Story Props

No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get Beth to pay attention to stories beyond a certain level. Like the “Pete the Cat” and “Dr. Seuss” level. If I attempted a reading of a story like Little Red Riding Hood, Tortoise and the Hare, Bear Snores On, or other similar books that were more sophisticated in language and concept, she just seemed to have no interest. I tried verifying she understood each page (classic who, what, where, when, why questioning), simplifying language, re-phrasing it for her, and buying simplified versions of some stories. Still, no interest. What was missing? I wasn’t sure at the time, but I decided to try story props. Many story props (felt board, puppets, play sets, etc.) exist for preschool stories, but they are often hard to find or do not exist for the level-up stories. So making these props was no small feat, but in the end it was worth it.

I understand now, the biggest thing missing for her was inference. The more complicated the story, the more you have to infer what is not on the pages. She was not paying attention because she simply didn’t get it. For example, Bear Snores On and other bear books by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman. The characters move around to various places but you don’t see them making the journey. On one page of one book a character is in a hole, then he is out the next page. The actual coming out of the hole is not shown. In another book the characters go through a variety of actions to take care of their sick friend bear, but a lot of the actions are implied. Beth needed to see it and do it to understand. Another huge problem with the bear books was the concept that other words or phrases have the same meaning as many other words and phrases in the world. In other words, Beth was not inferring unknown words from the pictures and hints in the other text. Through saying over and over while using the story props, this “means” she finally got the meaning of the word “means” and that there are a lot of words and phrases in the world that mean the same thing. As another example, the Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie books. Beth didn’t know that the characters were talking back and forth until we acted it out. It is essentially an inference problem, because the author never uses “said” or “says” in the books and there were so many back and forth exchanges. The above are just examples of how we can never take for granted that many kids with autism must be specifically taught concepts that those of us without autism and language delays do naturally.

Kids with autism primarily have a communication condition. It is not enough to question them on who, what, where, when, why and then hope they magically connect the pieces, which is unfortunately the approach of most reading programs for kids with autism based on what I saw in Beth’s K classroom and from what other parents have told me. There was not a single puppet or story prop in her K classroom before I pulled Beth out, but there were a lot of flash cards with single words. I strongly feel these kids need to see what is happening to connect ideas, but a lot of people are focused on making short term gains with flash cards because it is easier to collect data, it is less expensive, and it is easier to show progress. But later on, almost all the kids with autism I know in classes like Beth’s get stuck at comprehension. Have we lost the art of story telling? Have we sacrificed teaching comprehension and fostering connection of ideas for basic drills of single ideas in the autism classroom?  I think we should at least ask if this is part of the problem and if more efforts towards teaching comprehension should be introduced earlier in the process.

Below are some samples of story props I have created or bought that really worked to help Beth appreciate and understand these stories. In some cases, these props just added a new appreciation and a deeper understanding of old favorites, like Pete the Cat. In the other cases it was like a light bulb went on for her where there was absolutely no light before. It would take me an eternity to write down how I found or made all these things, but in general…stuffed animals, Folkmanis finger puppets, and figures from Amazon (Toob, Safari, U.S. Toy, Schleich-use half price coupons for Michael and AC Moore craft stores, if an animal doesn’t exist, like a mole, you may have to chop off some body parts and/or use acrylic paint!), felt, painting and cutting up boxes, calico critters / doll house / fairy garden accessories, and finding someone who sews (thank you Judy…the bear quilt was amazing and Pet the Cat’s groovy buttons are a big hit) can get you a long way. If you have specific questions about how I did something please contact me (tammy.lynn.graham@gmail.com). I will add more story props to this post as I make them.

Bear Wants More, Bear Snores On and Other Bear Stories

Bear Wants More

Sample concepts: Bears sleep all winter and wake up hungry and thin in spring, they eat a lot when they wake up, cave and the different names for cave, different forest animal names, decorating, strawberry patch, clover patch, fishing process, bears eat fish and berries, if you eat too much you get too big (and can’t even get back in the cave in this case), picnic is eating outside. You need two bears…one bigger that can’t fit back through the cave door after eating.

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Bear Snores On

Sample concepts: Bears sleep all winter but many other animals don’t, friends were scared when they woke the bear but he was just sad because he missed the party, making popcorn, tea

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Bear’s New Friend

Sample concepts: the new friend owl is shy and hides from new people in a tree and in a hole, misunderstanding shy for someone not liking you, being scared when the owl jumps out, asking “Who?”

