Children with ADHD tend to have problems with hyperactivity, maintaining attention, and impulsiveness (Source). Because of this, the school can be a very difficult experience for them. Many parents have considered Montessori schools as a potential help for their ADHD child.
Montessori schools are adaptable to kids’ needs which can really help kids with ADHD learn. The Montessori method might be unstructured for children, but proper analysis of the school itself will determine if it works for the students suffering from ADHD.
Ultimately, children with ADHD are not all the same, so what works for one kid, may not work for another. Not all Montessori schools are the same either. Knowing both the pros and cons of Montessori learning can help you decide what is right for the student.
Pros of Montessori Schools for Kids With ADHD
Children with ADHD often enter a classroom full of bright colors, diagrams, carts of supplies, and PowerPoint presentations with visuals and sounds, and immediately go into sensory overload. This excessive sensory input can completely eliminate any chance of learning for a child with ADHD.
A Montessori classroom is designed to eliminate distractions. This means that the classroom will have a simple, uncluttered appearance, and natural materials. Children with ADHD might find this design to be a relief from the average classroom.
Individual Learning Plan
In traditional classrooms, children with ADHD may not get the individualized instruction and attention that they need. Teachers struggle to separate children by ability, and therefore some students, especially those with mental or learning disorders, get left behind.
In a Montessori classroom, there is no set curriculum that requires students to advance through concepts together. Instead, each child creates their own work plan with the teacher (also known as a guide). This can help ADHD students focus on skills and concepts that they struggle with.
ADHD children often get scolded by their teachers for fidgeting, foot-tapping, or standing up during a lesson in a traditional classroom. Kids with ADHD use movement to help them maintain alertness and attention when they are using their brain’s executive functions like working memory (Source).
The Montessori method allows students to move freely depending on what feels good to them. In fact, movement is an essential part of the Montesorri education model because students should first experience concepts in their bodies before they understand them in the mind (Source).
It may take longer for children with ADHD to get used to an activity or project and really start to understand and interact with it. Sometimes, they get rushed and give up altogether when they don’t succeed.
In a Montessori classroom, children can take their time and move at a pace that is comfortable for them. For example, a child may get frustrated while trying to color a picture, so they can put it aside and move on to something else, and come back to it later.
Isolation of Concepts
For all children, but especially children with ADHD, trying to learn several concepts at once can be one of the most overwhelming experiences in the classroom.
This might look like a child learning to hold a crayon correctly before they begin coloring a picture. Or it might be a child sorting socks by color before they begin sorting them by size (Source). Giving a child too many tasks or concepts at once could prevent learning.
Opportunity for Tactile Learning
The American Physiological Society has determined that kids with ADHD are much more likely to have touch-processing abnormalities. This means that they may find certain stimuli troubling in the classroom.
Montessori classrooms are designed to be very tactile spaces where children learn by touching and doing. Children with ADHD can choose what activities feel good to them based on their tactile tolerance. This helps them develop gross motor skills (Source).
Cons of Montessori Schools for Kids with ADHD
Lack of Structure
The Montessori education model centers around student curiosity. The idea is that children are naturally curious and can be self-directed in their learning. The classroom would allow children to work on what they please in the way that they please with little to no structure.
For children with ADHD, this can become problematic. ADHD students begin to move very quickly from task to task not knowing where to start, and not knowing how to finish a task.
Lack of Specialized Attention in Subject Areas
According to a Harvard study, 40% of children with ADHD are significantly behind in reading, writing, and math. Montessori schools are often not equipped to give students sufficient time in specialized assistance for them to make the necessary improvements.
Because students are in large part self-led in a Montessori school, they may not get enough direction to be able to fill in the gaps in their core subjects.
High Level of Executive Function Required
Executive function is a set of mental skills that are used to perform abstract thinking and planning. Children aren’t born with these skills, but they are able to develop them. Kids with ADHD might have deficits in their executive functions which makes day-to-day tasks, especially those required at school, difficult.
Students have to be able to carry out independent work which requires a high level of executive function. Students have to be able to locate materials, plan how they will do their work, initiate the work on their own, and maintain focus on the task at hand. This can be an overwhelming amount of independence for any kid, but especially for ADHD students.
No IEP (Individual Educational Plan) Assistance
Because most Montessori schools are private, they will not have an IEP for your ADHD child. Private schools can offer special education, but they are not required to. An IEP requires a school by law to provide special assistance to a child with a diagnosis that affects their learning.
