The Answer to the Category Problem

I have written about categories (also known as classes) long ago. For a fairly comprehensive list of categories, see here: http://wp.me/p2OomI-Ia. What a pain categories have been for Beth. What a pain they have been for both of us!  Basically, teaching categories usually involves sorting activities, which is hard for Beth. We tried everything, including various apps (see this somewhat outdated post: http://wp.me/p2OomI-Iq) and these hands-on approaches:

 

 

 

 

Montessori cards with mats, http://www.montessoriprintshop.com/

Montessori cards with mats, http://www.montessoriprintshop.com/

But after all the effort above, Beth still struggled. The answer finally came from the Montessori book I am using (David-Gettman, Basic Montessori, http://www.amazon.com/Basic-Montessori-Learning-Activities-Under-Fives/dp/0312018649/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1431948690&sr=1-1&keywords=Montessori+basic). In it, after the children have explored the cards for a very long time and the categories and items within the categories have been fully discussed, the author suggested the children should sort the cards using overall category cards with general pictures of the categories including text. Specifically, he suggested the items within the category should be slipped underneath the main category card. But slipping things underneath a main card would be a nightmare for Beth. She likes to see the items, and messes with cards until they are lined up just so. But his suggestion changed my thinking. It is a great idea for kids like Beth who hyper focus on the details of each card to put the main category card as the focus. I had to remove the motor planning step of placing the sub cards under the main card, so I simply adapted the strategy by taping the category cards (category cards made from google images) to the tops of boxes:

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The category item cards shown above were a combination of cards from the various kits I amassed and print outs from Montessori Print Shop (http://www.montessoriprintshop.com/). During sorting, I have Beth read and speak to keep her focus. For example, Beth will say things like “the zebra lives at the zoo, the cow lives at the farm, the sheep goes with the farm” as she is sorting. There is no chance to hyper focus on the items within a category or mess with them trying to place and arrange them perfectly because she just drops the cards in the boxes and they quickly disappear. Of course this requires great familiarity with the categories to begin with, through natural exposure and reading books. For instance, we read zoo and farm books for 2 weeks before attempting the sorting and we have visited zoos and farms for years. That is the way it should be and, in my opinion, the category sorting should not be a tool to learn the categories. It should only be a tool to learn the subtle differences between known categories, to stop and make choices between categories, to firm up known categories, and/or to practice speech. Unfortunately in the day and age of drilling kids, the important “familiarity step” often gets bypassed and we go straight to sorting. As a parent who tried this approach for years, trust me when I say this is not the way to go. Especially for kids who already have trouble with sorting due to motor planning issues, crossing midline problems, visual scanning problems, and/or hyper focus on parts to exclusion of the whole.

Adventures with Montessori and Autism: Catch Up Post on Period 1

I am so far behind in my Montessori posts I decided to just do a quick catch up post for period 1. We are done with Period 1 and well into Period 2 and Period 3 math (1).

Cylinders, Period 1

The purpose of the cylinder blocks is to teach about varying height and width together, holding height constant and varying width, and holding width constant and varying height. Based on the book I am following (1), for period 1 the child is supposed to work with each cylinder block one at a time, remove each cylinder and place them in front of the block in random fashion, then replace the cylinders back into the block in a random fashion. The point of the randomization is work on visual scanning and matching while teaching the progression of the cylinders along the blocks. This is a good demonstration video of the ideal presentation of a cylinder block:

Of course Beth just removes each cylinder and places it directly in front of the hole and works from left to right. There is no way to convince her to randomize the cylinders, just like in the other Montessori tasks I have written about, because her autism drives her to line things up from big to small. I just say we are playing a mix up game and then I mix them up after she places them on the table. I make sure she watches me place them and encourage her to scan the whole field. She insists on working from left to right to replace, but I actually think that is good because it shows she understand the progression. As for getting her to do the task slowly and completely quietly, I let that go. She is close enough in my book to completing the period 1 cylinders, since my goal was to teach the language associated with the cylinders (tall, short, deep, shallow, wide, narrow, thin, skinny, same width, same height) and work on visual scanning. Here is a sample video, where I give more direct instruction than usual due to the obnoxious riding lawn mower outside (condo living, gotta love it):

Wrapping Up Period 1

Many of the period 1 practical activities Beth could already do, with the exception of brushing her hair (she absolutely hates it), dusting (um, because I barely do it myself), exploring categories of language, and walking on a line (a classroom activity where you learn to walk with others, which is similar to some activities in music class and little gym, so she is working on it).