 

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Bear Says Thanks

Sample concepts: sharing, having different things one can share, different foods, being thankful

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Bear Feels Sick

Sample concepts: feeling sick, taking care of loved ones (with food, drink, cold cloth, checking fever, worrying), illness can be transferred to others, feeling well

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Bear Feels Scared

I found that after I did the above, I didn’t need the props for this one. But what a great book. Concepts: being lost and scared, having friends come search for you, feeling safe again. This was my favorite book of all of them!

Pete the Cat

Pete the Cat Groovy Buttons

My friend Judy made the shirt and velcro buttons (I had to paint one with acrylic paint to match the color in the story). The doll is from Amazon. She LOVED popping them off. The best part was showing Beth the buttons rolling away.

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Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes

pete the cat

This Little Folks felt set (purchased from Amazon) is great to show Pete stepping in things, staining his shoes, then having everything wash away when steps in the bucket (add all the layers and then take all the layers off when it washes and it tells the story perfectly).

Elephant and Piggie (Mo Wellims)

There is a Bird on Your Head!, Today I Will Fly!, and Can I Play Too?

Main Concepts: Friendship, being silly, inclusion and acceptance, humor, conversation with a friend

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The Mitten and The Hat (Jan Brett)

The Hat

Sample Concepts: Hanging clothes to dry on a clothes line, naming clothing and animals, teasing others and hurting their feelings, silly (animals wearing clothes)

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The Mitten

Sample Concepts: the concept of squeezing into something and stretching out something, silly (dump the animals out and make a big deal of the sneeze-that makes an impression!), knitting mittens (I used felt, but knitted mittens would be even better for this story…then you could teach making clothes with yarn), easy re-telling of past events (what happened? who stretched out the mitten?)

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In the Tall, Tall Grass and In a Small, Small Pond

Sample concepts: many different names for movements, animal names, where animals live (pond, grass, ant hill), animals eat bugs, berries, and sip flower nectar

In the Tall, Tall Grass

The bat finger puppets (Folkmanis) were a big hit because of the way their wings float.

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In the Small, Small Pond

Good luck finding a crayfish…just use a small lobster.

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The Golden Egg Book

Sample Concepts: Various actions (rolling down a hill-use pillows under a blanket to make a hill, kicking, jumping on, etc), guessing what is inside something, being lonely and making friends

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Rosie’s Walk

Sample concepts: prepositions, navigation, slapstick comedy (the fox is chasing the chicken but hits himself with a rake, falls into a pond, gets covered with flour, lands in hay, upsets a bee hive). The farm play set is from Amazon (Storytime toys) but any farm toy can be used.

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Sugar Alcohol is Evil

So I thought gum was the ultimate solution for Beth at first. It satisfied her need to self-regulate by mouthing, tasting, and chewing. We went with sugar-free so her teeth wouldn’t rot out of her head. Sometimes she went through a lot of gum at the table while doing school work or in a stressful social situation. I would just take the old gum and give her a new piece and didn’t think much of it because the gum was working miracles (she was able to sit for long periods of time and not have outbursts). I thought it was doing her no harm, and made sure to check what was in the gum and check how much sugar alcohol (a sugar substitute) it contained. The relatively little amount of sugar alcohol she would swallow didn’t seem to be a problem according to articles I read. She would have to chew like 3-4 packs of the gum to even be concerned. Or so I thought.

Simultaneous to using gum over the past 2 years or so, I thought I had just about solved an issue with kiddo’s gut. I surmised she was lactose intolerant and being strict about the lactose in her diet helped. She still had some loose stools and a lot of sitting on the potty at night, but it was better than frank diarrhea when she had lactose in her diet. Also, simultaneous to using gum, Beth had an increase in sound sensitivity and she covered her ears more and had a spike up in her fear of noises. Little did I know all of this was related to the damn sugar alcohol.

