Special Needs and Montessori - Can it be done?

Montessori for Special Needs

Can it be done?

Um. Yes. Montessori started with special needs and found the experiences were applicable to the universal child. Even with "typically developing" children, there are always slight modifications to be made to suit personal interest, time of day, personality quirks and more. So we Montessorians just look to the individual child's needs in how to present the key experiences for their plane of development.

Previous Montessori Nuggets - not an all-inclusive list:

A foundation to understanding that Montessori is useful for all children - the universal child, regardless of personal interests, personalities or learning needs:

Montessori Books about Special Needs: 

Additional Resources for Special Needs as related to Montessori:

NOTE: The word "disadvantaged" has changed in meaning over the years. Previously, it was used to describe socio-economic factors with perhaps some inclusion of special needs. Currently, the word disadvantaged is more often applied to children with special needs, but can still be used in other ways. There is a book by Reginald C Orem about Montessori and the Disadvantaged - it is more focused on the socio-economic factors, more-so than special needs factors.

Walking on the Line - Control of Movement

Walking on the line in the Montessori Environment - not an readily understood area of the Montessori experience.

There is a good deal of information and photographs online for the walking on the line activity that are mis-leading at best and downright inaccurate at worst.

Some points that are the most readily confused:

  • The line can be an ellipse or a wandering line with gentle curves - we do not want corners or sharp curves. When long enough, it provides some "straight" lengths without the need for corners. 
  • The line is a silent individual activity, but many children can do it at the same time. In a classroom, a group of children would be given the presentation. 
  • The width of the line should be about half the width of the child's foot, in the ideal situation. Otherwise, three-quarter of an inch should be the narrowest. 
  • The line should be a different texture from the floor itself, so the children can feel the difference (tying in the practice of wearing socks or being barefoot when doing this activity) - being barefoot helps in self-awareness and self-presence as well. ;) 
  • It should be noticable in color when looking at it, but not distracting when looking at objects close to it. A different shade of the same color as the flooring is highly recommended. 

An observation of the benefits of walking on the line: Walking on the Line Thoughts

Montessori's own writings on this topic - I am not including what others have written: 

  • Discovery of the Child: depending on your edition, look around pages 89-126, in various places; some editions include walking on the line in the illustrations as well. 
  • Absorbent Mind: depending on your edition, look around 195-224
  • Montessori Method (good for historical reading, was updated and renamed Discovery of the Child): 140-141, 339, 342-343
  • Montessori's Own Handbook (good for historical reading, this book was never updated): 26-28, 63, 64; illustrations 60, 62. In the Schocken edition: 63. 
  • Advanced Montessori Method, Volume 2 - Montessori Elementary Material: 251-352, illustration 352
  • The Secret of Childhood: depending on your edition, 75-98
  • Education for a New World: 34, 59
  • The Montessori Index also suggests I cross-reference Gymnastics and the Silence Game - so any portions of Montessori's books that mention those two are likely to include Walking on the Line as well - or at least relate. 

Some links for more information on Walking on the Line: 

There are more accurate resources available I am sure, but these were the ones I found the most quickly.

More recent scientific findings on the benefits of walking on the line? 

Do a web search for "proprioception and walking on the line". Note all the exercises which utilize walking on a line as therapy for a variety of concerns. Then compare those exercises to the stages of the walking on the line activity in a Montessori resource that includes *all* the stages. 

Amazing stuff! 

Just another area that modern research is corroborating everything Montessori observed over 100 years ago. 

Montessori Elementary Mathematics - Multiplication Checkerboard

Montessori Elementary Mathematics: Multiplication Checkerboard

Materials: white number tiles 0-9, gray numbers tiles 0-9, checkerboard[1], checkerboard bead bar box (only has bead bars 1-9)

            This is the checkerboard. We are going to learn how to do multiplication on the checkerboard.
·   Numbers: We have these numbers across the bottom (read and point to each number).
·   Multiplicand and Multiplier: This ridge is where we place our multiplicand and multiplier (indicate the ridge at the bottom and to the right, respectively). We also have some numbers along the right side (read and point to each one). We will put the multiplier here.
·   Squares – color and value: Then we have all of these colored squares. Here are the units (point to the lower left corner – green). Tens are here and here (point to each of the blue squares touching the unit square – 2). All of these are hundreds (indicate the diagonal 3 reds). Here we have thousands (indicate these 4). Here are the ten-thousands (indicate these 4). Continue with each category.
·   Squares – value of beads: What is interesting about the checkerboard is that the value of the bead bar is determined by which square upon which it is placed. I have a 3-bar; if I put it here (place on the units square), it is three units. If I put it here (place on a hundred square), it is three hundred; if I put it here (another hundred), it is still 300. What if I put it here (place on a 100,000 square). We don’t have to stick with one bead bar. If I have a 3-bar here (on tens) and a 5-bar here (on hundreds), we have 530. What if I put it here? (slide each over one to show 5,300). What if I put it here (slide up and right one place – diagonally)? It is still 5,300. Repeat until the concept is clear and the children can readily read the numbers on the board – invite them to place beads and you read the number; and to place beads to read the numbers themselves.

Exercise 1: representing each multiplication with the bead bars
Prerequisites: knowledge of the process of multiplication; Introduction to the checker-board; Ability to read hierarchical numbers; (technically the children can do the 1st exercise without knowing the multiplication facts); Can precede work on the large bead frame (this exercise only)

Notes: If the children choose very large digits, they will have a ton of bead bars in each square that will overflow into other squares. In that situation, after they have done the multiplications, exchange within each row before sliding diagonally; then finish the exchanging to reach the final answer. 
                This work can help the children learn their multiplication because they are represented by the quantities they are putting down each time. If they do know their facts and they’ve caught on to the procedure of exercise 1, move them right on to exercise 2 on another day.

Exercise 2: Using the Multiplication Facts

Purpose: Further experience in long multiplication. Indirect preparation for category multiplication.

[1] Boards: current manufacturing only go to units of millions; felt version and the presentation in AMI training goes to hundred-millions on the horizontal

why does the checkerboard have more than 3 spaces per grouping? e.g. multiples of thousands beyond hundred thousand?

Each square on the checkerboard represents the multiplication of the bottom and right-hand values. So a board that is 9 squares along the bottom and 4 squares along the side - that last upper left hand square will represent 100,000,000 taken 1,000 times. 
The checkerboard does a few things for the children - it helps them work with VERY large numbers (now we can go into billions! - and it helps them see the "why" behind shifting the numbers one over when we multiply on paper (which the large bead frame starts to do) as well as the combinations of the quantities (so goes beyond the large bead frame in these concepts). I start the children with small numbers and they challenge themselves when they are ready to do the larger numbers.

Not to be confused with the Decimal Checkerboard (some tidbits found at Montessori Trails - a Montessori Nugget will be posted soon).

Elementary Montessori Materials Continue into Adolescence

Montessori materials truly go DEEP. Perhaps Montessori didn't have time to develop every detail from birth to college, but she left us an outline and some people have been able to follow Dr. Montessori's trailblazing style. 

Looking at the Elementary and/or Primary Materials used into Montessori Adolescent Algebra
  • Geometry Sticks
  • Fraction Circles (metal works fine, but the plastic materials with the multiplies of each fraction family from 1 to 1/10 – you do NOT need or want the children to use fraction segments beyond 1/10)
  • Bead bars, squares and cubes from the bead cabinet (“complete bead material”)
  • Wooden cubing material
  • Power of 2 (Power of 3 if you purchased that too – or just make one)
  • Pythagorean Insets
  • Binomial Cube
  • Multiplication Checkerboard
  • Pegboard (ensure it is sized to your geometry sticks – so they all align properly – this generally means holes that are 1 cm apart from one another)
  • Yellow Area Material
  • Large and small geometric solids
  • Number/operations tiles – with some additions, including adding in the fraction labels as well (called Special Math Symbols on the adolescent album)
  • Set of 12 blue right-angled triangles

For review purposes:
  • Decanomial bead bar box (called “large bead bar box” in the album)
  • Constructive triangles

Montessori Phonograms - Key Sounds

In the English language, there are 16 "key" phonograms: 

ai, er, ie, ee, or, ue, oo, qu, th, ch, oy, sh, ou, oa, ar, au

All others are variations on these ;) 

The sandpaper letter phonograms

The sandpaper letters phonograms should be introduced at the same time as the individual sandpaper letters - learn 3-5 individuals, then introduce a phonogram; continue introducing one new one at a time with individuals in between such that all sandpaper letters, individual and phonogram, are finished up at about the same time - typically 3 weeks after beginning the first sandpaper letters ;)

In this way, the children can immediately write anything with the movable alphabet, without needing prompts or guides as to what they can write versus what they have not yet learned - they'll have learned it all! 

Longevity of Montessori: Mathematics

The Montessori approach meets the needs of children where they are at - both collectively and individually. Therefore, it is an approach that meets the needs of ALL children. The only limitation is the preparedness of the adult to meet those needs ;)

A recent post at MariaMontessori.com introduces this concept as it applies to primary (3-6) and elementary (6-12). Montessori is Developmental

Even in our material,

Let's look at math specifically - just some highlights: 

With infants and toddlers, we do a lot of natural one-to-one correspondence. Few toys, each that belongs in a particular place. Matching activities in sizes, shapes, colors. Helping to set the meal-table using a diagram of what goes where.