The period 1 language activities included a phonics game where I look around the room and say I spy something that starts with a sound and then Beth needs to name the item. This was very easy for Beth as she is good at phonics, but she loved the game so it was worth doing.

There was a big production in the book (1) about library time, handling books, etc. I didn’t feel the level of detail was necessary for Beth, but the book did inspire me to reorganize our books and create an area next to her bed with her favorite books, and a separate organized “library” at the top of her bookshelves. Now I can say “go read in your bed” and she will pull her favorite books out independently and look at them.

Book Center

Book Center

Thoughts on Progress

Do I think this is worth it so far?  Yes. Her motor planning, visual scanning/coordination, independence, concentration, and persistence has improved. Can I be 100% certain it is due to the Montessori process? No, not without a formal study. But all I have to go on is my gut. The therapists and teachers would describe the problem over and over, but they could not develop a step by step plan to get us there. Montessori at least provides a step by step framework with all the materials, so I believe it is the best we can do.

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(1) This will be a quick and poorly edited series because things are happening fast and I just want to write it all down. My daughter is almost 7 years old and we are starting the Montessori program from the beginning using this book, you tube videos, and common sense alterations. We homeschool and do other standard K activities. Montessori is an attempt to fill in developmental gaps and increase independence. See this fellow blogger’s post on the division of the work into periods as outlined in David Gettman’s book: http://thehometeacher.org/2009/03/sequencing-your-activities-more-on-montessori.html. We are starting with period 1 activities (taken from the book), with adjustments of course:

Period One

  1. Practical Activities – pouring beans between two jugs, opening and closing containers; buttoning; buckling; other simple dressing frames; carrying and laying out floor and table mats; saying please and thank you; carrying a tray; lifting, carrying, and putting down a chair, sitting down and getting up from a chair at a table; climbing up and down stairs; walking on the line; folding, hanging clothes on a hook;  brushing hair; dusting
  2. Sensorial – Cylinder blocks; pink tower; box 1 of the color tablets; presentation tray of the geometric cabinet; sensitizing the fingers; touch boards; presentation of Geometric solids; stereognostic bags presentation
  3. Language – Classified pictures exercises; speech stages – I Spy; book corner and library
  4. Math – none
  5. Culture – land and water presentation

Period Two

  1. Practical- pouring water from a jug, medium difficulty dressing frames, simple braiding, setting table, polishing surfaces, washing hands, washing cloths, scrubbing a table top, sweeping sawdust, brushing clothes, folding clothes, hanging clothes on a hanger, handling a book, scissors exchange, greeting people, kindness to visitors, being silent
  2. Sensorial- advanced cylinder blocks exercises, brown stair, red rods, boxes 2 and 3 of color tablets, geometric cabinet exercises 1-4, binomial cube, blindfold, tactile tablets, stereognostic bags exercises, sorting grains, sound boxes, preliminary presentation of bells, three stage lessons and the names of Sensorial qualities
  3. Language- classified picture exercises 3 and 4, stage 4 of I Spy, exercise 1 of single letter sandpaper letters, metal insets, frequent speech questioning
  4. Math- none
  5. Culture- Land and water exercises, first maps, places classified pictures, preliminary work for classification by leaf.

Adventures with Montessori and Autism: Color Box 2 and Beginner Dressing Frames

Color Box 2

The first two color boxes in Montessori are used for color matching and identification (1). Beth knew the colors in color box 1 well, so I started with color box 2, which contains the colors in color box 1 plus other colors. Beth knew most of the colors in color box 2 at the start of this work, but sometimes confused brown, gray, and black. As always, the problem wasn’t so much the overall goal, matching the colors and color identification, it was the building process used with the color tiles during the activity. The book I am following wanted Beth to randomize the color tiles and then build columns, as show in this video:

The problem was that Beth hates randomizing the color tiles and is driven to line the pairs up horizontally (I believe due to an autistic tendency and/or motor planning impairment and/or hyper focus on a part of the material instead of looking at the whole process).  I got a lot of comments after stating similar randomization and lining up issues with the pink tower in a previous post, and I think I was somewhat misunderstood in my intentions. I don’t care if Beth prefers lining things up and she can do that if she wants to most of the time (although she doesn’t choose to line things up unless I ask her to do these types of activities). The problem is Beth is so limited in the number of motor plans she makes, her tendency to line things up and continue initial motor plans is preventing her from experiencing new motor plans. I am trying to help her with her motor planning, so I believe it is worth encouraging her to create different patterns to expand her motor planning abilities. Also, Beth’s tendency to make a long line of the color tiles horizontally caused her to lose her place and make errors. So clearly her tendency to line the color tiles in one long line is at odds with accomplishing the goal of making color matches. Here we go again…I had to create another work around.

