Montessori and Learning Styles: A multi-sensory approach for all learners

How do Montessori schools address different learning styles? They embrace them all, by nature, and at all grades levels. Since the Montessori philosophy is learner-driven, it follows that a student’s learning preferences are not just accommodated, but nurtured and developed to their fullest —to help each child reach their full potential.

The Montessori method emphasizes active learning through all five senses. All kinds of intelligences and styles of learning are nurtured as well: bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, intuitive, and the traditional linguistic and logical-mathematical (reading, writing and math). Educational trends may come and go, but the Montessori principles have remained the same, helping students of different learning styles thrive for more than 100 years.

“Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world.” – Maria Montessori

One Classroom Environment, Multiple Learning Approaches

Montessori classrooms and experiential learning centers are purposefully designed with multiple learning styles in mind. Materials are deliberately visual and tactile, and each space is thoughtfully set up to be intellectually stimulating and yet calm and conducive to quiet work. The environment is arranged according to subject area, and children are always free to move around the room instead of staying at desks.

In the Montessori preschool, kindergarten and elementary classrooms, learning materials are arranged invitingly on low, open shelves. Children may choose whatever materials they would like to use and may work for as long as the material holds their interest. The materials themselves invite activity. There are bright arrays of solid geometric forms, knobbed puzzle maps, colored beads, and various specialized rods and blocks. Science, geography, math and reading and writing materials are organized by subject, with hands-on manipulatives available for extended work if a child wants to learn more deeply or take it to another level.

A preschool student uses wooden letters to spell out the words pictured on cards. 

Reading and Writing: A Visual, Tactile, Auditory Approach

When learning how to recognize, say, read and write the letters of the alphabet, children in Montessori schools do more than just write and recite. They also feel the shape of each letter by tracing them in sand with their fingers, touching the Montessori sandpaper letters and phonograms in a designated work station, and saying the letters and sounds out loud with delight. Next they move on to the Moveable Alphabet, where they touch, feel and work with enticing wooden letters to put their thoughts into words. From there they move on to more tactile work like Metal Insets, geometric shapes that are traced in a particular pattern, from left to right. This material builds fine-motor control and muscle memory while children learning to write from left to right. It’s not until all this work has been mastered that children put pencil to paper. [See the Language section of Montessori preschool and kindergarten curriculum for full sequence.]

A preschooler develops an early understanding of numbers by using her fingers to trace a dotted number board. 

Tactile Approach to Math Deepens Understanding

Math is about numbers and so much more. In the Montessori method, concrete learning is introduced before the abstract. All early math exercises [see Montessori preschool and kindergarten math curriculum] are begun at the sensorial level to ensure the child relates the quantity to the symbol. Hands-on manipulatives like wooden Number Rods, Sandpaper Numbers and Spindle Boxes teach about numbers up to 10. Golden Beads give a concrete introduction to the decimal system. Students can’t wait for the chance to work with them! Short and long division is carried out with Racks and Tubes, alongside numerals as lower elementary students show their work on paper.

Engaging objects are placed to correspond with numbers and visually represent their quantities.

Montessori Math for Spatial and Visual Learners

Visual learners especially benefit from concrete ways to see numbers, quantities and equations worked out with colorful objects. Touching and visualizing can make it much easier to understand what the numbers and symbols actually represent. Moving these objects around helps students visualize how the quantities change — and understand how the math operations work.

Montessori teaches math in many dimensions to develop deeper comprehension of traditional mathematics curriculum basics. Logical-mathematic learning is reinforced through sensorial work. For instance, students will work with hands-on materials like beads or colored tiles, and then follow by drawing out their math problems on paper to show their thinking—and it takes them one step closer to writing number sentences with numerals and symbols.

Even after students master their primary math curriculum and transition to more abstract work like algebra, teacher can still use hands-on manipulatives in creative ways that explain, reinforce and deepen understanding.

Learning Is Not One Size Fits All

Flexibility is the key. For instance, a Montessori teacher will introduce a topic to a child in one style then use other styles to reinforce that learning. With difficult topics, it is best presented in the child’s preferred style of learning. This works to their strengths and allows them to absorb the material more quickly.

While teachers acknowledge the individual learning styles of each child, they also help the child develop other modalities and sides of their personality. They understand that gently guiding children to stretch outside their comfort zones can help them develop both confidence and competence in a variety of areas. As children and young adolescents grow to understand and expand their learning preferences, they develop greater self-motivation and self-confidence, take more ownership of their education, and become more enthusiastic, lifelong learners. Over the years, they see that learning can still be fascinating and fun, no matter what their age!

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