P2: Learning Difficulties in Children and How the Montessori Environment Can Help
In part 1 of this article, we looked at the various learning difficulties in children and discussed how they are identified. We now understand that these learning difficulties can affect learning and overall development in children. Therefore, identifying the learning difficulties early and providing intervention can help the child deal with these learning issues. We shall now look at more aspects of the Montessori environment that support children with learning difficulties.
As a parent or an educator, it is crucial to understand that learning difficulties can not be outgrown. It is neither a result of a child’s poor academic performance nor carelessness. Learning difficulties can occur in both boys and girls. Children with learning difficulties perceive and take in information just like any other child. The challenge is they have trouble processing connecting the information received. In the first 0 to 6 years of the child’s life, Dr. Montessori believed that the child is blessed with certain innate natural tendencies, sensitive periods, and an absorbent mind. There is maximum potential for creating and consolidating his learning through these aspects.
Montessori environments are designed to support these aspects of the child, nurture them and facilitate the learning for the child to become independent. Montessori environments offer multi-sensory learning methods that are therapeutic for children with learning difficulties and help these children not just do well but thrive in the classroom and outside in the world.
How Montessori Environment Can Help Children with Learning Difficulties
1. Simple to Complex - Concrete to Abstract
Children with learning difficulties are often not on par with the rest of their peers in classroom learning. As a result, they tend to lag, which can cause frustration and low self-esteem. In a Montessori setup, children move at their speed towards skill development. There is no pressure, and they have the freedom to repeat a specific activity several times if they wish to before moving on to another new activity.
All the Montessori material is designed beautifully and moves from the simplest level to a more complex level as per the child’s readiness. For example, the child starts working with the concrete material and slowly moves on to abstract concepts, which quickly helps him understand and retain complex and abstract concepts. Children with Dyscalculia have difficulty understanding the meaning of numbers and struggle with math concepts. Math is always taught in quantities and is very sensory in the Montessori classroom. The child can see and touch the quantities before moving to the symbolic representation of the numbers’ quantities. As he first understands the concept of quantities, the next set of activities progressively moves into the abstract realm. He doesn’t have to see the quantities but can visualize his mind and solve complex math problems on paper. This multi-sensorial learning method that involves more than one sense can significantly help children with learning difficulties, which allows these children to thrive in this setup.
Some of the activities that parents can do at home for children with Dyscalculia to support classroom learning could be:
● Counting games (count the number of fruits and vegetables)
● Cooking together as they get exposure to quantities
● Remember numbers (telephone numbers, license plate numbers)
● Shopping for groceries together and discussing prices
2. No Timeline Attached to Developing A Skill
3. Environment Based on Respect, Freedom, and Independence
Children with learning difficulties already deal with the stress of coping with the challenges daily. It is essential to provide them with a safe and nurturing space to feel free, respected, and independent to try their strengths without being judged or criticized. Respect, freedom, independence are the fundamental concepts of Montessori learning. Montessori philosophy is not about guiding the child but following the child.
Montessori philosophy is rooted in the belief that children know what they need for their learning and development. The natural human tendencies we all are born with are ingrained in the child, and he will find his way through to develop the skills he needs for his growth and development. In the Casa, the directress facilitates learning for the child without interfering in his process of discovery and exploration. Although children with learning difficulties need structured guidance, they benefit significantly from the independence and freedom that the Casa provides for them.
Parents can offer support by:
● Encouraging exploration and curiosity of the child.
● Allowing children to ask questions and answering them patiently.
● Respecting the child’s wishes, moods, feelings. When we acknowledge the child’s feelings and thoughts, they, in turn, feel they are important too.
4. Help in Building a Child’s Self-Confidence and Social Skills
At times, children with learning difficulties have difficulty with social skills and low self-confidence as they realize they cannot do things the way their peers do. In a Montessori classroom, the child has a lot of support. Children support one another, are compassionate, and all the children have a sense of belonging in the environment. Children with learning difficulties feel more comfortable as there are several child-led games and activities where a child can freely approach his peers for help or to work together on an activity. Children sometimes work in teams of two or three or more depending on the activity, and there are no time limitations or restrictions as long as the children are not disruptive. This support system structure helps children with learning issues develop their self-confidence and build and nurture their social skills.
Parents can offer support by:
● Encouraging group play activities with other children or adults at home
● Playdates with classmates or family friends
● Joining them in Theatre and Acting workshops where group participation is necessary
● Acknowledging the effort and any initiative taken by the child independently.
5. Prepared Environment to Deal with Learning Challenges
As we have seen, children with learning difficulties face challenges daily both in the classroom and at home. Being part of the Prepared Environment helps the child develop and nurture skills that they will need to handle life outside of the classroom. As he experiences life in the Casa and learns to work with the material, he indirectly learns several things in the process. Children learn to self-correct and work independently as ‘control of error,’ part of all Montessori material. They learn perseverance without giving up on anything complicated. There is no praise or reward; they get the reinforcement from the fact that they can complete a task independently. Children feel comfortable seeking help from others and offering support if needed. As curiosity and exploration are nurtured, we see that children are more interested in changes and new tasks and do not approach new things with fear or anxiety.
Some of the ways parents can offer support can be:
● Establishing routines
● Encouraging free expression
● Avoiding criticism or judging of any sort
● Acknowledging the child’s feelings
● Being a good role model for positive behavior as most social skills are not taught but observed and learned.
Rights of a Person with Dyslexia 
The individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) define the rights of students with Dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities. These individuals are legally entitled to special services to help them overcome and accommodate their learning problems. Such services include education programs designed to meet the needs of these students. The Acts also protect people with Dyslexia against unfair and illegal discrimination  the much-needed support to thrive.
Children with learning difficulties face several challenges daily, affecting their overall development and growth if they are not addressed and offered help. All the areas of the Montessori classroom, which are practical life, sensorial, mathematics, language, and culture, are beautifully interlinked to support the child. Working in one area with a few activities will indirectly help the child develop the skills needed to work with another. Children with learning difficulties can truly thrive in a Montessori environment with the freedom and independence to explore the Casa.
 Website - International Dyslexia Association (Rights of a person with Dyslexia)
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