Two clues happened that led me down the right path: 1. Beth started holding her ears when I knew she was in pain (like bumping her leg … so general pain equaled holding ears and sound sensitivity…aha!) and 2. Beth started asking for a lot of gum and her intestinal distress (gas, diarrhea at night) went way up. Finally I put it all together and decided the gum and sugar alcohol could have a profound affect on her behavior and physical well-being. Back to Google for more research and it turns out ONLY A LITTLE SUGAR ALCOHOL CAN CAUSE STOMACH UPSET IN CHILDREN (see this article for example, http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/understanding-carbohydrates/sugar-alcohols.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/).  In addition, if you just happen to have a sensitive stomach to begin with, ANY AMOUNT OF SUGAR ALCOHOL CAN UPSET SOME PEOPLE’S STOMACHS (http://blogs.webmd.com/healthy-recipe-doctor/2010/03/the-dirty-little-secret-of-sugar-free-products.html).

Only now, after I took her off the gum completely, do I understand the vicious cycle we were in: 1. Beth gets nervous and wants to mouth, 2. I give her a piece of gum, 3. The flavor wears out and she asks for more, 4. At a certain level of sugar alcohol Beth gets gas and other discomfort, 5. Because mouthing is her go-to comfort she asks for more gum to soothe her stomach distress, 6. Then she asks for so many pieces of gum she ends up ingesting a fairly high level of sugar alcohol and ends up with loose stools by the end of the day.

It was not easy to take her off the gum, but it has been life changing. Sound sensitivity immediately went away and she can eat milk products again (I guess the sugar alcohol was irritating her stomach and making the milk hard to tolerate).  She has had less stomach distress and less time sitting on the potty. After we went through 2 months of telling her “no gum” she finally accepted it and is overall calmer and can go through entire classes and activities without any oral aids.

So spread the word on intestinal issues, gum, and sugar alcohols. Our kids often can’t tell us what is going on with them internally, so this is definitely a serious issue in the autism and special needs communities.

The other day my friend told me that her son’s teachers were going to try gum with him to keep him quiet and regulated in class. My advice: DON’T DO IT.

 

Kids These Days

I was in Walmart checking out the latest window gel clings (I use them for motivation with Beth…long story, autism, blah blah blah) and there was a grandparent two aisles down going on and on in a very loud voice, “NO! NO! NO! You can’t have that! You already got so much for Christmas! I swear it wasn’t like that years ago! Kids these days you get everything! I told your parents…” And it went on, and on, and on, and on. And on. I was on the verge of shouting: “Just say no and move on already! Even if the kids have tantrums we get it. Hold your ground!” And then I wanted to shout, “By the way, the relentless direct marketing to kids and amount of products available these days at eye level in the store is a lot different from when you were young!” But I wisely thought better of it. That frustrated grandparent is not alone in her rant. There is no end to the articles and discussion on social media (Now that we have the internet! Damn internet! Back in our day…).

Case in point, this gem of an article, based on an interview of Leonard Sax who is peddling his book “The Collapse of Parenting”:

http://www.sacbee.com/news/nation-world/national/article56473378.html

Everything in the article and in the book summary on Amazon is nothing new. It is like the author just took everything that has made the social media rounds and crammed it into a book. Also, everyone seems to be forgetting that there is no way to go back and compare kids of old to kids of new, which means the opinions presented in any “kids these days” piece are highly subjective and unscientific. In my view, these types of articles and books are low on balance and high on trashing parents to sell a book and increase readership. So, I would like to take the above article point by point and give it some balance. Because you know what, I am sick of the parent bashing for profit game. Starting from the top of the article and working my way down:

  1. The kid that told his mom to shut up and no correction was made, the author making the case it is the norm.  To be honest, I cannot think of a single parent I know who would put up with that. Hey Leonard, who comes to visit you in your office?  Oh. Right. Parents who have trouble being authoritative with their kids. That explains it.
  2. The example of the kid making the education decision even though the parent knew it was wrong. Well the point started out it is common to get to pick schools, but I don’t really think the example is common at all. Are your clients rich? Are they choosing from a variety of private schools. What the hell is behind this example?  Next…
  3. Cellphone in the bedroom, talking at 2 am. Guess what. This has been happening for a long time. It was the same when I was younger…I hid under the covers and I was on the phone at 2 am (sorry for this revelation Mom). The only difference is the phone was connected to the wall by a cord. But I guess his main point was we should limit devices. Duh. The American Academy of Pediatrics beat you to that earth shattering advice Leonard. And I think we all have heard it already.
  4. Family Dinner. Okay, good idea. But somehow the article works in several topics related to schools, extracurricular, college prep too young, etc. into a long confusing point. Here is a newsflash for you Leonard..extracurricular activities are the norm now. Gone are the days where kids just go out and play all evening (yes I agree that is sad). You can try that with your kid but they will likely be lonely…all the other kids are at extracurricular activities! I agree this is a problem, but you can see why parents feel they must do things in the evenings that are more organized these days. They have no choice. And it is not always about beefing up a resume, it is about social opportunities.
  5. No ear buds in the car. This section of the article talks about no ear buds, it is a time for family, and then Leonard says, “My 9-year-old daughter and I know the lyrics to almost every song from ‘Mary Poppins’. ” Um, so you don’t have a code of silence in the car. And you listen to music together while driving. You know what, most parents do that. At least until the kid and the parents hate each other’s music. Then they listen to different things and the earbuds get whipped out, which has been happening since the invention of the Walkman in 1979. So I am not even sure what point you are trying to make Leonard. We’ll be in our car listening to Adele and the new Wiggles, while you are in your car listening to Mary Poppins. What is the freaking difference?
  6. Teach humility. Okay I am 46 and I started going down the list of people without humility from my high school class and it was long. Very long. I get your point Leonard, but can you make the point without making parents feel like shit? Maybe if you wrote a book on the importance of handling disappointment and provided many examples of strategies to deal with disappointment, then maybe I would give you some expert cred and buy your book.

So, that is that. My critique of yet another “kids suck these days and their parents suck even more” article. Here is my advice. Stop reading the parent bashing articles. Rely on a variety of friends, family, and/or teachers for guidance, advice, and new ideas. Because, you know, that is what we used to do in the old days. Geez. Experts these days.

 

Update Post on Homeschooling. Goodbye Montessori, It’s Been Fun.

Sorry I have taken an absence from writing with absolutely no explanation. Beth can do a lot more work and fun things now, so we have been busy!  A few people have asked me how Montessori is going. The short answer is it isn’t. We hit the addition/subtraction boards with math and she hated them. I looked at the other math boards and went…whoa. This is not right for her. We got a motor planning and small attention boost from doing the Montessori program up to that point, but it was time to move on (I maintained the geography program, solid shapes, hundreds board, and bought other materials for maintenance of concepts). Here is what we are doing now:

Reading Anything and Everything Beth Will Read. 

We made it through about 1/2 in the public school common core materials I borrowed (Harcourt Trophies, first grade). Wow, the material ramped up quickly in terms of length of the stories, which is extremely frustrating for a kid who is reading the stories aloud and has expressive language issues. At that point I paused and did motivating readers to boost fluency.  The Tug the Pup series was her favorite fiction mini reader set and is worth checking out. http://www.amazon.com/Learn-Read-Tug-Pup-Friends/dp/0062266896. Beth has improved a lot using materials she likes.  Her fluency is better and she has less errors, better tracking (she is still using her finger to track and I just occasionally bump her finger back gently when she makes an error so she can try again), less guessing at words, and better ability to start on the far left and find the next line (dyspraxia, crossing mid-line issues, and atypical occulomotor apraxia, how we hate thee).

Language, Language, Language.

We spent several months this year working in this book:

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I could write a very long post on this book, but I don’t have time so here is a quick summary. Bottom line is I recommend trying it.

Purpose: As the book descriptions says, “Upon successful completion of the program, children are able to understand and talk about: past, present, and future events in their home life, such as eating, playing, bathing, and dressing past, present, and future events in the outside world, such as visits to the supermarket, a trip to the zoo, and activities at school simple stories and other early literacy skills Mastery of these skills enables children to become more active participants in the world around them. The program may be implemented by a parent, teacher, therapist, or other dedicated adult. Who is the program for? The program is for children who meet the following criteria: In language—the ability to say at least two words in sequence, either spontaneously or through imitation, such as “go home,” “bye bye,” “want cookie.”

What you need: A lot of patience while you hunt down all the manipulatives for the program. The table in the book had useless links, so I suggest going with ebay loving family & you and me happy together dolls. The other manipulatives you can find on amazon (Toobs, etc).

