Montessori methods for people with dementia

Source: Montessori methods for people with dementia


Something beautiful to share. I’ve researched this before, and it’s so exciting to see a newly blossoming field for something I already love so much. I live and breathe Montessori, and to see that it is helpful in all stages of life is truly amazing.

I spent some time over summer with my Grandfather, who has been diagnosed with Dementia. Seeing first-hand how much this has changed him was quite a shock. I worked with family members while visiting to give tips on how to work with him, and make him feel valued, as he’s losing his self-esteem daily. He has good days, and he has bad days. On his more self-aware days, he’ll mention how he feels he cannot be trusted to complete anything. Gearing the home and my relative’s collective mind-set is part of helping him. The same as it is in the Casa classroom, really. With a Prepared Environment, and a well-trained Montessori Guide, we provide the opportunities for discovery, building self-esteem, and developing (or maintaining, in this case) important life skills.

Wouldn’t it be amazing, if sometime in the future Montessori training centers started offering Dementia / Alzheimer’s training?

New Direction

I’ve decided I have too much free time. As of this June, I’m filling that free time with Montessori Elementary teacher training! I’m so excited, it’s not really possible to express it in words. This is something I’ve been interested in since my very very first day in Primary Montessori Training. We were shown Lower and Upper Elementary classrooms at the first school my training classes were at. I saw a human skull sitting on the shelf in the Upper Elementary room, and a reading nook in the corner with a literal wall of books behind it, and I was sold. I’ve tossed the “what-if’s” and such around for years since. After observing some followers of this blog’s Elementary journeys, and now being at a school with an Elementary classroom, I broke down, and couldn’t resist temptation any more.

Of course, I keep coming across passages and concepts in my training that I love turning over in my mind, and that’s what this blog was originally designed for. To give me a place to wheedle away at the thoughts buzzing around in my head, especially after reading a juicy passage.


Do we ever take enough time to observe?

I mean well and truly observe?

Now it is obvious that the possession of senses and of knowledge is not sufficient to enable a person to observe; it is a habit which must be developed by practice. When an attempt is made to show untrained persons stellar phenomena by means of the telescope, or the details of a cell under the microscope, however much the demonstrator may try to explain by word of mouth what ought to be seen, the layman cannot see it. . . . It is well known that when a new discovery is to be explained to the public, it is necessary to set fort the coarser details’ the uninitiated cannot take in those minute details which constituted the real essence of the discovery. And this is because they are unable to observe.

Maria Montessori, p. 102, The Advanced Montessori Method

“A habit that must be developed by practice.” How often do I spend time observing my own classroom? If I were to go by the strict definition I was given in my training (sitting uninterrupted in a chair with notes for at least 30 minutes), I fall quite short. I’m lucky to get to do it weekly. This is not to say that I’m not observing my class at all times. I make a running list of quick notes in my head, and tend to jot them down at the end of the day. “K needs more work in Language, struggling with Pink Reading.”  “B has mastered the Map of Africa, has great interest in animals, perhaps a tie in?” 

However after reading this passage, in fact this entire chapter in the Advanced Montessori Method, I feel I need to step-up my observation game significantly. What am I missing?

The Beauty of a Child at Work

To see a child in the classroom completely lost in the moment of what they are doing is a captivating and wonderful experience. I truly wish that I could read their thoughts at that moment – however I know that really being lost in the moment doesn’t involve much thought at all. It’s the beauty of the motion, the sound of the water, the spill of the droplets into a glass that grabs the child’s attention. In an over-stimulating society, it’s a great thing to see children slow down and be entranced by aligning the Pink Tower properly.

Look at that smile!

Lately I’ve been looking up Montessori school sites to get an idea on what to expect in Canada. I love school websites that feature pictures showing the classroom environment in use. A child focusing on their activity and completely ignoring someone pointing a camera at them is a sacred thing.

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Isn’t it amazing that Maria Montessori’s materials are over 100 years old, and still hold a current child’s interests? We have iPads, cell phones, music at the push of a button; yet a set of long red rods of varying length will occupy a child for 20 minutes solid regularly. Watching that child build with the Red Rods I see much higher self-satisfaction than playing for 20 minutes with an iPad. Of course there is excitement and joy from playing with technology, but it’s a different feeling to be proud and feel accomplished after mastering a physical task. Aren’t adults the same way? The sense of accomplishment in having painted a room or a sewn project or planting a garden is more satisfying than having watched an hour of TV or puttered about on the internet. (I’m guilty of the latter, for sure) It’s a physical accomplishment demonstrating our mastery (attempted or expert) in something. Trying to get children up and moving has become a big focus these days. Why not encourage that from a young age?

