Friday, October 18, 2013

Montessori Education and ADD

As you many of my readers may know, my husband and I have two elementary-aged kids, a boy and a girl.  You may also know that both my husband and I have received ADD diagnoses as adults.  Do our kids have ADD or ADHD? You do the math.

At this point, we have chosen not to have either of our children assessed for ADD/ADHD.  This is because, at this point, neither of them have any reason to be tested.  Both are succeeding academically, both have many friends, and both enjoy and often do well in their extracurricular activities.  Until we see a reason to intervene with behavior therapy or medication, my husband and I are keeping things status quo.

Things weren't always easy for me and my husband at our kids' ages.  More so, I think, for my husband because he attended a traditional elementary school and was told he had a learning disability early in his academic career, which labeled him.  But the truth of the matter is that he was a bright, inquisitive, active little boy who was not interested in sports.  He was able to read, write, and do math at grade level.  His hand writing may have not been perfect, but have you ever seen a 6-year-old boy with perfect penmanship?

Unlike my husband, I didn't attend a traditional elementary (or for that matter middle or high) school.  I attended a small Montessori school and I believe that made all the difference between my husband's school experience and mine.

Montessori schools are based on the pedagogy of Italian physician and educator, Maria Montessori.  Maria Montessori believed that education should be child-centered.  According to the American Montessori Society, Montessori education values
the child as one who is naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared learning environment. It is an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive.1
Math rug work that teaches the concept of carrying and borrowing
(photo credit: Ana Nouri)
Montessori schools use manipulatives, such as puzzles and bead chains and word cards to teach basic math, science, geography, and language arts concepts and processes.  Children are allowed to work independently and in small groups, at desks and on the floor using rugs as their work surfaces.

My daughter with her 1/2/3 teacher doing a math activity
Teachers prepare lessons for new learning concepts, but there is a big emphasis on independent learning.  And once a child masters a concept, they can move up to the next task, no matter the level of their peers in the same grade.  This is a very dynamic classroom environment.  Children are allowed to move around the room and discover.  Classrooms usually have pets and the students are responsible for their care.  Mutual respect and community is fostered.  Grade levels often mix in one classroom and students are encouraged to help one another.

I attended a Montessori school for five years and I credit it for making me a critical thinker who is still in love with learning.

Guess what kind of school my children attend?

This was an extremely important decision for me and my husband.  We knew our active children would not prosper in a classroom where they had to sit at a desk all day, where they would need to wait for the rest of the class to complete their work before moving on to the next text, where they had to sit still and be quiet.  Our kids are focused on their work because they are engaged with it, not because a teacher is threatening them.

Maria Montessori first created a classroom environment for children with learning and developmental disabilities and met with great success!2

Why do we persist in setting up our kids to fail in classrooms that don't address their needs?  I think we're trying to fit round pegs in square holes.  If more schools adopted a Montessori approach with kids who learn differently (not better or worse), then I think we might see fewer diagnoses, less pathologizing.  My kids may be active, they may exhibit slower processing speeds than their peers, but they are no less smart and capable.  Their learning environments and incredible teachers regularly support and reward my children's academic successes.  My husband, who sees so much of himself in our son, told me his own behavior as a child - behavior not unlike our son's - was corrected and he was chastised regularly.  Our son's teachers told us he is curious, funny, a good classroom citizen, and a great asset to their class.  We receive reports in his agenda such as, "he's a rock star!" and "way to go!" and he has earned nine "Do The Right Thing" awards so far this fall.  My husband wishes he had attended a Montessori school that would have celebrated his strengths.

I realize the Montessori method is not a panacea for learning disabilities or the only tool to give children exhibiting ADD/ADHD symptoms, and I realize that not all children can prosper in a Montessori setting, but I do want to draw attention to the fact that children who learn differently should not be so easily labeled and pathologized.

In fact, I think there's more wrong with the education system in our country than with our kids.

Google founders credit Montessori for their success

For a fascinating case study of the positive effects of Montessori education on a child diagnosed with ADD, go to:

For a parent's perspective on the benefits of Montessori education, go to Denise Harold's article: Why We Chose Montessori Elementary.

For an introduction to Montessori education, this is a wonderful, inviting website: