Montessori Takeaways from a Conversation with Temple Grandin

Several weeks ago, I had the honor of participating in an online discussion with Temple Grandin. She is a woman I greatly admire who has taught me a lot when it comes to working with neurodiverse individuals. I first saw her speak and then get to meet her one-on-one at a critical point in my teaching career.

As I sat there listening to her speak, I kept reflecting on how so much of what she was saying perfectly fits into the Montessori method. My hand cramped up as I scribbled dozens of notes. But I wanted to share with you some takeaways from the talk.

One of the first things she mentioned was the importance of early intervention. She specifically refers to watching for those children who are not speaking, like her at a young age. I’m a big believer in early intervention because I think it truly makes a world of difference in children. We know that young children are like sponges. So let’s take advantage of that.

[And I need to interject that I also advocate for children to blossom in their own time. There is a balance between allowing for that and a need for extra help.]

So that means that we as educators need to be sure that we are up on our child development and continually note our observations to watch for any major red flags and then make our recommendations. [Remember that we cannot diagnose, just share objective observations.]

And if interventions is warranted, don’t go it alone, moms. It is exhausting and you deserve some help. It also creates a richer learning experience for the child because others will have a different perspective.

Another emphasis was on getting kids outside. You can even do this during a pandemic. Yes, there was a plug for her new book, The Outdoor Scientist: The Wonder of Observing the Natural World. But that was not the meat of this discussion. And as Montessorians, we already know how important this is.

Temple believes that verbal people have taken over education and the focus is pulling away from areas that are just as important. Different thinkers have different skills and not everyone can excel in everything. We need to keep things like art, sewing, cooking, instruments, woodworking, theatre, welding, auto shop, creative writing, etc.

Wait, did she just describe a Montessori classroom?

We need skilled craftsmen to make all of the objects in our lives, from the most mundane to the really big stuff. We need to acknowledge those who have created all of those things. So look at your people in Silicon Valley, at NASA, famous people like Michelangelo and Einstein, all of whom are likely autistic.

How did they end up being successful? They were given exposure to a lot. They were given to opportunity for hands-on experience. They’re allowed to try different experiences to see what fits and what doesn’t. And then when that right fit happens, you embrace that and let the person explore it as far as they want to go.

Are you catching those Montessori echoes again?

Temple also thinks that children of today are too afraid of making mistakes, probably partially due to a lack of that hands-on exploration. People need touch in order to perceive, and it is those sensory-based experiences that help one notice detail.

Hello, sensorial education.

And finally, she mentioned the ultimate goal of education. Try to picture where that student will be 10 years after graduation and give them the foundation to get there. But also help them learn to be lifelong learners.

You know what I’m going to say here.

So to summarize, those qualities of educational experiences that Temple Grandin believes are beneficial to the neurodiverse child are things that most Montessori schools should already be doing.

1. Watch for red flags that indicate a possible need for early intervention.

2. Get kids outside.

3. Teach more than just reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic.

4. Expose them to as much as you can. The more they can experience, the more likely they are to find what fits.

5. Put a focus on hands-on learning.

6. Teach them to be lifelong learners.

I’ll likely be back with more takeaways from this amazing conversation with Temple Grandin.

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