[Please realize that I’m not saying I hate technology – it’s really the opposite. We’ve never been more informed or educated, and that’s something to be celebrated. But as is everything in life, MODERATION IS KEY. ]

Observing a child at work is a beautiful thing, especially when you see the confidence and smile afterwards. A child walking away from a shelf after putting down the tray of a completed work walks a little straighter and a little taller. Isn’t that the best result?

Building the Best Self-Esteem

Browsing Pinterest the other day I stumbled upon a wonderful article about how Praise effects children. (Part 1 and Part 2) As a Montessorian, I know I’ve had my own struggles with learning not to praise in the classroom. Everything around us tells us we should constantly reassure children they’re doing a great job and what they’re doing is amazing. After a while a child comes to expect that praise.

During a Parent-Education night once a parent asked me “What’s the worst habit parents have?” A few chuckles went around the room as I thought for a moment. It went very quiet when I said “Praise your child.” I explained by telling my favorite example of this:

When I first started at the school as an Assistant, I had the privilege of working with the most seasoned teacher in the school who would later become my mentor. One of my first days in the classroom, I was very eager to prove to her I was worth having in her amazing room. I wanted so much to be like her, I would watch her interactions with the children so I could manage them as well as she did.

One day, a girl in the class brought a picture to her, and said what we’ve all heard children say “Lookit this picture I made!” The teacher looked at the picture for a moment, nodded her head, then said “Make sure you put it in your folder to take home.”

I was blown away – this teacher that everyone revered so greatly just seemingly blew-off this little girl! The girl wanted praise, and the teacher didn’t deliver! As shocked as I was by what I saw, I continued to watch the little girl. With a smile on her face still, she walked away contentedly and put the picture away.

Later in the day I approached the teacher and asked her why the situation played out like that. She explained the concept of Over-Praising, and how it affects children’s self-esteem in the long run. It made sense, but I still wasn’t buying it 100%. For a few weeks I continued to tell each child who approached me with a picture “Wow, that’s amazing!” or “Great picture, I love it!”

Quickly I noticed that I was being inundated with children constantly asking me what I thought of their work. One day I had a small circle of children around me asking simultaneously how I liked their latest drawing. It was like a movie where the camera keeps spinning around the circle of faces as the little chorus chanted at me “How do you like my picture?!” I looked toward the Lead Teacher to see if she had the same thing happening to her and noticed she was sitting quietly observing the children around me. She didn’t have any children around her begging her for approval, so what was I doing wrong?  I realized she was right about praise. By openly validating one child’s picture, I had to validate everyone’s.

The parents at that Parent Education night agreed with me then, and some shared similar stories of resorting to “That’s nice, dear” when being shown the 400th scribble on paper. I wish the articles above had been available at that point so I could have directed the rest of my parents to it.

I brought the concept of praise up during my Montessori Training and asked my instructor ways to constructively acknowledge what a child is showing me. Because Montessori is more focused on a child’s self-esteem, you need to redirect the attention to the child’s opinion, not your own. Why does it matter what I think of the picture? Shouldn’t it only matter what the child thinks? So instead of praise, I now prompt with specifics:

  • What are you going to do with this at home?
  • What’s your favorite part of the project?
  • What’s happening here on the picture?
  • How do you feel now that you’ve finished ____ ?

Not one of these statements has to do with my feelings. Ideally we want the child to be happy with what they’ve accomplished. Why should the discussion be about how I feel then? Otherwise, you’re basically saying to the child “It’s only a good picture if I think so.” Self-esteem comes from within, so give children the chance to exercise their own pride and accomplishment.

Do you find it difficult not to praise? Do you continue to praise anyway? Is praise not an issue in your culture? Please share!

Montessori Throughout Life

I’ve been a longtime reader of the amazing blog The Moveable Alphabet. Susan has an amazing way of writing and dissecting theory and getting to the base of what makes Montessori so awesome.

Lately Susan is a pioneer in Montessori- She’s working at a Senior Care center for seniors with Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and is using the Montessori method to help keep the mind active. She’s posted some other resources and examples of this new Montessori movement, and I can’t get enough! It’s so amazing to see how the basics of Montessori are valuable and valid in multiple stages of life. I’m happy to see that there’s been other articles posted about this new implementation, and I’m eager to read more once it becomes available!

Montessori Worldwide

It is definitely a dream of mine to travel the world and visit different Montessori schools where ever I go. What I love about Montessori is that the concept stays the same across the globe. I myself follow many Montessori blogs that aren’t based in North America, many of which I have to use Google Translate to even read! I found the results of countries that have visited this blog to be very inspiring: look how much of the world has come to visit! Say hi, even if you are just stopping in!