Monday, September 19, 2016

Children with Special Needs in the Montessori Classroom

NAMC montessori classroom children with special needs. Kids looking at water on dock

There are many ways in which the Montessori environment can contribute to the developmental, social, and academic success of children with special needs. The materials in the environment, the multi-age grouping, and the focus on peace and cosmic education are just a few examples of core characteristics of Montessori that help all children meet their needs – especially those children who may need additional support.

Montessori classrooms are filled with beautiful hands-on materials that engage all of the senses. Working with the materials provides a wonderful opportunity for children with special needs to use their hands to explore and learn and to develop fine and gross motor skills. Montessori students in the elementary age range are encouraged to follow their own interests when it comes to reading, writing, and research; this kind of freedom allows the special needs child to flourish.

In addition to having the freedom to follow their interests, students are able to work at their own pace in the Montessori classroom. The multi-age environment allows them to do so without worrying about being ahead or behind their peers. This also helps students build confidence and a positive sense of self, which is valuable for all children but may be especially helpful to a child with special needs.

Children with Special Needs in the Montessori Classroom

NAMC montessori classroom children with special needs. Girl and boy working on schoolwork

The multi-age classroom encourages children of varying ages and abilities to form a community in which they learn from one another.

It is natural for older students to assist younger or less experienced students in the classroom when they need help, for example. All students are able to contribute to the classroom community in some way, including students with special needs. Giving children with special needs numerous and varied opportunities to be helpful and of service to the classroom can be a rewarding and empowering experience, benefitting their developmental growth and their sense of self.

The three-age grouping of the Montessori environment means that students are usually in the same classroom for all three years. This is of great value for the student because it allows the teacher to build a strong relationship with both the student and his/her parents. It also helps alleviate the stress children may feel when they have to start in a new classroom each school year and build a new relationship of trust and understanding with the teachers. Being in the same environment for three years is a key benefit for students with special needs who often require more time to develop relationships of trust and communication.

NAMC montessori classroom children with special needs. Smiling young asian girl

The focus on cosmic education in the Montessori environment means that there is an emphasis on peace, cooperation, and respect in the classroom.

This spirit of inclusion makes it much less likely that a child with special needs will be teased or left out. The students usually make an effort to accept, befriend, and encourage each other, regardless of their differences in abilities or age. Tolerance and patience are virtues we encourage and model with all our students. Celebrating our unique differences and cultivating unity is fundamental for harmony in the Montessori classroom.

In my personal experience, the Montessori classroom is a positive and rewarding environment for all students, including students with special needs.

Having students of diverse and wide-ranging abilities work together in a respectful environment provides an enriching opportunity to build caring and considerate children who accept others, regardless of their differences.

Julie — NAMC Graduate & Montessori Teacher
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Monday, September 19, 2016.


  1. I teach Montessori in a public school. I have grades first through third. I am the designated teacher with special needs students in our classroom. My classroom is a safe haven for our special needs kids. Students have formed friendships and understanding with students who "act different" and need extra assistance. They are loving and always willing to lend a hand to any student that needs help, especially when the teacher is unavailable.

    1. Hi, thanks for sharing.As there is a wide range of differences within the "special needs" spectrum,would you find that there are certain materials that are more attractive and interesting to special needs learners? For example, would 3D compared to 2D materials (ie 3 part cards or control charts) be more attractive? is there a difference perhaps depending on the type of learning difficulty? I would greatly appreciate a comment based on your observations.I am a Montessori Elementary teacher interested in providing support to shadow teachers in choosing/ preparing their own materials in non- Montessori contexts.


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