We can also give the language of numbers (counting), and children love language at this age, so most do pick up on counting numbers, although they typically skip a few numbers or repeat a few sequences ;)

Primary Mathematics:
While we don't typically start math in primary until around age 4, we begin with a few materials that extend into primary mathematics as well as into use at elementary and adolescence. Sensorial and Mathematics materials are both noted here:

  • Red rods - extend into the number rods 
  • All the groups of ten we have extend into the decimal system
  • Pink Tower and Brown Stair can be used in geometry at elementary
  • Binomial Cube and Trinomial Cube (elementary and adolescence)
  • Geometry Cabinet and Solids (elementary)
  • Golden beads (elementary and adolescence)
  • Bead Cabinet and contents (elementary and portions in adolescence)
  • Snake games (if you purchase the negative snake game, it includes all you need for primary as well as elementary and adolescence)
  • Decanomial bead bar box (elementary and adolescence)
  • Stamp game (elementary and adolescence)
  • Short Division with Racks and Tubes becomes Long Division with Racks and Tubes (elementary)

Common Threads: 
  • Place value color-coding remains consistent throughout all levels - into the checkerboards that are the visualization of the multiplication process, the bank game (just numbered cards, no beads), and more.
  • The bead cabinet colors also remain consistent through all levels - even into the solid wood blocks of the cubing material that is used in elementary and adolescence. 

Additional posts of interest:

Toddler Exercises of Practical Life

All Montessori Trails posts on Mathematics

Mathematics Logic Game from Wff'n Proof

Review post on Adolescent Algebra Album

And that, dear friends, is today's show ;) 

Montessori Scope and Sequence Options

UPDATE: I have set up a dedicated page for this post: 
I aim to keep that one up-to-date.

Montessori Scope and Sequence Options

All of these are free options! And there are many more out there, also free.
(paid variations are listed further below)

Benefits of a scope/sequence - give you some idea of what is developmentally appropriate within a range of years.

Each scope and sequence option below is in a different format, with different a different focus. Some are based on AMI, some are AMS, some are a compilation of several, and some are just straight-up independent. Look through them, see which styles speak to you. Hopefully, this will show you that there is no one right to get the job done, except this way: follow the needs of the child!

Albums or manuals or videos or online resources will help flesh out what each activity is, how to use the materials and ensure Montessori experiences that don't require materials. The options currently available to Montessori Homeschoolers are listed here at Montessori Nuggets - Montessori Albums.

Infant through Age 12 (could include Adolescence): 
Montessori Works (free for first 5 students listed)

Infant and/or Toddler (0-3)
(the ones listed above mostly include 0-3 as well)

Primary (ages 3-6)
The Helpful Garden (incomplete - does not include the kindergarten year)
Montessori Print Shop (visit the "overview" for each of the subject areas)
Montessori Story typing up the Gettman periods
Keys of the World (word .doc download) - page that links to it is here: Montessori Trails - Keys Albums
What Did We Do All Day? (mathematics only)
(and see the ones in the first listing above)

Elementary (ages 6-12)
Hilltop Montessori - upper elementary only
Montessori World - lower elementary only
What Did We Do All Day? (mathematics only)
(and see the ones in the first listing above)

Adolescence (12-18)

Pay-For Variations: 

Infant through Age 12 (could include Adolescence): 
Montessori Works (free for first 5 students listed)

Infant and/or Toddler (0-3)
Montessori For Everyone - Toddlers
(the ones listed above mostly include 0-3 as well)

Primary (ages 3-6)
Montessori for Everyone - Primary (3-6)
Montessori Story - typed up the Gettman book "Basic Montessori"
AMI & Keys of the World - available at Garden of Francis
(and see the ones in the first listing above)

Elementary (ages 6-12)
Montessori for Everyone - Lower Elementary - Upper Elementary
AMI & Keys of the Universe - available at Garden of Francis

(and see the ones in the first listing above)

Adolescence (12-18)

Montessori and Fairy Tales

What did Montessori actually speak about Fairy Tales:

"Now, everyone who knows my name says that I am against fairy tales. Apparently I say they are dangerous to a children's mind. 
But you must know that I never assert anything that I have merely reasoned out, because if I did that it would just be a theory of no importance. It would be just a matter of opinion and therefore not a serious statement. Serious statements must come from observation - this is the truth. I have never before given an opinion on this subject. 
So, if I were against fairy tales, it would not be because of a capricious idea of mine but because of certain facts, facts observed many times. These facts have come from the children themselves and not from my own reasoning. (she goes on to describe following the children's truest, deepest interests and choices - choices for valuable work that led to a leaving behind of certain negative qualitites) The great love of fairy tales disappears too. (continues with the children walking away from fairy tale stories) This shows that children listen, or at least the older ones do, but inside they have more important urges of nature. So we do not see complete interest. If they are free to do something else, children will choose something that is more important to their development.  
(The 1946 London Lectures Lecture 26: Truth and Fairy Tales)

Montessori Cursive - Original Cursive Materials

Building on a previous Montessori Nugget: Which comes first - cursive or print - writing or reading?

From Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook (the link is to the free edition on Gutenburg.org) - a great historical piece, NOT where I would recommend anyone *start* their Montessori reading, but for historical value, this book and The Montessori Method are interesting.

Scroll down the section entitled:

Exercises for the Writing of Alphabetical Signs

For the section on the cursive letters used at the time. (the method/experience itself was tweaked over the years to respond the needs of the universal child - and greatly simplified). 

So the children ONLY learned cursive. Yet they could read this: 

Montessori Elementary: Three Essential Tools

Straight from AMI Training:

The three tools Dr. Montessori suggested we use to develop freedom and responsibility in the elementary children are:
1.       The public school curriculum,
2.      Individual work journals,
3.       Individual weekly meetings between the teacher and each child <------ THIS is the work plan!!!! Not a checklist ;) 

Link to the Montessori Guide site - the three important tools.

Another Montessori Nugget on this topic: Why have Work Plans in Elementary? 

Montessori: What Comes First?

In Montessori, when we follow the observations made by Maria Montessori and our own observations when we remove all culturally-imbedded bias, we discover some interesting things:

Writing come first. Followed by a discovery of reading. 

The adult provides the keys to writing, the child discovers he can read; the teacher has done less work, the child has found greater joy.

Cursive comes first. Following by a discovery of the ability to read and write in any writing style. 

The adult provides the keys to writing in cursive. The child discovers he can read anything in print and can replicate it when he needs to. The teacher again has done less work, the child has found greater joy in all the discoveries of the world around him.

Maria Montessori herself on writing, reading and cursive: 

Source: The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori pages 300-302

Coming into the school one day, I found that the directress had allowed the children to take the tables and chairs out upon the terrace, and was having school in the open air. A number of little ones were playing in the sun, while others were seated in a circle about the tables containing the sandpaper letters and the movable alphabet. 
A little apart sat the directress, holding upon her lap [Page 301]  a long narrow box full of written slips, and all along the edge of her box were little hands, fishing for the beloved cards. "You may not believe me," said the directress, "but it is more than an hour since we began this, and they are not satisfied yet!" We tried the experiment of bringing balls, and dolls to the children, but without result; such futilities had no power beside the joys of knowledge. 

Seeing these surprising results, I had already thought of testing the children with print, and had suggested that the directress print the word under the written word upon a number of slips. But the children forestalled us! There was in the hall a calendar upon which many of the words were printed in clear type, while others were done in Gothic characters. In their mania for reading the children began to look at this calendar, and, to my inexpressible amazement, read not only the print, but the Gothic script.
There therefore remained nothing but the presentation of a book, and I did not feel that any of those available were suited to our method. 
The mothers soon had proofs of the progress of their children; finding in the pockets of some of them little slips of paper upon which were written rough notes of marketing done; bread, salt, etc. Our children were making lists of the marketing they did for their mothers! Other mothers told us that their children no longer ran through the streets, but stopped to read the signs over the shops. 
A four-year-old boy, educated in a private house by the same method, surprised us in the following way. The child's father was a Deputy, and received many letters. He knew that his son had for two months been taught by means of exercises apt to facilitate the learning of read- [Page 302]  ing and writing, but he had paid slight attention to it, and, indeed, put little faith in the method. One day as he sat reading, with the boy playing near, a servant entered, and placed upon the table a large number of letters that had just arrived. The little boy turned his attention to these, and holding up each letter read aloud the address. To his father this seemed a veritable miracle. 
As to the average time required for learning to read and write, experience would seem to show that, starting from the moment in which the child writes, the passage from such an inferior stage of the graphic language to the superior state of reading averages a fortnight. Security in reading is, however, arrived at much more slowly than perfection in writing. In the greater majority of cases the child who writes beautifully, still reads rather poorly.

A fortnight! Two WEEKS!?

