Renae Eddy Is A Mom That Rocks and the author of The ABC’s Of Montessori And Special Needs
I know Renae through my Montessori circles, she is always willing to help out and I was so excited when I heard about the book. Marie Montessori started her work with special needs children and so it makes perfect sense to be using the Montessori method with special needs kids today.
Renae is a Montessori homeschooling mom of four special needs children with developmental, emotional, and physical disabilities. She is the author and owner of the website Every Star Is Different, where she offers Montessori-inspired unit studies, syllabuses, free printables, and support for special needs families.
Renae is the author of two ebooks, Holidays and Children with PTSD: A Parent’s Guide to Survival and The ABCs of Montessori and Special Needs. Renae and her husband have dedicated their lives to helping their special needs children thrive by implementing Montessori in their home and school life.
This is a bit longer than our usual Moms That Rock interviews in that Renae kindly answered questions from my community too, so put the kettle on and let’s get started…
Hi Renae, can you start by telling us about yourself and your family…
I was raised in the beautiful 1000 Islands on the St. Lawrence River. I moved to Colorado to attend college studying music and Spanish, and then transferred to a private college in Virginia where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music with an emphasis in voice.
It is in VA that I met my husband. Our first date was at the end of April, right before my last semester of college. We were officially engaged by the end of August, and eloped at the beginning of October. Almost 12 years later we’re still going strong. We moved to New York when our first son was a baby.
My husband and I have four children. Our two oldest are our biological sons. Both have autism and ADHD. One also has an anxiety disorder. The other has significant food allergies.
We then became foster parents for four years and adopted two girls. Both have Reactive Attachment Disorder and PTSD. One also has an anxiety disorder. The other has autism, a mood disorder, a vision impairment caused by mild Cranial Facial Microsomia, and food allergies.
What do you do?
Originally my husband and I had life plans that consisted of him continuing to work full time as a licensed mental health therapist and me staying at home until our children were school age, and then continuing my music education and career.
Instead, both my husband and I are at home full time, homeschooling our children and attending to their special needs. Our blog Every Star Is Different is our business. There we share our Montessori-inspired homeschooling journey, including thematic unit studies, activities and free printables.
We also offer support for families with children who have special needs. It’s amazing how different life is compared to that original plan. Even so, we wouldn’t change a thing.
What is the story behind your passion?
I was introduced to Montessori, as a nanny, before my first son was born. A child I was caring for attended a Montessori preschool. I didn’t think much of it until I had my own children.
My boys were attending a private preschool for children with special needs at the time, but things were not going well. I started homeschooling them and failed miserably, until I stumbled upon a Montessori website.
Every Montessori activity that I tried, my children responded to. I have never looked back. Now, it seems whenever I’m struggling with an issue as a parent, or one of my children is struggling, I can look to Maria Montessori’s magnificent work and always find a solution.
What has been the most difficult thing for you whilst running a business and a family?
I would say the biggest challenge I have is time. I can never predict from moment to moment how each of my children with special needs will be functioning.
There are some days when the entire day and night are spent dealing with issues related to needs, and no work gets done. Yet there are other times when life is good and I accomplish far more than I could ever imagine. I try to be forgiving of myself when I’m not able to do as much as I want, but it’s hard sometimes.
Thankfully, my husband helps me out a lot and between the two of us, though we always seem behind, we’re at least moving forward.
What is your favourite self care ritual?
After a really hard day, especially when it relates to special needs and in particular Reactive Attachment Disorder, I love to watch action movies where there are a lot of car chases, gun fights, and situations where things blow up.
It sounds silly, but it helps me calm down, especially when my adrenaline just can’t seem to slow down. Either that or I’ll watch medical dramas. They help me keep things in perspective while working through my own emotions at the same time. Whether it’s an action movie or medical drama, ice cream or popcorn is usually involved.
Kids! How do you handle childcare?
Jason and I remain home full time. Finding childcare for four children with special needs is nearly impossible, especially with the extreme behaviors that come with Reactive Attachment Disorder.
If one of us has a commitment, the other remains home. If we both have a commitment, the children come along.
We average a date out with grandparents babysitting about once every six months to a year at this point. However, we do make sure to have a date night once a week at home once the children fall asleep.
What is your favourite tip/trick to getting work done when the kids are around?
We work hard to keep the children on a schedule each day. They know that we will help them work through their daily responsibilities of chores, school work, exercise, meals etc., but when that’s done they get their free time and Mommy and Daddy have work time.
My husband and I also try to tag team throughout the day if we know we can get away with just one of us helping the children through certain routines. I do morning routines and breakfast for everyone, while my husband works. He cooks dinner on weeknights and does bedtime routines, while I work.
Tell us about your latest project and the Why behind it
This past year, my husband and I have published our first two books, Holidays and PTSD: A Parent’s Guide to Survival and The ABCs of Montessori and Special Needs. We are so excited to be creating resources for parents and teachers that provide support when working with children who have special needs.
Many more books are to come. Over the next year we will be offering e-courses and other resources that go along with these books.
Share a random fact about yourself
I have what’s called Congenital Ectodermal Dysplacia, which basically means my hair doesn’t grow and my nails looks different than those of others. This has been the case all my life. Perks include never having to shave my legs and I wear a wig. I literally spend less than five minutes a day putting it on and brushing it through.
Who inspires you?
I would have to say my husband is the person who inspires me most. A few years back he was diagnosed with autism, ADHD, and an anxiety disorder.
This has always affected our marriage, his professional work, and his ability to parent our children. A diagnosis like this could come as a huge blow and have many negative effects on life, but for him it’s done the opposite.
