Montessori and its usefulness as good practice when working with people with learning disabilities

I have just been looking back to the power point and hand out that I made for the training day I gave to my colleagues in L’Arche back in 2009. It was the subject of one of the thrice yearly (I think they were) training days that I organised for the support assistants who worked in the the day provision workshops. I really continue to feel strongly about the links between Montessori philosophy/education and good practice for working with people with learning disabilities. Don’t get me wrong I am open to other methods and love learning new skills, however, my Montessori training and work has remained a constant source of inspiration.

Later that same year (2009), when I was first seriously working towards working in the museum sector, I was invited by the the then leader of the education team to carry out a week or two’s work experience at the London Transport Museum. As part of that work experience I carried out several observations of how nursery aged children interacted with the museum – as it was then. I then wrote up extensive notes into a report for the museum, which included my reflections and suggestions for ways forward.

The following text is the hand out that I created for L’Arche and then adapted for the London Transport Museum. The actual notes and the power point are not included here. Let me know what you think and if you are interested in hearing more or perhaps even asking me for some consultancy? (Better get something about work in there!) 🙂

Just please bear in mind that I wrote the handout back in 2009. My role at the time was Day Provision Co-ordinator and I supervised the then five different workshop leaders. It wonder if I what I would write the same and different if I was compiling an up to date list…

The handout is/was as follows:

Questions: (Inspired by the Montessori Method)

What do you think the workshop does well and has to offer the people with learning disabilities who come to it?

What aspects do people like about working in the workshop? What is unique about the workshop?

What things do you feel the workshop could do better with in what it offers people with learning disabilities? Are people as independent and in control as possible?

Environment: (How the workshop space is set up.)

  • Is there order in the environment?
  • Does everything have its place?
  • Do people know where to find everything they need without the help of an assistant?
  • Can the people reach everything?
  • Is everything within their reach appropriate? (So you don’t need to say no or stop someone from taking something.)
  • Are there any unnecessary distractions in the physical space? (E.g. large colourful pictures and or objects.)
  • Are people working in a space that is appropriate for them? (E.g. sitting, standing and with where in the room they are and who else is near where they are working.)
  • Is there enough opportunity for movement in the work place and within the activities themselves?

Daily routine: (Timing of things)

  • Is the timing of daily events clear?
  • Does everyone know what is happening and when?
  • Is the routine as it is working for everyone or do people require changes?
  • Is everyone clear about the work they are doing, goals/expectations, boundaries?

Activities/Work: (In the environment)

  • Are they suitable for people?
  • Are they too difficult? If they are, is there a simpler or part activity that could take its place?
  • Have you observed, broken down and tried the different movements needed for an activity?
  • Could some people be challenged more?
  • What new skills could people learn and be involved in?
  • Is there a particular skill that the people are expressing a desire to refine? If yes, how can you support them with this?
  • Are people choosing their activities?
  • Do the activities have a clear purpose and meaning?
  • Are there any jobs that assistants are doing, that adults with learning disabilities could be doing? (E.g. getting cups and taking them back at tea break.) Remember we are enabling people to be as independent as possible. What may seem hard work the time will be worth it in the long run.)

Assistants: (As teachers)

  • Do you have a positive attitude to everyone in the workshop?
  • Is there favouritism?
  • Are you aware of your prejudices?
  • Do you approach people in a positive way?
  • Are you careful about not criticising their work, even in a subtle way? (You can show the activity at another point, rather than criticise at the time. Or look at the appropriateness of the activity)
  • Do you value all activities and work the same?
  • Do you allow people to take their time and repeat where necessary? Do you give people time to finish their work cycle?
  • Are you doing too much for people? (Think about even the small things/parts of the process.)
  • Do you ensure that you don’t interfere when the person is concentrating on their work? (Even by speaking to them with a positive comment! Concentration is a very important skill to develop.)
  • Do you make sure that you don’t constantly praise people? (People should not rely on others to feel good. The aim is that it comes from within.)
  • Are assistants clear with people about when the person can make a decision and when they can not?
  • Are people allowed to make all possible decisions?
  • Do you take time to sit back and observe?

What areas do you feel you need more support in?

 Some quotes about Montessori education.

‘An adult can substitute himself for a child by acting in his place, but also by subtly imposing his own will, substituting it for that of the child. When this happens it is no longer the child that acts but the adult working through the child,’ Montessori.

‘The most important discovery is that a child returns to a normal state through work…. A child’s desire to work represents a vital instinct since he cannot organise his personality without working; a man builds himself through working.’  Montessori

It is important for us to know the nature of a child’s work. When a child works, he does not do so to attain some further goal. His objective is the work itself, and when he has repeated an exercise and brought his own activities to an end, this end is independent of external factors.’

‘It is necessary for the child to have this order and stability in the environment because he is constructing himself out of the elements of the environment… it is his foundation.’  Montessori

“A child’s different inner sensibilities enable him to choose from his complex environment what is suitable and necessary for his growth. They make the child sensitive to some things, but leave him indifferent to others. When a particular sensitiveness is aroused in a child. It is like a light that shines on some objects but not on others, making of them his whole world’  Montessori