I took two approaches to having Beth make independent color matches.  In the first approach, I lined up half of the set in one long line, randomized the other matching half within the box, then had her match in a two-row format. She did this task easily. In this video I show her using this method and she demonstrated that she knows the colors in the color box (we did not have to do a full 3 stage language lesson, since she was already close to knowing all the colors and she quickly sorted out her confusion with brown, gray, and black):

In the second approach, I taped pieces of material in a two-column format to poster board (the same material I used to make her pink tower, brown stair, and red rod mats, so she knew she was supposed to build on that material). I still had to randomize the color tiles before she started, but this modified “strip mat” allowed her to create a series of color matches on her own in columns, which brought her closer to the original Montessori process. She was so stuck on continuing to make the first column that she would replace tiles at the bottom with new ones or try to crowd other tiles onto the mat at the bottom.  I prompted her to make the new column by pointing to the top and stated that the first column was “full” so she had to start a new one. Here is a video of her using the strip mat with color box 2 where she was able to motor plan the activity without prompting, and a close up of the strip mat layout:

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With the strip mat, going from one column to the next still requires occasional prompting to start the next column. But she knows her colors well, can create color matches from the tiles, and seems to understand making columns, so we will move on and occasionally circle back to color box 2. The next step with color tiles is a complex one…using color box 3 to make a light to dark flower-shaped creation on the floor. Oh my.

Beginning Dressing Frames

The book I am using said start with the “simple” dressing frames for period 1. The problem was that all of the dressing frames were hard for Beth at first. We ended up starting with the big button, velcro, snaps, and zipper frames because they seemed the most applicable to her life (big buttons and snaps on her rain coats, velcro on her shoes, a zipper on her jacket). I wasn’t super picky about technique, as tasks like these are hard enough for her as it is without demanding perfection. After a lot of demonstration, encouragement, and flat out begging her to keep trying, her hand use really took off after she mastered a few frames. Most notably, I noticed an improvement in pincer grasp and thumb use. I didn’t even have time to write this post before she had already mastered a few more frames and was well on her way to mastering 7 frames. Also, I was surprised how well the activities transferred to the real clothes on her body (with the exception of the snaps, because she figured out she could just press down with her thumb to snap the dressing frame snaps). Here is a video of Beth doing a few of the “simple” dressing frames:

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(1) This will be a quick and poorly edited series because things are happening fast and I just want to write it all down. My daughter is almost 7 years old and we are starting the Montessori program from the beginning using this book, you tube videos, and common sense alterations. We homeschool and do other standard K activities. Montessori is an attempt to fill in developmental gaps and increase independence. See this fellow blogger’s post on the division of the work into periods as outlined in David Gettman’s book: http://thehometeacher.org/2009/03/sequencing-your-activities-more-on-montessori.html. We are starting with period 1 activities (taken from the book), with adjustments of course:

Period One

  1. Practical Activities – pouring beans between two jugs, opening and closing containers; buttoning; buckling; other simple dressing frames; carrying and laying out floor and table mats; saying please and thank you; carrying a tray; lifting, carrying, and putting down a chair, sitting down and getting up from a chair at a table; climbing up and down stairs; walking on the line; folding, hanging clothes on a hook;  brushing hair; dusting
  2. Sensorial – Cylinder blocks; pink tower; box 1 of the color tablets; presentation tray of the geometric cabinet; sensitizing the fingers; touch boards; presentation of Geometric solids; stereognostic bags presentation
  3. Language – Classified pictures exercises; speech stages – I Spy; book corner and library
  4. Math – none
  5. Culture – land and water presentation