What I learned and liked about the program: I learned that Beth likes models and they help her pay attention better. Screw flashcards, models are where it is at for her. I also learned to show Beth items and discuss them in view using present tense, then hide them under the table to talk about the items in past tense. I learned many other things, but these were the biggies. The author had extremely well thought out lesson plans that progressed very nicely. I have never seen anything this good in any system in terms of laying out speech lessons. Also, the generalization was very well thought out. And it made me realize why the VB-Mapp is total shit (but that is an angry rant for another time).

What made me scream in frustration: The author advised the teacher/parent to be business like and to restrain hands to get the kids to speak. I am sorry, but WTH? This is proof that old school Lovaas is alive and well in autism therapies.  I ignored that advice. I bought the previous book by the same author and it ended up in the trash (Spectacular Bond…more behavioral therapy gone bad). I bought the book after and didn’t find it to be that helpful. And yet, I am happy we did this book (sans the Lovaas crap). Also, although I liked that the author worked on motor planning (putting pictures in order, etc) before ever working on expressive language, when she asked my kid to remember things in order that I couldn’t even remember, I drew the line and moved on. It also would be better if the lessons were a bit more functional. Hug the doll…good to do. Hug a truck?  My kid looked at me like I was nuts and I agreed it was nuts and we just skipped it.

Did it work?: Yes a little. She definitely talks more. She is less frustrated when I asked her to tell a story with 3 part story cards. She more easily says whole sentences. She now has some ability to use past tense and suddenly started telling me where we were going when we were driving around (!). But getting her to want to speak like the book promised of her own volition hasn’t come yet. But I will keep applying the concepts with our speech therapist using play models.

There are language activities we are doing other than this book, notably positional /prepositional words. I have literally every game out there and I will try to write a summary post on these in the near future.

Lakeshore, Lakeshore, Lakeshore.

Basically, my house looks like a Lakeshore store. And now we have started buying the more expensive Lakeshore items. You get what you pay for, believe me!  Lakeshore is awesome and I am absolutely appalled that the school I pulled her from either didn’t allocate the money or had no knowledge of how wonderful their products are (and we have a flagship store nearby, so there is no excuse for that).

http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/

SuperDuper Publications Chipper Chat.

I have bought many Super Duper Publications products in the past and I was underwhelmed. But again, you get what you pay for!  Recently I bought the uber expensive Chipper Chat games and finally found the right products for us. There are other Chipper Chats, but we started with this and it is great:

http://www.amazon.com/Basic-Concepts-Chipper-Chat-Magnetic/dp/1607230860/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1453729817&sr=8-1&keywords=basic+chipper+chat

My kid just loves making the magnetic chips jump on the wand at clean up time. So I have been using these chips and wand for every bingo-like game we own now.

Math-U-See

We started over with math, because the common core Go Math from the school district was getting ridiculously busy in terms of page layout, and just ridiculously stupid in general. We are using Math-U-See, a homeschooling curriculum…what a breath of fresh air! The entire very long first book is a “don’t have to master” book. They introduce a wide range of K and 1st grade topics to give the kids a good overview of 1-100, counting, adding, subtracting, skip counting, etc. The idea is to expose and promote good feelings about math (what a concept, take that common core). The program has great manipulatives too. We finished the very long intro Primer book and we are moving on to the next book (Alpha).

http://www.mathusee.com/

Writing

After about a year of just letting Beth write sloppy, I finally tried to improve her penmanship. I am happy to report she is starting to get the “neatness” concept a little. A small but important step. She can practice with the dry erase board products and finally has enough control that she doesn’t fly outside the lines with abandon! Go us!

I am sure I am forgetting something very important, but I hope this helps someone out there. The important thing is to keep trying new things and keep flipping homeschool supplies on ebay to cover the expense.

The “Right” Fidgets

This has been a big summer for us. It is the summer we finally found fidgets that work for Beth. They were not the standard variety though. I want my money back for all the sensory balls, toys, weighted this or that, and junk I have bought over the years (if you are reading this post and think, I wonder if she tried…the answer is yes). Finally, we found two things that actually work:

1. Bead Necklaces to Reduce Flapping on Outings

Why do I care about flapping on outings? Because she flaps and looks at her hands and does not tune into her surroundings when we are out. She can’t safely cross a street or learn about her surroundings and communicate with others when she flaps and looks at her hands so often. Why does she flap?  As far as I can tell it is many reasons…happiness, anxiety (often due to noise), frustration, and boredom seem to be common triggers. Flapping in cooler weather was not an issue because coats seem to calm the flap (see http://wp.me/p2OomI-1gf). But when the coats came off in spring and summer, nothing I tried to give her or distract her with would calm the flap.