Yes, it still happens today. But it happens when we give the children a strong foundation in aural awareness, then all the sandpaper letters (single letters and multi-letters) mixed together within 3-6 weeks, then they start writing with the movable alphabet (their OWN ideas) - and suddenly they are reading.

Science in Primary Montessori

Science in Primary Montessori

Maria Montessori called her sensorial materials “keys to the world” – with these keys, the child can classify his world. He should have real-life experiences, with key presentations presentations to help him order, classify, identify and organize the world around him.

At primary, we focus more on zoology and botany (life science) and on physical geography (continents, countries, own state). This lays the foundation for the elementary level work, but is significant in itself. These are truly the keys for a primary age child.

Listed below are the Tables of Contents from the AMI primary albums with the presentations that are explicitly scientific in nature. Truly, science permeates all areas to some degree, so even those items I have chosen not list may still include review of scientific concepts.

Exercises of Practical Life
Table of Contents

Care of the Environment

How to Dust Leaves

How to Care for Plants

How to Arrange Flowers

How to Make Lemon Water

How to Wash Fruits and Vegetables

How to Peel & Cut Fruits and Vegetables

How to Bake   (CHEMISTRY)

Grace and Courtesy

Grace and Courtesy regarding the Outdoors; animals, plants

Visual Art – Use art skills to illustrate science experiences

Rubbings (Exploration of Texture)

Contour Drawing with Crayon (Exploration of Line)

Practical life: GET the children OUTSIDE. 

Table of Contents

Spoken: Vocabulary Enrichment
Orientation Game
Naming Objects in the Environment
Collecting Classified Objects
Practical Life Objects
Parts of an Object
Language of the Sensorial Materials
Three Period Lesson
Classified Cards - Social
Related Objects Game - Presentations A & B
Description/Definition Game
Stories – Biological Classifications
    The Story of Living and Non-Living Matter
    The Story of Plants and Animals
    The Story of the Five Classes of Vertebrates
Sorting Game – Biology Classifications
Nomenclature Cards – Scientific
Life Cycles
Oral Language Games

Spoken: Language Development – unlisted components contain science concepts
Cultural Folders
     Extension: fictional story telling
Land and Water Form Folders
Land and Water Form Outline Maps
Biome Folders
My State

Writing – unlisted components can still use science concepts
Map Making (GEOGRAPHY)

Writing - Art of Handwriting
Book Making – creting books of own accord

Reading Classification – all stages bring in scientific concepts
Presentation I – Classifying the Environment
Presentation II – Cards with Labels
     A. Social
     B. Scientific
     C1. Biology Classifications: Living and Non-Living
     C2: Biology Classifications: Plant and Animal
     C3: Biology Classifications: Five Classes of Vertebrates
     Extension: Mix and sort - work up to 5 sets
Presentation III – Definition Stages

Reading: Function of Words – phrases used contain scientific concepts, particularly zoology

Word Study – unlisted aspects bring in life science concepts for review
Animal Collectives
Animals and Their Young
Animal Sounds
Animal Homes
Animal Families

Reading Analysis – could use sentences related to to scientific concepts.

Language Extension
Who Am I?
Introduction to Biology
Introducing Animals
Plant Study and Experiments

Table of Contents

The ENTIRE sensorial album sets a child up to properly classify his world around him; giving him the world’s characteristics in concretized abstraction. See the introduction to the sensorial album for more details.


Education as an Aid to Life

Introduction to Sensorial

Three Period Lesson



Cylinder Blocks


Pink Tower


Brown Stair


Red Rods


Color Tablets Box I


Color Tablets Box II


Color Tablets Box III


Geometry Cabinet


Geometry Cards


Leaf Cabinet


Leaf Cards

Constructive Triangles


     Rectangular Box A


     Rectangular Box B


     Triangular Box


     Large Hexagonal Box


     Small Hexagonal Box


     12 Blue Triangles


Binomial Cube


Trinomial Cube


Graded Geometric Figures


Decanomial Square


Knobless Cylinders


Sensitizing Fingers

Touch Boards

Touch Tablets




Baric Tablets


Thermic Bottles

Thermic Tablets


Tasting Bottles


Smelling Bottles


Sound Cylinders



Geometry Solids

Stereognostic Bags

Mystery Bag

Sensorial Aspects of the World

Introduction to the Sensorial Aspects of the World

Sandpaper Globe

Continents Globe

World Puzzle Map

Continent Puzzle Map

Own Country Puzzle Map

Land and Water Forms

Oceans Globe


Climatic Zones


Scope and Sequence

Materials List

Language of the Sensorial Materials