Period Two

  1. Practical- pouring water from a jug, medium difficulty dressing frames, simple braiding, setting table, polishing surfaces, washing hands, washing cloths, scrubbing a table top, sweeping sawdust, brushing clothes, folding clothes, hanging clothes on a hanger, handling a book, scissors exchange, greeting people, kindness to visitors, being silent
  2. Sensorial- advanced cylinder blocks exercises, brown stair, red rods, boxes 2 and 3 of color tablets, geometric cabinet exercises 1-4, binomial cube, blindfold, tactile tablets, stereognostic bags exercises, sorting grains, sound boxes, preliminary presentation of bells, three stage lessons and the names of Sensorial qualities
  3. Language- classified picture exercises 3 and 4, stage 4 of I Spy, exercise 1 of single letter sandpaper letters, metal insets, frequent speech questioning
  4. Math- none
  5. Culture- Land and water exercises, first maps, places classified pictures, preliminary work for classification by leaf.

Throwing Rocks in the Stream

There was a time when I doubted myself. Sure Beth loves to throw rocks in the stream, but, I thought, what good is this stimmy obsession? It was disconcerting to let her go so deep within herself at the stream when she was younger. Should I discontinue stream outings? She couldn’t really answer questions because she was so absorbed in throwing rocks. I wondered if I should worry about the flapping after each throw. Another problem was she kept taking swipes of water from the stream (she put her hand in the stream and then licked the water off) and there were health concerns. When the swiping became uncontrollable, we had to take a break from streaming until I figured out that chewing gum prevented her from sampling the filthy water. But we continued going after the gum discovery because it made her so happy.

I am no longer worried about our stream outings. Beth can answer questions even while throwing rocks now. She can point to things and is aware of her environment. She can absorb new information between the times she is doing her rock-throwing thing. She will pause to say cheese for pictures and I can work some other activities into the rock-throwing (e.g., feeding the ducks). Streaming relaxes her and makes her happy, and that is what the flapping is probably about.

We went to the stream yet again today, and I realized how much she is really learning now, and how far I have come as her parent and guide. What does she learn on a stream outing? Plenty…

I believe she is experimenting with sound when she throws the rocks. Listen.

I highlight language for Beth, such as prepositions, nouns, comparisons, actions. We work on following directions. I said these things today on our stream outing, and her concentration on my words was obvious: I threw a rock on the wall, your rock went in front of the wall, let’s go up on the wall, and now let’s throw rocks down off the wall. The big rocks make a low sound and the little rocks make a high sound. The ducks were eating by putting their heads under the water and look the duck is flying now. I have a thin rock that I skipping on top of the water (on the surface of the water). The big birds up there look like eagles. Let’s go on the wall, let’s go to the shore (where the land is, where the dirt is), and let’s go that way. The rock went far, oh that one didn’t go far it fell near us, that is a small rock, that is a big rock, get the clean rocks, and not those rocks because they are dirty. Stop and come back this way. Do you see the school bus? I hear the plane…where is the plane? Look a dump truck! Where is the duck? What color is the bird in the sky? Look at the stick behind you (she picks it up, laughs out loud, throws it). All the while, she is having a blast.

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Throwing rocks at the stream is also great for physical development. There was a time not too long ago she couldn’t crouch down, couldn’t hold something over her head, was unstable when walking on the rocks in the water, wouldn’t crouch and twist to get a rock. Now I see she can do so much more than she used to and it is amazing what playing in the stream has done for her.

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Yes. It is okay to play in the stream, throwing rocks over and over, and flapping after each throw. It is more than okay. It is exactly what she needs.

 

 

Adventures with Montessori and Autism: The Pink Tower, Brown Stair, and Red Rods

The Pink Tower

The pink tower is classic Montessori. It looks easy…just arrange the solid wooden blocks from big to small and make a tower. The goals are to improve fine motor control, develop visual discrimination and scanning of volumes, and gain an understanding of big versus small. There are many tall tower cardboard nesting block sets in stores and we had a set of those when Beth was younger. The problem was that Beth would only nest them and she absolutely refused to build a tower. This is one example of Beth’s “motor planning holes.” Maybe Beth’s rigidity caused her eventual motor planning limitations, or an underlying motor limitation plus the rigidity led to a further motor development issue. Even today I am not clear on what happened. But the good news (from a new motor planning perspective) is that the pink tower blocks are solid, and Beth’s only choice it to build a tower with them instead of nesting them.

