Adapting Montessori Learning For Children With ADHD

Adapting Montessori Learning For Children With ADHD

I recently read a line in an article that has stuck with me:

"Kids with ADHD are demanding a higher standard of teaching"   William Sears, M.D., associate clinical professor of pediatrics 

I've known for a while now that teaching my child with ADHD means I have to be highly adaptive and flexible in my approach.

One of the great advantages of children with ADHD is their imagination and their zest for the new, odd, or interesting. The flip-side of this is that routine tasks can be a hard slog and are hard to motivate children with. 

In my Montessori training I was taught to simply represent a lesson if the child wasn't practising it or doing it. This isn't likely to be a very successful approach for children with ADHD, these children need innovative approaches that hook them in. 

I know that we are not huge proponents of imaginative play in Montessori but what I have learned from having a child with this neurodiversity is that imaginative play greatly helps his frontal lobe growth so that my child can mature and grow his brain. I know that my child is highly creative and if I hook into his areas of interest or hyperfocus I am much more likely to bring him alongside in his learning.

During our lockdown here in NZ a few months ago I introduced the "golden beads" (in our case we have a mix of  cheaper value wooden place value blocks and some golden bead 10s and units). I had them around for him to explore. I gave him a brief 3 period lesson on the decimal system and left him to explore the blocks, while he was playing with them I would occasionally make a comment like "I see you have used thousands for the bottom of your tower."

He went back to Montessori preschool when we came out of lockdown and I put the blocks away until he recently started homeschooling with me. As far as I can tell he didn't do any work with them at Montessori Preschool.

Last Monday I presented the 45 layout with him and it went quite well. However when I encouraged him to explore it on the Tuesday he wasn't at all interested. So I tried some alternatives.

Playing Shops

I went into role as a customer and asked my son if he had five thousands or any other number and put the label down with the beads, in effect I was exchanging the beads for the label.

Treasure Hunt

I "hid" the number cards around the house and he had to run to find them and then place the correct value by the card. You can also do this the other way, placing a set of numbers down and then having the child put the number card down beside it. 


Hooking in to interest - picture cards

One area of interest of my child at the moment is sea-life. I made a series of cards with numbers, a picture of something from the sea and the name of the picture. I said to him in a dramatic way "In the ocean there are many, many creatures. Can you name me some?" He then listed a long list of animals in the ocean. I said "I wonder if any of those will be in this special pile of mine?" I then placed out 8 cards with different values on them and together we found the beads to match the blocks. As there are so many cards I can present this activity a few more times with different numbers and I may then use it as part of a treasure hunt.  

You can download a free copy of the cards HERE


Odd one out or spot my wrong answer

I haven't done the "odd one out" activity with the decimal system but it is on my radar. You may be aware that children with ADHD have emotional levels that are around 1.5-3 years below their peers. This is not to be confused with their academic ability. What it does mean though, is that when you are teaching a child with say a chronological age of 8 they are often operating like a 6 year old in terms of social and emotional behaviours. My son who is 5 and 3/4 is operating emotionally around a 4 year old level, this means he loves things that four year olds  find fascinating whether it be TV shows or in the case of this "game," humour.

The "game" is a simple one: I mislabel something and he has to find the mistake, for example, beside the 4000 number card I might place 3 hundreds. He loves doing this and rolls on the floor laughing or says "you can't trick me!" It gives him a great sense of power too. 

You may also be interested in learning about how I adapt the environment and work cycle. i've got a blog post here about that.

Don't forget - Working Memory

Working Memory can be a notorious beast for children and adults with ADHD. Giving a child a variety of ways to access the information or key learning idea through hands on materials is important in helping the child "file" away information and retrieve it when they need it. Traditional 3 period lessons don't always work well either as a child may well know what something is but isn't able to retrieve it but if you access this information differently e.g. through play and conversation you may find the child does know it! 

For more articles about ADHD and Montessori click here

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Diana F - July 11, 2021

This is so helpful. First to find that other parents with neurodiverse children are finding the same struggles with implementing Montessori work with their children and second for the great ideas!
Turning anything into a game gets their attention hooked!

Jo Anna - October 21, 2020

I love all these ideas for the golden bead work. Thank you! I also have a highly creative, highly distractible 5.5 year old. This fall when we started homeschooling, I started weaving an imaginative story about the golden beads. She loves it, and it appeals to her imagination and she begs to do the golden bead work. Though not strictly Montessori – she is engaged and concentrating with that little “hook” or point of contact into the material. (Just maybe not quite the type of point of contact Montessori was talking about…)

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