It’s not a big secret. I love me my Maria Montessori.
I also love me my Asperkids.
Everyone who has read the “Asperkids” books or my blogs – has shopped the Asperkids Collection by Montessori Services — explored my Pinterest boards – or the Asperkids Etsy Treasuries (Spoiler! Coming in just a few weeks!!!) – or “liked” my app development with Mobile Montessori — or – OK, OK, you get the idea….KNOWS that I believe Montessori education is the most natural fit for kids on the spectrum.
I believe this as an educator, as an Asperkid mom (x3) and as an Aspie myself.
Recently, though, a BIG OL’ FANCY GROUP OF FAMOUS FOLKS in an international comparative educational consortium (say that five times fast) asked yours truly to convince THEM. “Why Montessori?”, they wanted to know. Sure. Just my normal morning. Coffee. Convince an international consortium. Then throw some fridge leftovers in the crock pot and try to sneak a shower in the three seconds between shouts of “Mah-mmy!” Anyway, here’s what I wrote….apparently, it didn’t (completely) stink, and as far as I’m concerned, you all are a lot more important than any “consortium” anyway. 🙂
The Spectrum of Montessori
Most folks have heard of “the Montessori method” of learning at one point or another. But if you asked for a specific explanation of exactly what “Montessori” is or means, odds are that you’d get a lot of blank faces.
The same could probably be said about Asperger Syndrome or autism. There’s an impression, but not a lot of knowledge.
Dr. Maria Montessori
So let me begin with a very abbreviated primer. Dr. Maria Montessori was a pediatrician in early twentieth-century Italy. She began her pedagogical work by observing children and the ways they naturally tend to experiment with the environment, materials, and information available to them. Based on what she saw, Montessori believed that given the liberty to choose and act freely, children act spontaneously for their own optimal development. In other words (don’t be shocked!!): kids WANT to LEARN and be happy.
Children Seek Purpose
As long as they feel safe (important – as anxiety is the bane of every spectrumite), Montessori posited that children naturally seek repetition of purposeful activities and exploration within a “prepared” (uncluttered, organized, predictable) environment. And, through this practiced, uninterrupted work, they tend toward growth and curiosity. I happen to agree with her. Everything that is right and natural about learning and wonder and curiosity and peace is already inside our children. All of them. It’s up to us to make sure they feel safe enough and invested enough to let their natural aptitudes take over.
Spectrum kids may not progress through development as smoothly or predictably as typical children, or they may sail through one aspect and get stuck on another. A sort of growing-up jet lag. But our children most certainly do require the same sense of physical peace and self-sufficiency in order to build psychological calm and confidence. They, too, need primary experiences routed in concrete, sensorial work.
And above all, they absolutely want the joy of learning that they are capable, important, relevant human beings. In one word, then, let’s sum up the Montessori philosophy thusly: dignity.
Learn & Play
I’d say that we ALL need to be part of what we study in order to truly understand it — whether that’s grammar or cosmology or art or animal husbandry or weather patterns or social skills. To gift your spectrum kiddo the countless practical, academic, physical, social and emotional skills that you MUST demonstrate, explain and repeat, be sure to provide every notion in a concrete, measurable, observable format. Neurotypicals, can learn that way. We, on the spectrum, need to learn that way…to communicate that way (through writing or art or construction)…to play that way.
To give our Asperkids (and autistic kids) a chance at success in the realms of the abstract, we must first introduce even the most intangible concepts via concrete experiences. And that’s the basis of everything Montessori.
All developing minds first learn through sensory input — our most primal method of absorption and observation. Knock into a block tower and and it will fall. That’s also why spectrum kids’ sensory defensiveness can inhibit the creation of necessary learning foundations. If you’re too put-off by the feel of rice, how can you fill up a funnel and watch gravity in action — or figure out how to unclog the “traffic jam” of grains?
Maria’s Real Concepts
Maria Montessori believed that “what the hand does, the mind remembers.” Concrete materials make concepts real, and therefore, easily internalized. In order for any child to develop deep foundational concepts, concrete hands-on learning materials are ideal; like no other method, sensorially-based, real beginnings optimize eventual comprehension of abstract concepts. Then, once those ideas are internalized, the “tangibles” (sandpaper letters, kinetic math materials, rearrangeable “constructive” triangles) are no longer necessary. But by first introducing language, math, geometry, history or science simply and concretely, we can cyclically present new degrees of abstraction and complexity as the child shows himself to be ready.
Hand & Heart
That’s the best-case educational scenario for any child. But for our children, it’s an absolute necessity throughout life. Socrates said, “That which is held in the hand is then held in the heart” (and I would add, in the head). In order for a theoretical physicist to wonder about the impact of gravity on time distortion, does he not first have to see the stars with his own eyes?
And what about that “prepared environment” bit? Well, Dr. Montessori was the first to describe the importance of carefully structuring predictable living and learning spaces. She observed that, without fail, ordered spaces fostered physical and emotional security, and thereby encouraged independence in even the most broken of children. Put simply, these spaces, these places — the ordered, “prepared” environment — enabled the process of “becoming” whole, confident, peaceful, happy people.
When a young person — Asperkid or not — has the freedom and time to learn to take care of himself and to make mistakes and discoveries along the way, “practical” skills become much more profound. Coordination, concentration and independence can be achieved through the comfortable repetition of simply squeezing juice, folding socks, hammering nails, washing dishes or caring for plant life. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.
Montessori & Asperkids
Not infrequently, different vernaculars used by therapists and Montessori educators mean schools believe they cannot accommodate brilliant Asperkids, when in fact, with very few adaptations, Montessori is the ideal way for them to learn.
The belief that the answer to each challenge lies within the child himself, that individuality is useful rather than problematic, that a predictable environment reduces anxiety and that concrete experiences are the best way to lead children into abstract ideas — all of these are central to Montessori teaching AND to the education of children with Asperger Syndrome. Successful teaching all comes down to respecting a student’s dignity, really. To fostering calm, trusting one’s instincts, and nourishing every child’s natural sense of wonder. That’s why, as a teacher, parent, and Aspie, I believe so strongly in the Montessori method — because above all, I believe in the innate, precious, precocious potential of these amazingly atypical children.
Read more by Jennifer in the internationally-award-winning
(and much more importantly, reader-beloved):
The Asperkid’s Launch Pad: Homes that Empower Everyday Superheroes (coming April 2103, JKP)
Enjoy a wonderful “Montessori Blog Hop” – and visit some of my friends!
Lisa Nolan’s Confessions of a Montessori Mom