The traditional approach for building a pink tower is described in the book I am using (1) and shown in this video:

The first step in the process is understanding the tower through taking it apart. Then the blocks are supposed to be placed in random fashion on the mat, so the child can use visual scanning to find the biggest, next biggest, and so on. To not randomize the blocks misses a key developmental step. But Beth insisted that she must order the blocks in a line when she placed them on the table, and telling her to “mix them up” or “just put them anywhere” didn’t help her randomize the placement. This is not Beth being stubborn…it is her inherent autistic tendency. Many kids on the spectrum are driven to line things up and order by size. One approach I used was to mix the blocks up after the fact, as shown in this video (this is an exceptionally “perfect” effort by Beth, she makes the occasional error):

After Beth had taken apart the tower many times and understood it, I used a basket storage approach that allowed Beth total independence. I put a mat on top of the blocks in the basket…this was a prompt to place the mat first before beginning the work. The mat size, slightly larger than the largest square, gave Beth a visual cue to help remind her she was to build a tower instead of line up the blocks. Beth still tended to order the blocks when she put them back in the basket, but I just randomized them at the end of the morning work so they were ready for the next session. Here is a picture of the basket/mat and a video of Beth working using the basket system independently:

Pink Tower in Basket

Pink Tower Blocks in Basket

The Brown Stair

The brown stair is used to make a horizontal step pattern, and later used to teach the concept of thick versus thin. I used the same basket approach with the brown stair as I did with the pink tower. Since Beth is driven to line things up, building the brown stair was very natural and easy for her. Here is a picture of the stair blocks in the basket and a video of Beth building the brown stair:

Brown Stair in Basket

Brown Stair Blocks in Basket

The Red Rods

The red rods are used to teach long versus short, and later alternating red/blue pattern rods that are the same sizes as the red rods are used for introductory counting. The red rods are too big to be placed in a basket, so I bought a stand on eBay which worked well. Surprisingly she tends to put them back randomly into the stand. Beth was good at finding the “next longest” or “next tallest” rod, and only makes the occasional error, but placing the first rod on the mat in the right position (upper left corner) proved to be very difficult. For now I am placing the first rod for her and reinforcing the lining up on the left side, which is also hard for her. Any time Beth has to work to create a boundary in empty space it is a challenge due to working memory problems, focusing on a part instead of a whole, and general motor planning issues. Here is a video of her completing the red rod pattern and a picture of the finished red rod pattern:

Red Rods

Red Rods

 

When to Move On…

Deciding when to move on is tougher for me than figuring out accommodations. The goal with these Montessori activities is to teach the concepts while refining motor control. But Beth’s movement is much different from a child without special needs, so getting every detail right (doing everything quietly, perfectly flowing movements) is not my biggest concern. I think I need to strike a right balance…expose her to motor plans she may have missed, allow the occasional mistake, and accept imperfection so we can move onto the language lessons she desperately needs to understand the world and communicate better with others. I am calling the pink tower, brown stair, and red rod building good enough to start the language lessons, and we are working on big/little and large/small with the pink tower, thick/thin with the brown stair, long/short and tall/short with the red rods. It is unfortunate that “large” and “little” begin with the same letter and are total opposites, because this tends to confuse Beth as she relies heavily on initial sounds to figure out words. It is the same with long and little…both start with l and are the opposite ideas (which one is the longest? Not the littlest, the longest). It will take us awhile to sort through this language issue, but the pink tower, brown stair, and red rods are exceptional teaching materials for these concepts.

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(1) This will be a quick and poorly edited series because things are happening fast and I just want to write it all down. My daughter is almost 7 years old and we are starting the Montessori program from the beginning using this book, you tube videos, and common sense alterations. We homeschool and do other standard K activities. Montessori is an attempt to fill in developmental gaps and increase independence. See this fellow blogger’s post on the division of the work into periods as outlined in David Gettman’s book: http://thehometeacher.org/2009/03/sequencing-your-activities-more-on-montessori.html. We are starting with period 1 activities (taken from the book), with adjustments of course:

Period One

  1. Practical Activities – pouring beans between two jugs, opening and closing containers; buttoning; buckling; other simple dressing frames; carrying and laying out floor and table mats; saying please and thank you; carrying a tray; lifting, carrying, and putting down a chair, sitting down and getting up from a chair at a table; climbing up and down stairs; walking on the line; folding, hanging clothes on a hook;  brushing hair; dusting
  2. Sensorial – Cylinder blocks; pink tower; box 1 of the color tablets; presentation tray of the geometric cabinet; sensitizing the fingers; touch boards; presentation of Geometric solids; stereognostic bags presentation
  3. Language – Classified pictures exercises; speech stages – I Spy; book corner and library
  4. Math – none
  5. Culture – land and water presentation