He embraces who he is and works harder than anyone I know to become a better person each and every day. You can read more about his journey and our story HERE on the blog.
I asked my tribe for a few questions, we have a number of moms with special needs kids, obviously Renae can’t give a detailed answer for them all so here are a few quickies with some follow up resources and of course, her book should be in your shopping basket too!
Qu – My impression is that Montessori is good for fine motor skills and the children do lots of ‘work’, my child has physical disabilities but it bright, would Montessori work for her?
The Montessori Method is child led, meaning that the teacher follows the child, and goes at a pace that is comfortable for her. If a teacher notes that a child struggles with specific fine motor tasks, the teacher can make accommodations and provide work that matches the skills of the child in that area.
A unique aspect of the Montessori Method is that a child chooses her own work. If she struggles in one area but is extremely talented in another, she can choose the work she prefers and excel. A lack of fine motor skills will not hold her back in other subjects.
The Montessori classroom is designed to accommodate the movement of children. In general, all items in the classroom are child sized which encourages independence and freedom in an otherwise adult world.
A child that is in a wheelchair or uses other adaptive equipment should be able to develop a unique independence not offered in a typical public school environment. If a child is not able to carry materials back and forth from shelves or complete specific works, the teacher or another student can help the child when necessary.
Qu – My son goes to a Montessori school and we practice at home too, he is partial deaf and wears a hearing aide, what ways can I as a parent and the school directress support him better?
And similar questions.. My daughter has profound hearing loss and has bilateral cochlear implants. We follow Audio-Verbal Training at home (no signing, spoken language only…in a nutshell).
The most obvious question for me is, how would you combine Montessori with whatever technique/therapy you are applying?
The Montessori Method provides a multi-sensory learning environment. If a child struggles in one area, she can still be successful in learning. Maria Montessori’s first educational experiences took place as she worked with children in an asylum. She created many of her materials, based on experiences she had working with children who were deemed unteachable by others due to disabilities. Her medical background gave her a one-of-a-kind perspective on how to help children with all types of disabilities succeed.
For a child who is hearing impaired or suffers from other auditory disabilities, the format of the three period lesson is a fabulous tool to use at home and at school when teaching a child and practicing aspects of conversation. Details and visual prompts to use during the three period lesson can be found HERE on my blog
The Grace and Courtesy curriculum is also a great way to help a child who is working on verbal communication skills, especially as concepts are introduced using the three period lesson with visual prompts. This can be done at home or at school as well. One of my favorite resources is discussed on this post HERE
The key is understanding how the Montessori Method and materials are already designed to provide the assistance the child needs to be successful in learning. I find that therapeutic approaches in the special needs world are very similar to aspects of Montessori Method.
Qu – Is Montessori suitable for children with Downs Syndrome? I have read conflicting reports and don’t know what to believe.
In my experience, I see no reason why Montessori wouldn’t be a great fit for a child with Downs Syndrome. It comes down to the teacher’s willingness to work with the child. This will vary from classroom to classroom.
The key is understanding where the child is at cognitively, developmentally, and emotionally. Once the teacher has a clear picture of this, it’s all about understanding the reasons behind the behaviors. All of this is discussed in detail in my book, The ABCs of Montessori and Special Needs.
QU – I am now reading a book about kids with SPD and would be curious how Montessori could help improve and what are the success factors?
Montessori is a fabulous fit for a child who has SPD as it is child led, individualized and multi-sensory based. I discuss special needs related to the senses in great detail in my book.
Qu – I’d be interested to hear if and how Montessori supports children with autism. Specifically interested in the part where the child chooses their work. How is it supported by the teacher?
As a tag along, how do sensory processing disorder kids fit in the picture? The seeking type. How is that supported?
These are such great questions, all of which are discussed in great detail in my book, The ABCs of Montessori and Special Needs. For now, I’ll just say that with children who have autism, the incentives and reinforcers are built into the work and structure of the Montessori Method.
Those who are sensory seeking are given many opportunities to receive input throughout the day. As long as the teacher follows the child and understands the behaviors any child can succeed.
Qu – Montessori attaches certain interests to certain age groups ( interest in small things, writing, reading, etc) How do you adjust it to match a developmentally slower child, who might not be able to show/ communicate if he/ she’s ready?
The Planes of Development are based on the developmental age of the child, which in many cases matches the chronological, cognitive and emotional ages of the child. This is not the case with children who have special needs, and so it is important to understand where your child is at chronologically, cognitively, developmentally, and emotionally.
Once a teacher can identify these ages, she can best meet the needs of the student and understand the behaviors. All of this is discussed in great detail in my book, The ABCs of Montessori and Special Needs.
***NOTE – Renae has kept a note of these questions and will answer them in more detail in FBLive sessions in the coming weeks over on Every Star Is Different. But sure to follow her there so that you don’t miss it.
Maria Montessori began her journey in education working with children in an asylum and others who lived in the city slums. Her method and materials were first developed based on observations of children she worked with in these settings.
So often parents and teachers wonder if Montessori is right for children with special needs. After six years of experience using the Montessori Method with my own four special children with various developmental, emotional and physical diagnoses, I’m here to say YES! It’s a perfect fit.
The key to success is understanding how the Montessori and special needs worlds work together. Maria Montessori was years ahead of her time in her observations and solutions to problems educators face when teaching children with special needs. Her work is only beginning to receive the recognition it deserves.
The book, The ABCs of Montessori and Special Needs provides explanations, resources, and tips on how Montessori can help a child with special needs succeed in learning.
If you have a child with special needs or you just want to learn more then I recommend checking Renae’s home on the internet…
Where to find Renae:
Website: Every Star Is Different
Facebook: Every Star Is Different
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