Floortime and Montessori

Introducing DIR Floortime

DIR stands for Developmental, Individual-differences, & Relationship-based.  A great deal of information is given at It aims to enable an individual to enter the world of a child who it is difficult to make contact with and after doing so to bring the child into a shared world and interact in ways which build the foundations for social, emotional and intellectual development. It is useful for Montessori teachers to observe children who they think might have additional emotional, social, physical, intellectual needs, to help us be specific when talking to parents, occupational therapists and other professionals. It has been used a lot with autistic children and other developmental and/or emotional challenges and can be useful for children without any diagnosis who you feel concerned about. The model has also been modified to be used with young people and adults.

Information for this post is based on the icdl website, please see it for much fuller details, this is a summary only.  You can also see opportunities for trainers and trainings there. Online courses are available in many time zones and Floortime practitioners might live in your area.

DIR Floortime and Montessori

DIR is a developmental model which builds spontaneous communication and nurturing relationships. It is a model which takes into account different biological differences we all have, especially in terms of motor, sensory and language differences. DIR FLoortime is focused around the relationships children have in their lives wit parents, caregivers, friends, educators, therapists. The model is incredibly compatible with Montessori as the adult’s activity is based on observing the child and following their interests to achieve mastery of the developmental stage they are currently at. The focus is on the ‘play’ of a child, but as discussed in my piece on Play Therapy, the ‘play’ of DIR refers to the inherently motivated and joyful developmental activities Montessorian’s regard as ‘work’.

The stages of development can fit into Montessori’s planes of development, the way they can be understood is certainly similar.  A child will typically acquire the stages spontaneously in order if given an appropriate environment, but a child with developmental difficulties will need additional support and encouragement to engage in sufficient repetition of activities associated with each stage. Children on the autistic spectrum may be reluctant to engage in sufficient attention to people (falling in love in DIR speech) or grace and courtesy (closing of circles in DIR). So additional help is needed.  I think it is very important to have a clear model and guidance about how to help children who we are concerned about, because in our anxiety we might abandon the child to her own world or overwhelm the child with our demands to ‘normalise’.  DIR Floortime gives a child-centred model we can feel confident about following and discuss with parents and professionals.

Stages of Development to observe and respond to;

It presents development as a model with six stages. This link provides a chart to use to relate the stages to individual children whom you have concerns about and gives guidance for how to help.

What is important is not so much the age at which a child masters each skill, but that each one is mastered, for each skill forms a foundation for the next. Each child can move up or down these steps depending on levels of comfort, stress, fatigue, change in routine and as a response to new events. For some activities they might be at a higher stage than other activities. As children are able to mater core deficits from earlier levels their process is evident in success in later levels. The six stages are;

  1. Self-Regulation and Interest in the World – shows interest in sensations, is calm and focus, can recover from distress and is interested in people.

    To develop this you can help him or her to look, listen, begin to move, and calm down. your child’s sense of security and awareness will help her understand more complex thoughts, help her brain develop, and lay the foundation for future learning.
  2. Engagement & Relating or Falling in Love – responds to parents gestures and expressions with interest and wants to continue play

    To develop this take time for love to blossom and be patient to the bumps along the way. What’s important is that your shared intimacy is gradually growing. You have plenty of time to cement a loving relationship with your child, as long as you stay emotionally involved. Observe your child’s individual preferences regarding what is enjoyable to her, and radiate excitement when you amplify pleasure.

  3. Purposeful Communication – Opening and Closing Circles – responds to carers gestures, initiates interactions and demonstrates emotions; closeness, pleasure, curiosity, anger, fear and can recover from distress more quickly.

    To develop this take note of the things your child is naturally interested in and then challenge him to express himself with feelings and actions in a purposeful way. In this way you will help him become a two-way communicator!

  4. Complex Communication & Problem Solving – Using a series of interactive emotional signals or gestures to communicate while experiencing an emotion, imitates behaviour. Is able to sustain circles verbally or non-verbally. Begins to limit set with use of the word ‘no’ or a clear signal.

    To develop this challenge your child to interact with you to solve problems- not only those that she wants to figure out on her own, but also those that you present. Exchange many gestures as the two of you problem-solve, include sounds or words and actions such as puling each other in various directions.

  5. Creating Emotional Ideas – Using symbols or ideas to convey intentions or feelings, this maybe by playing games with a story or having a series of interactions with words, gestures or pictures to explain a present reality. Begins to use pretend play to recover from distress.

    To develop this help the child tell you what he wants or thinks, and to become a partner in his emerging make-believe play.

  6. Emotional and Logical Thinking, Communicating Reasoning, and Building Bridges Between Ideas – Building bridges between ideas. The child begins to build ideas, elaborations, invents a new games, can play a game by the rules, reflects on feelings, responds to open questions. The child has a sustained sense of self and expresses the full range of emotions.

    To develop this challenge the child to connect ideas together by seeking her opinion, enjoying her debates, and enlarging her pretend dramas.

Outcomes for DIR Floortime

DIR Floortime has been happening for decades and a great deal of research has been done.  The icdl website has details and many studies and publications available.

A typical pathway for a child going through the model might be similar to this. Parents are shown how to play on the floor with their child by a DIR Floortime practitioner.The parents  encouraging their child to close circles of communication they initiate.  Their goal being to prevent the child withdrawing into themselves and tuning them out.  Each time the child disengages the carers link the action, gesture or verbal comment to reality by joining them in their play.  By helping close actions and verbal circles, they  help the child share their world with them and they would help the child to share their world, rather than continue to live in their own. By joining the play the adults help the child to belong and help the child to adapt to her family and community. The practice here follows Montessori’s understanding of the needs and tendencies of each child.

As the child gains the foundations of the earlier stages the adults begin to try to help the child tie their own ideas to that of the adult, so that there would be a logical bridge between what the child creates and what someone else created. Teachers, therapists, siblings and other important people in the child’s life are similarly encouraged to help children to close their gestural and verbal circles.  In addition to joining children in their games and communication adults do not give into demands which are not developmentally helpful, like tantrums, but are shown to hold children tightly to help to calm them down and then gradually help the child to resolve the difficulty through action or speech.  Exercises from therapists are also used to help calm the child down and a greater understanding of the child’s individual motor and sensorial world can help in avoiding stressors and making the child more comfortable so they are less likely to be overwhelmed. As this process is repeated over weeks and months children have been able to form bridges between ideas, between the real world and play, stay involved in two-way communication, and to work out processing problems to a greater degree than thought possible.

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