Period Two

  1. Practical- pouring water from a jug, medium difficulty dressing frames, simple braiding, setting table, polishing surfaces, washing hands, washing cloths, scrubbing a table top, sweeping sawdust, brushing clothes, folding clothes, hanging clothes on a hanger, handling a book, scissors exchange, greeting people, kindness to visitors, being silent
  2. Sensorial- advanced cylinder blocks exercises, brown stair, red rods, boxes 2 and 3 of color tablets, geometric cabinet exercises 1-4, binomial cube, blindfold, tactile tablets, stereognostic bags exercises, sorting grains, sound boxes, preliminary presentation of bells, three stage lessons and the names of Sensorial qualities
  3. Language- classified picture exercises 3 and 4, stage 4 of I Spy, exercise 1 of single letter sandpaper letters, metal insets, frequent speech questioning
  4. Math- none
  5. Culture- Land and water exercises, first maps, places classified pictures, preliminary work for classification by leaf.

montessori book

 

Going Out to Eat

Beth and I go out to eat a lot. True it is important social skills training, but I also hate to cook, so let’s just say kiddo has had a lot of practice. When we go out for a meal now, as Katy Perry so eloquently puts it, “it’s no big deal.” No tantrums, no meltdowns, we can eat a fair number of places, and she is pretty good at waiting. But in truth it is a big deal that we can just go out to eat at a quiet restaurant or a busy one (I still avoid the really loud places). It is a big deal I brought her to breakfast with me and she occupied herself long enough to let me talk to other autism moms. It is a big deal that on a whim I decided to have Chinese food for dinner last night while hubby is traveling for work and that we just walked in, were seated next to an older couple (the only people in the restaurant), and we all enjoyed our meal without huge incident. It is BIG.

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Well, How Did I Get Here?

Yes, that was a total steal from Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime, but I really was thinking of that line while sitting at dinner with her last night. How did we get here? How is it so much easier now? Gone are the days where I am dragging a screaming, overwhelmed, frustrated kid out of a restaurant. Then I thought, what does it look like to the couple sitting next to me?  Answer: I am still working very hard and they can see that. Everything is set up for success, I am constantly anticipating and heading off things before they become issues, and throughout the meal I am talking to her to guide her through and to orient her to what is happening. Is it an accident that we went to restaurant that is dead quiet during the week, we are sitting next to an entertaining fish tank, there are white Christmas lights everywhere, and they have something on the menu I know she will eat? No. Every single accommodation and strategy I use was born out of a hell of a lot of experimentation, failure, and small steps forward. I don’t wait for problems to happen, I head them off. BUT, I don’t think this would be possible at all if we didn’t have these four things going for us:

1. Now she is generally quiet by nature and tends to withdraw instead of freak out when she begins to get overwhelmed. In short, I got lucky here. Although it makes it hard to read her signs when she withdraws as she starts to get overwhelmed, I am getting better at it. I know when she is reaching her limit with some subtle indications she gives before she just yells “go to the car!” But I’ll take “difficult to read” signs any day over what some others have to deal with. During our meals out, I always think of others I know who have great difficulty taking their kids out to restaurants. Yes, I fully appreciate how lucky I am here. Damn lucky.

2. Beth has enough language to tell me what she wants. A little language leads to negotiation, which helps waiting. No we can’t go to the car yet, we are going to get the fortune cookie and pay first. She gets that now. A little language goes a very long way to defusing outbursts and meltdowns.

2. Developmental pica is saving the day! It is not often that I thank her pica (eating non-food items like lip gloss, sand, soaps, and straight chili pepper from the pantry-yikes!), but lately her pica has been calming a bit and changing to a love of different foods and drinks. Also, thanks to the sensory reasons surrounding her pica, any warm, cold, or bubbly drink helps occupy her, as does munching on ice, so I use those all the time to help her wait while we are out to eat. For example, recently she pounded two cups of decaf coffee at a breakfast with autism moms (and they were highly amused!). She ate lots of ice last night at dinner. Diet caffeine free soda or seltzer water is a God send at places. Thank God for pica!

