[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s a special education teacher for over 20 years, I realize that all children can learn no matter what their special needs may be. There are children with Down Syndrome, autism, learning disabilities, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, or a physical disability. Whatever the case may be, all children can learn.
Two years ago, I decided to open The Montessori Garden School in the Miami area. Many people tell me that I’ll always be a special education teacher, because these are the children I attract. It’s not that I attract them it’s that I accepted their differences and teach them. I became a teacher because I enjoy teaching any child whether they are Down Syndrome children or gifted, any child can learn.
I have had several disabled children accepted into my Montessori program and they had done great. I’ve had a child with Down Syndrome, a physically handicapped child, a child with autism, and several children with speech and language delays. They all exceeded our expectations and goals.
Montessori education is an educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori. She emphasized independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical, and social development. Children with challenging behaviors inspired her work. At her time, they were considered mentally challenged.
In a Montessori environment, children learn by exploring specially designed materials. Each material teaches one concept or skill at a time. It gives the child the foundation for the child to understand abstract ideas. The classroom is beautifully prepared and inviting. The materials are introduced and the child is taught how to use them appropriately. Then, the teacher allows the child to work through the process independently where most of the materials are self-correcting. The teacher’s goal is to inspire rather than instruct.
Children with special needs, such as learning differences and physical disabilities often thrive in a Montessori setting. The younger they start, the most gains they will make. Montessori materials engage all the senses, which in turn is extremely important with students with different learning styles. Students are free to move about the class, which is great for students who require a high level of physical activity. Each child learns at their own pace, so to children who are the same age but have different abilities work on the same lessons without the pressure of formal standards. Language is encouraged in the Montessori classroom helping the children with speech and language impairments.
Again, it is best to begin Montessori early in a child’s life. At the child gets older it is harder to transition from traditional to Montessori schooling. Although going from Montessori to traditional schooling is easier for a child, because they have learned to become independent learners. In the Montessori philosophy, there’s an emphasis on peace, cooperation, and respect, making it less likely that a child with special needs will be teased or ostracized. Instead, I have seen how the other children make an effort to accept, befriend, encourage, and guide the special needs child. There are some cons when considering a Montessori environment for a child with special needs.
There are some Montessori classrooms with large class sizes and a special needs child who needs a lot of one-on-one time with the adult may not get as much attention as he or she needs. The children are encouraged to work independently. A child with special needs may find it difficult to focus, concentrate, and work on his or her own. Also, some Montessori schools do not have teachers who are specially trained to work with a special needs child, where they need a lot of patience and strategies on what to do in certain situations. Special services may not be offered in the school and may be difficult to coordinate. So not all Montessori schools are created equal. Some schools may be able to provide for the special needs child, but not for another with the same disability. Every child is different and not every special needs child will be successful in a Montessori environment.
It takes work from the director and the teacher as well the parents to make it work. Of key importance is communication between parent and teacher to make sure the child is learning. Parents can also start applying Montessori lessons at home. This has worked tremendously with several of my students. The parents are key to making it work, including getting outside help and support services if needed.
Can a child with special needs be successful in a Montessori classroom? Definitely. Success is dependent on the child, parent, teacher, and director. There are many pros to having a child with special needs in the Montessori classroom. If other programs have not been successful, a good Montessori program is encouraged and it never hurts to try. The Montessori philosophy teaches children to work as a community and help others no matter how different we are from one another.
“The early years especially are ones of greatest mental growth.” Maria Montessori.
By: Danierys Hernandez
My name is Danierys Hernandez. I have been a teacher for 22 years in Miami-Dade County. I have taught in the elementary and middle school levels. I am certified in the areas of special education, Math 6-10 grade, ESOL, Elementary education and I have my Montessori Certificate in Early Childhood. On November 2011, I opened up The Montessori Garden School, which is located on Bird Road and 82 Avenue. The second student to register in my school was a special needs child. I used everything I learned and experienced in the special education classroom, together with the Montessori philosophy to help this child succeed. He had a desire to learn and communicate. As my school grew, I realized how many schools do not accept children with special needs in their program. I let the parents know that sometimes the child just needs more services than I can offer, but we give it a try.