This week NAMC received an email from a graduate who recently learned that one of her new students is a child who is blind. As this is a new situation for the teacher, she was feeling a bit anxious. Her main concern was how she could accommodate the child’s needs to the best of her ability in the Montessori 3–6 environment. Here are some thoughts for Montessori teachers who may have similar questions.
Visually Impaired Children in the Montessori Prepared Environment
Many of Montessori’s ideas for working with and educating children originate from her work with Édouard Séguin, a French psychologist who developed a methodical approach of presenting lessons by breaking them down into small, sequential steps. Working primarily with children who were blind, Séguin developed a collection of hands-on learning materials. Due in part to her work with Séguin, Montessori developed her method and materials to encourage children to learn using all their senses, rather than relying strictly on their vision. As well, Montessori materials developed for sensorial refinement and mathematics promote whole-brain learning. The sensorial, whole-brain foundation of the method and materials allow children who are blind to experience success in the Montessori environment. In fact, Anne Sullivan used Montessori’s model of education with her student, Helen Keller!
“Helen Keller is a marvelous example of the phenomenon common to all human beings: the possibility of the liberation of the imprisoned spirit of man by the education of the senses.” —Maria Montessori, Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, p. 25.
Adapting the Montessori Environment
Children who are visually impaired or blind are not helpless. Like all children, they want to be able to do things independently. In fact, Montessori said, “He who is served is limited in his independence” (The Montessori Method, p. 97). So, while we must prepare the Montessori environment to meet the needs of the child, we must not allow ourselves to stifle his development. Keeping that balance in mind, here are some suggestions for helping visually impaired children gain independence in the Montessori environment:
- Use verbal descriptions about what is happening in the classroom and during daily routines.
- Help the child learn about the physical space of the classroom and how it is organized.
- Keep the room organized and neat.
- Provide hands-on learning and encourage exploration.
- Lead the child through the motions of finger plays and songs.
- Offer information rather than assuming the child needs help or intervention.
- For more suggestions, you may wish to read Adapting the Classroom for Visually Impaired Children by Pat Jenkins. In her article, Jenkins discusses some simple techniques for modifying the Montessori materials and environment to best meet the needs of children who are visually impaired or blind.
Montessori teachers are experts at meeting the needs of each individual child in their care. With just a few modifications to the environment, blind and sighted children can experience equal success, working side by side.
For more information on working with children who are visually impaired, you may wish to visit:
- The Blind Child in The Regular Preschool Program
- Handbook for Teachers Serving Students who are Deaf-blind, Deaf or Hard of Hearing with Additional Disabilities, and Blind or Visually Impaired with Additional Disabilities
- Suggestions for Preschool and Kindergarten Teachers of Blind Students
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, September 6, 2013.