3. I discovered a coat helps in a restaurant. As you can see Beth is sporting a black rain coat in the picture above. Coats calm her flapping and help her sit- a discovery I finally pieced together with all our restaurant outings over various seasons. The rain coat material is the best because it is stiffer and provides some resistance when she raises her hands, so she just prefers not to flap then for competing sensory reasons (I think).

The Work is Worth It

As I was sitting with Beth last night at dinner…occasionally telling her to sit on her bottom, try munching on ice to occupy herself, telling her the food was coming soon, telling her to look at the lights and fish because it will help her wait, I eventually asked her what her favorite fish was and asked her what she was looking at. It is a wonderful thing she is starting to answer those questions and tell me what is going on in her head. I completely appreciate how far we have come.

Then a mom and her daughter come in, and the girl is a year or so younger than Beth. They sit near us and the conversation the mom has with her daughter blows me away. The language is so back and forth and so rapid. Of course I get a tinge of sadness, as always when I observe moms and daughters conversing, but now it sort of passes through. Then I launch into observation mode and take mental notes. She let her child order…my kid can order her friend rice next time. Her kid can’t keep off her knees…okay, so that part was Beth being developmentally appropriate so I will back off on that instruction. They go into more depth talking about the fish and I get some ideas about what else we can talk about. See…the work never ends. But in the end, the work is worth it.

 

Adventures with Montessori and Autism: Land and Water

When I got to the geography section and saw “land and water” I was pretty sure this lesson would be a hit. Beth loves water. I mean REALLY loves water. I would describe it both as an obsession and a useful interest. It is an obsession when we go to the park (all she wants to do is water play in streams to the exclusion of everything else and it dominates her entire attention) or anywhere we encounter fountains/ponds, etc..  But water is also an interest and a strength. Beth basically taught herself how to swim (a sort of breast stroke, see here…http://wp.me/p2OomI-111) and she is more social with other kids during swimming and some types of water play.

An Overview of Traditional Montessori Land/Water Lessons (My Interpretation)

The book I am following (1) said to just introduce this sand globe in period one and have the child explore the globe independently. Also, high-level geography terminology is introduced in period 1, such as earth (“we live on earth”), land (“land is something that is dry we can stand on”) and water (“water is something fish swim in and boats float on, etc.”).

Sand Globe

Sand Globe

 

And according to the book in period two (1), something called land water trays come after the globe presentation, where the children pour water in trays and learn where the water settles in various land/water presentations.  Many people online also use land/water sand cards to connect the sand globe to a flat surface presentation (a bridge to flat maps).

 

Land/Water Trays

Land/Water Trays

 

Land/Water Sand Cards

Land/Water Sand Cards

Eventually the children go on to name the bodies of water and land formations they explored in the trays and sand cards so they can identify features on a globe (for example, they learn isthmus, straight, gulf, island, peninsula). Also, they eventually do tons of map work, starting from continents, then countries within continents, and finally a map of the states within the U.S. (there is more, but I will stop there for now).

Sample of Land/Water Language Cards (Head over the Montessori Print shop for traditional cards and extensions).

Sample of Land/Water Language Cards (Head over the Montessoriprintshop.com for traditional cards and extensions)

With Beth’s love of water, her direct interest in and experience with certain every day bodies of water (for example, river, stream, ocean, pond, and lake), and because I felt she needed a more concrete approach to relating what she knows to the globe, I customized the lesson. So I am mixing period 1 and period 2 and modifying the land/water forms and terminology in a way that make sense for Beth.  Also, I changed the presentation order, and we explored DIY custom trays and land/water sand cards before exploring the globe (I even changed the globe to be more meaningful to Beth and to tie in better with the custom land/water cards). Why go through all this effort? Because this lesson directly relates to terminology I have been trying to teach Beth for a very long time. I want her to understand all these things she loves….ponds versus lakes versus oceans, rivers versus streams. The sensory approach and the Montessori approach are perfect for teaching her these concepts.