Then, while visiting Beth’s grandparents, Beth put this seed pod necklace on:

Bead pod necklace

Seed pod necklace (search for “seed pod necklace” on etsy or ebay)

I noticed she played with in instead of flapping as much. All I had to do was remind her to put it on before we left the car (she takes the necklace off and flaps and rocks out to music in the car for fun) and it was like magic. Flapping on outings was greatly reduced overall and she was able to tune into her surroundings. But soon Beth started to put the necklace in her mouth, bite on it, and rub it across her teeth. Since I was worried about Beth damaging her teeth, I went on a hunt for an alternative.

I tried some silicone necklaces that are worn by moms and used as a nursing focus tool and/or teething option for their babies (food grade silicone, for example…http://www.amazon.com/Sassy-Baby-Beads%C2%AE-Silicone-Teething/dp/B00JT0DCJS/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1441192857&sr=8-5&keywords=nursing+necklaces+sassy). She did not like the single pendant version (which is similar to autism chewelry) and the beaded necklace was too big and heavy.

Nursing Mother Silicone Bead Necklace

Nursing Mother / Teething Silicone Bead Necklace

It seemed Beth preferred smaller lightweight beads. I found 9mm food grade silicone beads (on etsy, ebay, amazon, just type in “9 mm silicone beads”) and sometimes added something bigger at the bottom of the necklace. I used these sets to make her necklaces: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00U6XXW60/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=31MEQ0C8W2TBH&coliid=I1C4Z3NY21VMVQ and http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00OXIBKP4/ref=s9_dcbhz_bw_d54_g201_i2_ps). These work very well for her, and they are stylish too! Note the necklace is most effective when it is long enough so that Beth doesn’t have to raise her hands up much to use it. I like the safety pop away clasps that came with the kit I bought -I just tied a simple knot on each half of the clasp and popped it together (here is a close up of the clasp, separate string and clasp link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ZQ66DKY/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_S_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=31MEQ0C8W2TBH&coliid=I2CP4OHA679GI3). The clasp does not come apart easily, so even when she pulls on it it doesn’t break. I noticed the beads tend to tangle in Beth’s hair in the back, so I left beads off the upper portion of the necklace.

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2. Window Gel Clings for Desk Work

Beth LOVES gel clings like these: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=window+gel+clings . She loves getting new ones, their stickiness, their oily smell (ewww), and, unfortunately, she loves to rip them apart. Because she rips them, I got stuck on the idea that we should limit them and use them only as a reward for work. But she got very frustrated during work when I told her she would have wait for the gel clings, so eventually I gave in and let her keep the gel clings with her at the table. And just like that, the key to getting her to sit at the table for long periods of time was found. Sure we have gel clings all over the place and I am forever on the hunt for gel cling deals (CVS, Target, Jo-Ann Fabrics, ebay, craft stores are the best places to find good deals, especially at end of season). But who cares. It helps her sit happily and work for long periods of times without stress (when she is writing, I have her hold a gel cling in her left hand and it is surprisingly not distracting). Here is our “first day of first grade” pic, with gel clings all over the place.

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I guess the upshot is this. Observe your child and she/he will lead you to the best fidget. Also, tread carefully when trying to use a sensory item as a “reward.”  With the gel clings it actually backfired and made her less focused. It wasn’t a reward, it was a sensory tool she needed to use WHILE she worked.

Adventures with Montessori and Autism: Geography

Traditional Montessori geography is a hands-on system with a globe, a continents of the world flat map puzzle, six countries within continents puzzles, and a flags puzzle. To learn the names of continents and countries, there are control maps separate from the puzzles. Here is a pictorial summary (products can be purchased relatively cheaply from ebay):

continentsglobe

                 World Globe

Montessori Geography Puzzles

        Continent/Country Puzzles

United States Puzzle

                United States Puzzle

North America Control Map

North America Control Map

World Map with Flags

                     World Map with Flags

As with most things Montessori, I had to alter the curriculum for Beth. She has significant language delays and memorizing new material is not easy for her, so I don’t need her to know every country of the world and their flags at this point. For now we are focusing on connecting the globe to the flat world map, continent names, our country name and flag (United States), and familiar states (those she lives in or has traveled to). The control maps didn’t work for her, so we resorted to using trimmed post it notes so she could easily stick the names of continents and countries directly on the globe and puzzles. To cut costs, I am using a magnetic united states map and I made a little flag from dollar store flag stickers stuck to a tooth pick and just used play-doh as the anchor on the North America Puzzle. Connecting the continents, countries, and states to things Beth can see and experience is the only way I truly see Beth understanding geography. So I am using a combination of direct experience, videos, and toys to help her make the connection between real world and geography globes and maps. Here is a summary of our current program:

Globe and World Flat Map

            Globe and World Flat Map Puzzle

World Map with Sticky Note Labels

                      World Map Puzzle

In addition to the above globe, map, and trimmed sticky notes with continent labels, this was a great video to introduce Beth to world geography and help her memorize the continents:

Also, Beth and I watch a lot of nature videos, which is helping her connect what a continent looks like to the animals and people who inhabit it. In addition, we periodically read these books and play with this puzzle:

Books about Continents (Scholastic Rookie Read About Geography)

Books about Continents (Scholastic Rookie Read About Geography)

World Map with Animals

World Map with Animals (ebay screen shot because I am lazy, http://www.ebay.com/itm/World-Continent-National-Flag-Animal-Building-Educational-Puzzle-Montessori-/181335225815?var=&hash=item2a386bf5d7)

North America Puzzle

                North America Puzzle

North America Puzzle with United States Flag

North America Puzzle with United States Flag (dollar store stickers, toothpick, play doh…saved a mint on a fancy Montessori flag map)

United States Magnetic Map

United States Magnetic Map (Imaginetics brand)

Along with the magnetic United States map above, Beth loves this app:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/kids-maps-u.s.-map-puzzle/id445921010?mt=8

Short of renting an RV and hitting the road, I was trying to figure out how to “show” Beth America and associate landmarks, monuments, and animals to each state. This series looks promising, so it is next up on our geography journey:

http://www.smithsonianchannel.com/shows/aerial-america/701

Adventures with Montessori and Autism: Counting

Beth gets distracted while counting and has trouble coordinating counting during hands-on activities or while pointing due to motor planning issues. The simple, distraction-free classic Montessori toys (and some modern off-shoots) were great to build up her skills and fill in gaps. Many of the products are errorless or have easy, obvious placement for the manipulatives. This post highlights products we used to improved her counting (some of these fall under period 4 or higher in the book I am following, 1):

Tumble Down Box

Available From:

https://store.tagtoys.com/tumble-down-counting-pegs-p181.aspx

Purpose and advantages:

-Errorless counting: placement obvious and exact number of openings in each wood plate (1-10)

-Has a recessed number that child can trace with fingers as a pre-writing activity

-Good for working on coordinating expressive language counting with moving manipulatives (note I wrote previously about a unique problem my child had with emphasis…it is important to teach a child with prosody problems to emphasize http://wp.me/p2OomI-1ju)

-Some children will love pulling the lever out and watching the pegs disappear, hearing them tumble down (although the noise was too much for Beth, I had to put a piece of foam in the lower portion to dampen the sound)

Tumble Down Box

Tumble Down Box

Spindle Boxes

Available from: Montessori suppliers, eBay, Amazon

Purposes and advantages:

-Although not errorless, the spindle boxes are a great simple beginning counting activity

-Gives a sense of number based on volume, which is rather unique for counting toys; includes a zero box for teaching none

-You just throw the rods into the box and they fall into place easily…reduces distraction caused by manipulating and perfecting placement of counters

-The numbers are very obvious and upright-good for kids who forget what they are counting up to or who have trouble with visual attention

-For kids who like to throw things, it can be motivating because you literally throw them into the wells

-For kids who like sounds, it has a pleasant sound when you throw the rods in the wells (although for a super sound stimmer, it may be distracting…they may not want to stop throwing them in and hyper-focus on the sound instead of the number they are counting to…yes, we struggled with that a bit)

 

Spindle Box Set-Up

Spindle Box Set-Up

Spindle Box - Completed Acitivity

Spindle Box – Completed Acitivity

Number and Counter Match-Up Puzzle

Available from: Montessori suppliers, Ebay, Amazon

Purposes and advantages:

-Errorless

-To teach kids to match number to number of counters (number sense)

-Distraction free red dots that are big enough to easily motor plan

Drawbacks:

-Hyper-focus on just matching the squiggled cuts can distract from the counting activity. We definitely had that problem and I had to encourage her to focus on the numbers and counters instead. Worksheets actually worked better for what this toy was trying to accomplish.

