers and carry over the ideas and activities at home.
Play and movement are also special characteristics of the Montessori Method, and activities are used to develop leadership and self-confidence, not only academic performance. Before enrolling your child in a Montessori School, it is beneficial for parents to read books about the Montessori Method by Dr. Maria Montessori and her experts, and ensure teachers and administrators are well trained to carry out their unique methods. Online and site-based support groups for parents can share experiences, learn and grow together as well as support their child’s growth. The child-centered approach created by Dr. Montessori went against the authority-centered approach of her era, which unfortunately is how most schools operate and function today. Her philosophy supported a child’s ability to lead, rather than be forced to adapt to adult standards, while the teacher acts as a keen observer and guide.
How Are Occupational Therapy and Montessori Method Similar?
Occupational Therapy (OT) focuses on helping children and adults achieve skills and adaptive behaviors to support independence in daily life. In a classroom, an OT may support the use of play activities to practice developmental skills that may be delayed in individual children. The OT will provide multi-sensory techniques that can help learn a variety of skills, from handwriting, reading, seeing or hearing skills to important everyday skills like dressing, buttoning, tying shoelaces, socializing, coordinating complex movements via sports, or enhancing cognitive skills like memory, problem-solving and anger management techniques for self-control, etc. Children who are independent, adaptable, and self-confident can choose creative ways to more easily accept challenges, acquire new skills, and enjoy life to its fullest. Doesn’t that sound like the Montessori Method?
For Students with Behavioral Problems and ADD/ADHD
Some people mistakenly assume that children with behavioral difficulties, ADD and ADHD or poor socialization are “defective” in some way. However, Dr. Montessori believed that they are merely the result of learning or behavior differences which must be studied and addressed. A child acting out could actually be expressing a need, like for food if they’re hungry, rest if they’re tired, nurturing if they’re feeling insecure or they could be not feeling well due to an illness. The classroom activity might not have met their unique developmental stage, and their behavior could be addressed with an activity more tailored to them. The introduction of lesson planning using the Montessori Period Lesson consists of academic and daily life activities taught in a step by step process rather than the activity as a product of one skill. Each step needed to complete that activity is crucial and supports the overall successful progression of skill acquisition needed to learn a new skill. The process of learning, growing, self-guiding and monitoring are therefore more important in the classroom than the product of a good grade on a math test, which is meaningless to a child’s life. In a Montessori classroom, children are blossoming and allowed to grow at their own speed instead of comparing themselves to others and performing at a standard that is created by “experts.”
Thanks to the versatility of learning in Montessori classrooms, children can experience higher levels of self-motivation, creativity, and success in academics and life skills, as each child has their unique pace and interests that are supported and nurtured. An organized, aesthetically pleasing and well-maintained classroom with minimal distractions is another focus of Dr. Montessori’s Method. Dr. Montessori designed her classrooms with size appropriate tables, chairs, shelves, cabinets, sinks, toilets, etc. to support success and independence, often leading to a diminished need for ongoing adult supervision. OTs and OT clinics are based on these ideas as well.
The Montessori Method can often reduce the need for occupational therapy intervention by addressing developmental delays organically within a classroom environment. In cases of extreme delays, occupational therapists can act as classroom consultants to support the child, teacher and parents in order to enhance the child’s development and provide ideas for accommodations and compensation. This is a perfect partnership of disciplines with minimal cost and maximum success. Instead of working with one student, an OT can assist in program adaptations, sensory-motor activities and unique manipulatives that can enhance learning and teaching effectiveness that can be used for all students.
In the average classroom, the children who develop slower or faster than the so-called “normal” or “average” child, may not receive the individual attention that would enable them to acquire specific skills. Most teaching is focused on the average student, which can be problematic for those with learning differences. The Montessori Method stresses the concept, now known as differentiated education, where lessons planning is accomplished with adaptations of the same classroom activity.
Students all learn together at their own speed, for example, in the same classroom, an “above average” student may get an activity that has a more difficult challenge, where a slower learner will get an easier activity. Professional development using sensory-motor strategies and creative adaptations provides teachers with the skills needed in order to teach a child for real-life situations, rather than for a test that adheres to a standard created by so-called “experts.”
Standardized testing often does not reflect intelligence and learning, but instead may merely demonstrate the ability of a child to memorize concepts. The observation of a child using their learned skills means they’re retaining knowledge and applying it to their daily lives. A child can use those to adapt and generalize skills in order to achieve greater academic excellence as well as self-confidence. Occupational therapy and the Montessori Method programs work with children as individuals within a group, promoting leadership, self-awareness and skills that build on a continuum of mental, emotional, physical, academic and social skills.
Daily Living Activities, Executive Functioning & Sensory Motor Skills
Is your child struggling with organization, memory, behavior, problem solving or sensory processing? Is your child clumsy, slow, disorganized or gives up easily? Does your child struggle with sports, vision, communication, concentration, or manipulating scissors or a pencil? Then sensory motor exercises may provide a natural remedy if based on specific needs. See sensory-based movement activities. Movement throughout the day in a school setting can help reinforce mental and emotional development.
Brain Gym exercises are sensory-motor movement sequences that have been linked to specific areas of brain development and function, now verified by evidence-based research, clinical observation and brain scans. Brain Gym Exercises combined with play, leisure and sports activities can provide a fun and easy way to enhance development. They can require crossing the midline of the body or the use of two hands to enhance right and left-brain integration and communication across the corpus callosum. Most life skills require the use of many parts of the brain to function seamlessly via change and repetition for new learning to be maintained. Therefore, a balance of new learning and integration with what has been previously learned with small challenges for growth require a brain and body that functions with minimal stress and carefully graded stimulation.
Environmental and biological stress can impact learning, attention, academic performance, motor development, and behavior.
Many classrooms do not provide an optimal learning environment, as they can be creatively overstimulating and distracting, lit with stressful fluorescent lighting with minimal healthy, non-glare natural light, have little sound absorption so heating and cooling system noises, fluorescent lighting humming, and movement can cause irritating distractions. Not to mention, poor diet, air quality and even mold could impact the immune system causing illnesses, behavior problems, and brain fog. Desks, chairs and bathrooms are often too big or small and have minimal adaptability to meet the needs of different sized bodies (height, hand grasp, strength, reaching range, ergonomic, posture and positioning). The use of increasing electronic devices, white boards and less movement during the day all contribute to often overwhelming fatigue and stress. Homework demands become burdens instead of interesting interactive fun ways to support learning.
Montessori Method classrooms and OT clinics are typically multi-sensory environments and when professionals are trained to understand the impact of biological and environmental stressors, optimal learning environments can be made at a low-cost with minimal effort.
Would you rather be given homework or home play to enhance your learning? Would you rather learn to use a tool to create a useful object that could enhance your understanding or just learn about concepts through books, PowerPoints, films or lectures? A balance is needed to create a learning environment that is healthy, motivating and fun for both the teacher and the student and can be applied to everyday life at home and in the community.