Our Version of Intro to Land/Water with Montessori

1. Sticking with what Beth knows and absolutely needs to know in the real world, what she needs to understand to bridge from direct experience to the globe, and thinking forward to flat map work, I settled on these target terms for land/water:

  • Continent
  • Island
  • Ocean
  • Lake
  • Pond
  • River
  • Stream

2. Custom Land/Water Trays: Many people have done the land/water trays in a DIY way to reduce cost so this was easy, because it is just clay + cheap aluminum or plastic trays + colored water. I used Crayola terra-cotta colored clay and it was messy, but she seemed to get that it was dirt/land. I combined trays to reduce the clay need. For example, we started by making a lake, poured the water off and added more clay, then made a pond. After we were finished, I poured the water off and stored the containers so we could re-use the clay. This was by far the best part of the lesson. Beth absolutely loved it!

Making a Lake

Making a Lake

 

From left to right: Ocean, Island, River

From left to right: Ocean, Island, River

Land/Water Sand Cards: There are many do it yourself options out there, such as gluing sand paper to blue paper. I had some blue paper and adhesive foam board and sand, so I opted for pressing the blue paper onto the sticky foam board for the water and then rubbing the remaining sticky foam board in sand for the land. It worked surprisingly well (sand did not come off much when Beth rubbed it), but I suggest buying a stickier brand of adhesive foam board (Try Just Stick It, because I was not happy with Elmers and there are lots of complaints online about it http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=adhesive%20foam%20board&sprefix=adhesive+foam+boar%2Caps).

IMG_4109[1]

On left pond/lake/ocean, middle river/stream, right island/continent

On left pond/lake/ocean, middle river/stream, right island/continent

Sand Globe: Beth has grandparents on Lake Michigan and she loves long car rides, where I point out every river we drive across. Unfortunately the sand globe (bought on ebay for a reasonable price) does not have the great lakes or a river in the Unites States, so I did my best to add those features with some blue paint:

Our Sand Globe

Our Sand Globe

Land/Water Language Cards (for later use, have not introduced yet): While I was at it I made the matching language cards. Basically printed out some blue background squares in Word, and got creative with sand-colored construction paper and contact paper:

Three Part Language Cards

Three Part Language Cards

Basically I just let Beth do the sand trays and stated the terminology while she was doing the exercise. I had the sand cards next to the trays and later she rubbed the sand cards. When she becomes independent with the trays and sand cards, I will move to the globe,the language cards, highlighting language in natural environments, and real pictures online to supplement.

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(1) This will be a quick and poorly edited series because things are happening fast and I just want to write it all down. My daughter is almost 7 years old and we are starting the Montessori program from the beginning using this book, you tube videos, and common sense alterations. We homeschool and do other standard K activities. Montessori is an attempt to fill in developmental gaps and increase independence. See this fellow blogger’s post on the division of the work into periods as outlined in David Gettman’s book: http://thehometeacher.org/2009/03/sequencing-your-activities-more-on-montessori.html. We are starting with period 1 activities (taken from the book), with adjustments of course:

Period One

  1. Practical Activities – pouring beans between two jugs, opening and closing containers; buttoning; buckling; other simple dressing frames; carrying and laying out floor and table mats; saying please and thank you; carrying a tray; lifting, carrying, and putting down a chair, sitting down and getting up from a chair at a table; climbing up and down stairs; walking on the line; folding, hanging clothes on a hook;  brushing hair; dusting
  2. Sensorial – Cylinder blocks; pink tower; box 1 of the color tablets; presentation tray of the geometric cabinet; sensitizing the fingers; touch boards; presentation of Geometric solids; stereognostic bags presentation
  3. Language – Classified pictures exercises; speech stages – I Spy; book corner and library
  4. Math – none
  5. Culture – land and water presentation

Period Two

  1. Practical- pouring water from a jug, medium difficulty dressing frames, simple braiding, setting table, polishing surfaces, washing hands, washing cloths, scrubbing a table top, sweeping sawdust, brushing clothes, folding clothes, hanging clothes on a hanger, handling a book, scissors exchange, greeting people, kindness to visitors, being silent
  2. Sensorial- advanced cylinder blocks exercises, brown stair, red rods, boxes 2 and 3 of color tablets, geometric cabinet exercises 1-4, binomial cube, blindfold, tactile tablets, stereognostic bags exercises, sorting grains, sound boxes, preliminary presentation of bells, three stage lessons and the names of Sensorial qualities
  3. Language- classified picture exercises 3 and 4, stage 4 of I Spy, exercise 1 of single letter sandpaper letters, metal insets, frequent speech questioning
  4. Math- none
  5. Culture- Land and water exercises, first maps, places classified pictures, preliminary work for classification by leaf.

montessori book