-Most K kids are only required to match 1-5 to groups of 1-5 in random format. Beyond 5, 10 frames or similar structured formats are used. I even had trouble matching the 6, 7, 8, 9 because of inconsistent formatting in this toy.

Because of the drawbacks above, I ended up laying out 1-5 and 10 for the counter portion, and encouraged her to guess the match:

Number Match-Up

Number Match-Up Puzzle

Number Match-Up, 1-5 and 10

Number Match-Up, 1-5 and 10

Montessori Cards and Counters

Available from: Montessori suppliers, eBay, Amazon

Purposes and advantages:

-Great beginning counting toy (but I suggest doing the errorless toys mentioned above first)

-Distraction free counters (same on front and back). Beth really has trouble with all the “cute” counters sets out there (apples, penguins, etc), because she obsessively orients them. So this simple counter set really worked to help her focus on the task of counting.

Montessori Wood Cards and Counters (With mats made from scrap material to help Beth know where to place the counters)

Montessori Wood Cards and Counters (With mats made from scrap material to help Beth know where to place the counters)

Montessori Hundred Board

Available from: Montessori suppliers, other versions from Amazon

Purposes and advantages:

-Great for working on expressive language while counting and number recognition. It can also be used to teach skip counting.

-Low distraction, grid helps guide placement

Semi-Drawback:

Don’t forget to also work on numbers in isolation.  Just because a child can create this whole board does not mean that he/she can read numbers in isolation. I was given that false sense of security until I realized I also had to work on scanning and reading individual numbers with Beth (discussed in this post http://wp.me/p2OomI-1ju).  One activity that addresses this issue is to randomly remove some numbers from a completed hundred board and have the child work on scanning and replacing the missing tiles while speaking the numbers.

Montessori Hundred Board: We use little containers of 10 and take lots of breaks. It is a demanding activity!  Teaching her to point to the next square and predict rather than scan the available tiles was the turning point.

Montessori Hundred Board: We use little containers of 10 and take lots of breaks. It is a demanding activity! Teaching her to point to the next square and predict rather than scan the available tiles was the turning point.

Picture/ Number Sequencing Puzzles

Available from: Lakeshore Learning

http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/

Purposes and advantages:

-Like 1-10 or 1-20 on Montessori Hundred Board, but you create a picture, which is more engaging for some children (Beth did not seem to care for creating the picture though)

1-10

 

monkey

1-20 Monkey Puzzle (I put the 2 next to 12, 3 next to 13, and so on to help with scanning and impulsivity issues)

1-20 Monkey Puzzle (I put the 2 next to 12, 3 next to 13, and so on to help with scanning and impulsivity issues)

Next up for us will be place value. That will be a topic of another post!

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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:

montessori book

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.

Period Three

  1. Practical- pouring water from a jug and funnel, difficult dressing (bows and laces), advanced braiding, tying a tie, simple cooking chores, ironing, making beds
  2. Sensorial- Geometric Cabinet exercises, constructive triangles, square of pythagoras, trinomial cube, fabrics, thermic bottles, baric tablets, presentation of bells
  3. Language- double letter sandpaper letters, advanced I spy, exercise 2 with all sandpaper letters
  4. Math- Number rod exercise 1
  5. Culture- all maps, places picture folders, past and present, stories about the past, air, water, magnetism, classifying animals, classification by leaf, parts of animals, parts of plants

Period Four

  1. Practical- responsibility for certain daily care of environment, helping and advising younger ones in a group
  2. Sensorial- Geometric cabinet exercises 9 and 10, thermic tablets, mystery bag, visual work with blindfolds, bell exercises 1-3, tasting cups, smelling boxes
  3. Language- movable alphabet, writing individual letters, writing families of letters, positioning letters on lines, sandpaper Capitals, box 1 and 2 of object boxes, action cards, reading folders exercise 1
  4. Math- number rods exercise 2, sandpaper numbers, number tablets, spindles, numbers and counters, memory play, limited bead material, number cards, function of the decimal system, fractions
  5. Culture- gravity, sound, optics, places artifacts