Adapting the prepared environment and work cycle for a child with ADHD

Adapting the prepared environment and work cycle for a child with ADHD

When I was younger I was very keen on making sure my classroom held as much fidelity to the Montessori classrooms I saw in pictures on the internet. Beautiful shelves, children all heads down and working, you probably know what I am talking about! 

However over time I have modified my thinking into what a prepared environment and productive work cycle looks like, this has become more true for me as I have observed my son and learned about his neurodiversity.

Before I go any further I have a couple of disclaimers.

I am currently homeschooling my child but I do know what it is like as a classroom teacher with multiple children with neurodiversity and in many cases little support to adapt things to make the environment successful.  Once you have met one child with ADHD you have met one child with ADHD. Children with ADHD have different personalities, likes, dislikes, things that bring them comfort..... In short these things work for my child and they may work for the child you are working with who has ADHD.  If you are interested in finding out more about what works for children with Neurodiversity I highly recommend:

-Therapist Neurodiversity Collective

-Additude Mag


Our child is medicated, which works well for him and for us. He is given his medication an hour or so before school starts. When he starts school at 8.30 he is in prime learning time, which normally lasts until around 9.30. 

He normally comes into the school room and chooses a settling activity or easy activity, which Maria Montessori pointed out was quite normal for children to do.

After that work, I present him a literacy or numeracy activity or he may naturally go to a more challenging work off the shelf independently. 

Wherever possible I don't announce that we are going to do a certain activity. I try and start it by myself in his eyeline and he is normally drawn to come over. I concentrate on the key learning that I want him to feel success in. Take for example the following activity.  I am using one worksheet series to supplement the Waseca red boxes. I love it as it has lots of "tricks" in it, tricks are a great hook in for my son! In this activity the child has to match up the picture to the word and there are left over trick pictures that don't match with a word. This is great as it means my son has to attend to what is in front of him. The activity involves cutting out pictures, however I do the cutting for my son as the main thing I want him to concentrate on is the reading. I know that if I say he has to do the cutting he could have a melt down and we might loose the opportunity to do the reading work.  I also do some of the gluing, I glue the picture and he places it beside the correct word, occasionally he does the gluing himself.

I have found with my son that it is important that I remind him what is on the shelf, what he is capable of, and what he might wish to do. As I've discussed in an earlier blog post memory can be an issue for people with ADHD. Additionally some people with ADHD can feel overwhelmed with choices or not know where to get started. Additonally some people with ADHD experience self-esteem issues due to the constant "corrections" and neuro typical barriers they are faced with, so I make it a priority to say many positive things about himself and his work to him each day. 


Maria Montessori was really big on observing children and I think this is  particularly important for children with neuro diversity. The other day I saw my son with the magnifying glass from the botany shelf, he was hitting then rug to make circular indentations. I walked over and asked him if he wanted to do some playdough and push that around. He eagerly agreed and while playing with a roller playdough toy he asked to do some painting which he became immersed in for 45 minutes. 

Somedays are hard days, I can tell he is having a hard day regulating and that any extra stress could end up with a major melt down. If this is the case I might make him a hut to do his work in and leave all traditional work to the side. 

Adapting the Work Environment

I have made several other adaptions to the work cycle and environment. You can read about how I adapt learning here.

- We have a range of fidget toys including a stretchy centipede and a small cube he can hold in his hand. 

-We have a mini trampoline in the classroom which he is welcome to bounce on whenever he wants.

-We get outside regularly for exercise or exploration there doesn't need to be any great learning intention, sometimes we draw with chalk, sometimes he kicks a ball around sometimes he goes outside and sings at the top of his voice, sometimes he runs around and plays in the sandpit.

-We have a practical life/sensory shelf that has playdough, kinetic sand and a range of fine motor skills such as ripping paper, cutting or puzzles. I also have  bubbles to blow, duplo, and blocks - my son is very talented at building and finds it relaxing to create objects. He is welcome at any time to do these activities, usually though I find he is drawn to them after 9.30am.

-He has a stretchy band to pull on to destress or let out energy.

-After 9.30 my son sometimes needs a break and asks to listen on his headphones to a show or book. I have some quiet activities such as blocks available for him to play with if he wishes or sometimes he chooses to draw or run while he listens. 

-We sometimes use "first" and "then" simply put I might say "First let's do some reading then you can tell me all about sea animals." This allows him the opportunity to know when he will have a break from the work and sometimes propels him to get through an activity as he has something to look forward to. I currently don't have a written work plan for him, at the moment I think this could add to his anxiety however it might be something I use in the future as he becomes more settled in his new schooling environment. 

-I have a timer that I use perhaps once or twice a day. Children with ADHD often struggle with externalising time and with changing activities, if we need to do something at a certain time I put the timer on which gives him a visual prompt, I also check in with him and say how much time is left. This makes transitions smoother and means that there is less likely to be a refusal to change. If I use the timer too much it can cause anxiety so I am very picky about when I am going to use it and for what purpose. 

For more articles about ADHD and Montessori click here


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