Montessori does allow for students to develop an individual learning plan, but this plan does not involve special educators, and does not include parents and teachers as much in monitoring and adjusting the plan.
ADHD Students May Feel Singled Out
Because ADHD students can get distracted easily by overwhelming choices and stimulation, they may need a teacher to constantly redirect them in the classroom. Many people believe that this completely defeats the methodology of the Montessori design (Source).
A struggle with self-direction can be disastrous for an ADHD child in a Montessori classroom. Some parents say that they were receiving calls and that their child was too much of a distraction in the classroom, and this resulted in their child feeling singled out and isolated from the other kids, which made Montessori the wrong choice for them (Source).
How to Choose the Right School for Your ADHD Child
Consider Your Child’s Abilities and Personality
Before looking into different schools that are available, think about your child as an individual student and you might ask yourself these questions.
- Are they a listener or do they learn better through touch?
- Do they volunteer or do they need to be called on?
- Do they work well independently or would they do better in a group?
- Can they regulate their own emotions?
- Are they distracted by what others are doing?
- Do they have a particular subject that they are interested in learning about?
Then make a list of your child’s needs. For example, your child might need frequent redirection, or help when working with others. Establishing the vision you have for your child’s education will help you determine which school is right for them and for you.
Interview the Principal or Parents
Set up a meeting with the principal or director of the school and ask them about their methodology. The Montessori Method isn’t accredited or overseen by some organizations. Pretty much any school could use the Montessori name without meeting certain expectations. This is why it is important to understand how the school interprets and executes the Montessori model.
Ask them about the size of the school and classes, the level of teacher training, their flexibility, and parental involvement.
If you still feel like you didn’t get an honest picture, ask parents for their experience. Remember that parents will most likely just share their opinion, and not necessarily the facts. For example, their child may have excelled in a Montessori school until about 6th grade because more time was given for independent work, and their child struggled to keep up with those expectations.
Take a Tour of the School
Schools may allow you to observe the classes while they were in progress. If the school isn’t open to letting you observe, this might not be a good sign. There are several things you can pay attention to on a school tour that will give you a good idea of how your child would fit into the school.
- Observe the classroom structure. Kids with ADHD might need some more structure and direction than other kids. In a Montessori classroom, look for teachers that are willing to provide this for your child.
- Look for special needs accommodations. If they are making accommodations for children with other diagnoses, they are likely to make accommodations appropriate for your ADHD students.
- Look at the bulletin boards. Look at what the other students have been doing. Does it look on par with your student’s abilities and level?
Consider Your Beliefs About Education
The Montessori Method is based on several core educational beliefs. If parents are not familiar with and in agreeance with these beliefs, they may discover that a Montessori school is not right for them and their child. The following list from the International Montessori Council details of beliefs that guides Montessori learning.
1. Intelligence is not rare among human beings. It is found in children at birth. With the right stimulation, it is possible to nurture the development of reasoning and problem-solving skills in young children.
2. The most important years of a child’s education are not high school and college, but the first six years of life. As a result, Montessori schools regard infant and early childhood education as the very foundation of everything that follows.
3. It is critically important to allow children to develop a high degree of independence, autonomy, an inner sense of order, and self-motivation (Executive Function Skills).
4. Academic competition and accountability are not effective ways to motivate students to become well educated. Students learn more effectively when school is seen as a safe, exciting, and joyful experience.
5. A competitive classroom environment stifles creativity.
6. There is a direct link between children’s sense of self-worth, empowerment, self-mastery, and their ability to learn and retain new skills and information.
7. Education should be a transition from one level of independence, competency, and self-reliance to the next rather than a process of passing exams and completing assignments.
8. Children are born curious, creative, and motivated to observe and learn things.
9. Children learn in different ways and at different paces. The idea that those who learn quickly are more talented misses a basic truth about how children really learn.
10. Children learn best through hands-on experience, real-world application, and problem-solving.
If you don’t agree with any of the above-listed statements, Montessori might not be the right fit for you and your child. Again, consult with the school to see how they interpret the Montessori method.
Parents of course want the best for their children, and they often know what is best for them. A regular classroom in a public school might suit your ADHD child just find with the proper adjustments. Just because your child has ADHD, doesn’t completely eliminate the option of a Montessori school either.
There is no right or wrong answer to this issue because every child is so different. Both professionals and parents have as many differing opinions on this subject as there are children in the world.
It is important to recognize that as your child continues to learn and grow, what once worked for them, might not work for them anymore. Education presents struggles to both parents and children. Your child will appreciate your effort to provide them with the best quality education possible.