Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Montessori Practical Life Activities for Sensory Processing Disorder

This is the final of a four-part series on Sensory Processing Disorder. For related NAMC blogs, please click on the links at the end of this article.

NAMC Montessori Practical life activities for sensory processing disorder children jumping rope
Children with proprioceptive dysfunction struggle to be aware of the ‘position in space’. They are unsure of where their bodies are in relationship to others or objects. They struggle making physical judgments regarding movement as well as with regulating their bodies. They may seem “wired” or always on, moving or fidgeting. They may be the ones who continually bump or crash into things, trip and fall, or generally be ‘unsafe’. These children are looking for ways to calm their bodies and their nervous systems.

For children with proprioceptive (muscle and/or joint) processing difficulties, activities involving “heavy work” is recommended. Heavy work has been shown to increase attention and decrease sensory defensiveness. Using activities which provide heavy resistance to the muscles and joints helps the body assimilate process movement (vestibular) and touch (tactile) information. Heavy work in the Montessori environment is generally found in the Montessori Practical Life activities.

Montessori Practical Life Activities for Sensory Processing Disorder

Transferring, Cleaning, and Pounding
In the context of the Montessori Practical Life curriculum, we often think of transferring activities as moving light objects such as macaroni, rice, or cotton balls from one place to another. Children with proprioceptive dysfunction require heavier objects. What about filling buckets or jugs with water or sand and carrying them from one place to another without spilling? Or filling a wheel barrow with mulch, pushing it across the garden, and unloading and spreading it?

Carrying furniture and tables is another form of a transferring activity. Call on these Montessori students to help you set up the Montessori environment, stack chairs, or move tables for cleaning underneath them. They can also help stack books in the library.

Montessori Practical Life activities such as cleaning tables and easels, washing windows, sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming all use gross motor skills and compression. The resistance between object and body help build muscle memory. Cleaning does not have to be limited to indoors. Scrubbing sidewalks, “painting” trees or fences with water and a paintbrush, washing the playground equipment, sweeping sidewalks, raking leaves, watering flowers and the garden, hanging clothes on a clothesline and shoveling snow are all examples of heavy work activities.

NAMC Montessori Practical life activities for sensory processing disorder stump
Pounding is another great way to provide resistance and compression. If you don’t have a wood working area in the classroom, hammering nails into an old stump works great.

Cooking is also a great way to exercise muscles and joints. In this Montessori Practical Life area, children can stir, knead, roll dough, press cookie cutters, slice and wash dishes.

Some of your Montessori students may need more overt physical outlets. Activities such as wall push-ups, jumping on a mini trampoline, swinging, climbing “rock walls” or climbing nets, riding scooters or bicycles, roller skating or playing jump rope all provide intense deep muscle and joint work.

Keep in mind that not every activity benefits every child. Note which activities calm the child and which activities seem to “wind them up”. As with Montessori classroom work, sensory activities should be of interest to the child as well as fulfilling their needs. By providing a wide variety of activities, the Montessori environment adds to the overall sensory diet of children with Sensory Processing Disorders.

Related NAMC blogs:
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 Tuesday, May 18, 2010.


  1. Great post, very informative as usual, I will be linking. If you don't want to be featured please let me know.

  2. Hi Jo! Thank you for your kind remarks. I have enjoyed reading I have found your blog site; it is quite informative and useful. Thank you for linking with the NAMC blog!

  3. Thanks so much for writing about this. I have been considering Montessori schools for my child, who has mild sensory integration challenges.

  4. Hi Natasha! I think it's wonderful you're considering Montessori for your child. My son thrived in the Montessori environment and the Montessori teachers were always aware and sensitive of his sensory needs.

  5. Hi!

    Had a question - you mentioned that you connected to SPD at Grade 4 level. From what I see, a lot of the sensorial activities are concentrated in the 2.5 - 6 year time frame in the montessori method. How does it work in a primary (grades 1 - 3) mont environment? Any help you provide will really help my child. Thanks!

  6. Sangi, you are correct in that the sensitive period for Sensorial work end around the age of six. Montessori still believed that education should involve all the senses even in the elementary setting. That is why there is so much movement in the Montessori elementary environment. Teachers and parents with children with sensory processing issues can continue to work with developing sensory awareness and tolerance due to the child's heightened sensory awareness. A wonderful resource is the book "The Out-of-Sync Child : Recognizing and Coping With Sensory Integration Dysfunction" By Carol Stock Kranowitz. You may also find other resources here: http://www.childrensdisabilities.info/sensory_integration/sibooks.html


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