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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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

 

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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

 

Coin Identification and Sorting

Beth and I have been working on coin identification all year. We have tried everything and we are very close to mastery, so I thought I would share all that we have tried in hopes that some of these things will work for other struggling learners out there. The first step for Beth (and for any kid) was to find out an association that she could make to each coin (1). For Beth, pennies are brown, dimes are small, quarters are big, and nickels have a smooth thick edge works for her (smooth and thick are concepts we covered at length in Montessori). But still the expressive language for coin names does not automatically pop out of her mouth even though she understands their characteristics, so she needed lots of practice and exposure to coins (and their variations which is maddening in the U.S. -nickles have two different heads, pennies have all sorts of backs). Ideally, the activities would be something she can do mostly or all on her own to minimize frustration. Of course we also work on “give me a penny” and “what is this?” But it is so much better if Beth can practice on her own with the types of activities shown below.

Coin Sorting Mats

The first thing we tried was coin collection mats. Unfortunately to Beth a circle is a circle and she thought throwing a penny in a nickel or quarter circle was a match. So this did not work very well for her.

 

Coin Sorting on Mats

Coin Sorting on Mats

Coin Sorting Using Coin Collection Folders and Tubes

My next attempt was to change the mats into something with recessions so that she understood we were sorting by size, not just shape. I bought some used Whitman coin collecting folders (https://www.whitman.com/store/Inventory/Browse/Whitman-Folders) on ebay, cut out one panel for each coin, blocked out the writing with a black marker, and wrote the coin name on top. I was a little disappointed that the coins did not easily slip into the recessions, even after I pounded in several coins with a hammer!  But Beth did not seem to mind…she just set them in the recesses and did not obsess about pressing them in (I can see this really bothering some children though). These worked okay, but trying to get her to say the coin name for each coin was hard because she had to keep reading the name at the top and her focus was on the array of coins and not on the overall category.

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Coin Folder Sorting

 

Close up of two coin folders

Close up of two coin folders

Beth Hard at Work

Beth Hard at Work

We also tried coin tubes (http://www.air-tites.com/coin_tubes.htm#.VWhFxflVhHw), which I bought on ebay. I carved out a holder for each tube in a foam board. This worked better than the folders because there was no array of coins to steal her attention and the focus was on the coin name. But it was a little hard to judge the size of the clear tube relative to the coin size for say the dime versus the penny. Of course I still had to prompt her many times to carefully look at the coin in her hand and say the coin name before she became more independent. At first it worked better to just use two tubes at a time, so I had to remove and block the names of the other tubes.

Coin Tube Sorting

Coin Tube Sorting

Coin Sorting with Boxes

In order to keep the focus on the coin name and not the array, and because the tubes and folders still did not give the ideal prompt for size, I started experimenting with boxes. First I tried just throwing the coins in a box with a card label on top. Of course this was not errorless and she made many errors with this approach.

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Box/Card Coin Sorting

 

 

Beth, Hard at Work Yet Again

Beth Hard at Work (Yet Again)

Finally, I got to the semi-errorless, size-based, focus-on-coin-name approach that worked best for Beth! I bought stiff cardboard craft boxes from a craft store and put my X-acto knife to work (just make the slit a little smaller than the coin, then force the coin through and move it around in the opening to enlarge it to the exact size of each coin). Then I pasted cards on top. These worked the best because the coin name is right near the slot and you can’t fit the quarter in anything but the quarter box and the nickel and penny are partially errorless. Because the coin name was right in front, it prompted her to say the name better than all the other arrangements above.

Coin Sorting Boxes

Coin Sorting Boxes

Close-up of 2 Coin Sorting Boxes

Close-up of 2 Coin Sorting Boxes

Other Coin Identification Ideas

This cash register says the name of each coin when you put them in the slot on the left. It was helpful to get us part way to receptive identification (http://www.amazon.com/Learning-Resources-Pretend-Teaching-Register/dp/B0006N8X3M/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1432898380&sr=8-3&keywords=cash+register).

Learning Resources Pretend & Play Teaching Cash Register

Learning Resources Pretend & Play Teaching Cash Register

These types of search and find worksheets are all over the web. I like this site for easy worksheets:

http://www.math-salamanders.com/kindergarten-money-worksheets.html

free-math-money-worksheets-find-the-nickels-1

There are other tools out there I am sure, but we are sticking with the boxes, the cash register, and worksheets for our final stretch of coin identification. Good luck and I hope the above helps someone out there!

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(1) Try to find an association that makes the most sense for each child. I suggest a lot of observation…sometimes kids associate more with the back or certain characteristics of coins rather than size. For us, size seems to work fairly well so far.

 

 

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.

Our K Curriculum, Part Deux

This has been a roller coaster school year with Beth starting in public K in September and then the pull-out to homeschool again in December, but I think we are finally settling in for the year. It is time to write things down to clear my own mind, to get others up to speed, and to answer some questions from my blog followers and friends.

Are You Repeating K at Home? What Curriculum are You Using?

Beth is now almost 7 and from 5-6 years old I tried Waldorf at home for K (see our Waldorf adventures here: http://wp.me/p2OomI-Tj and http://wp.me/p2OomI-Ue). I immediately altered the Waldorf curriculum due to kiddo’s strength in reading (letter and phonics decoding) and her disinterest in fairy tales. Then, because we decided to put Beth in public K the following year, I felt pressured to do “what was expected” in terms of getting her ready. So I added activities for patterning, number recognition up to 50, etc., and I ended up with a mixed bag with everything from Waldorf to standard K in our curriculum. There is a terrific downside to bending to the expectations of others while homeschooling and I have some regrets, but as it turns out, trying out some of the “common core” ideas and “typical expectations” has led us to a stronger curriculum this time around for Beth. I think it is actually a great idea to repeat K more in-depth, so I would say that by our local “public school” standards, Beth is in a form of typical K and I am fine with that. I will now attempt to describe our curriculum in detail below, which has every thing from Montessori to standard K curriculum elements.

Our Current Curriculum (Subject to Change at Any Minute!)

1. Independent Work and Hand Use with Montessori. 

Why can’t she work independently and why is her hand use so slow to develop? After careful observation and opening my mind to possibilities, I believe it comes down to old issues: an inability to work on the floor causing negative associations with getting her to play/work when she was really young (low tone? sensory issues? difficulty navigating the floor in general? no therapist seems to be able to tell me), lack of focus due to the autism diverting her attention, sound sensitivities with certain toys and manipulatives (she hates crashing towers, the ball pounding toys, the sound of plastic hitting plastic, certain textures, etc.), her inability to process noisy play (which most of us think is “fun”), all of which led to frustration and confidence issues. What program focuses on independence, hand use, uses low-distraction toys, natural products like wood and cloth, and is very quiet? — Montessori.

After doing some research, I ran across an article on special needs kids, which said they may have to start the Montessori process much later than the typical infant-6. I bought a few products and I had some other Montessori-like “errorless” toys, and I tried the Montessori approach of not correcting and just demonstrating (all the demos are on you tube). Beth did well if I really lowered the developmental level and provided encouragement to keep trying. I am currently on a Montessori kick and we spend our mornings with me setting up hand-use tasks and biting my tongue, and kiddo working hard on her hand use and independence. Beth mostly works on Montessori while standing at the kitchen table, but I bought a foam gym mat and we are transferring some work to the floor (she has a history of hating to work on the floor, but I tried yesterday and she seems willing to do tasks she masters at the kitchen table on the foam mat).

Beth, All Smiles Doing Puzzles (!)

Beth, All Smiles Doing Puzzles (!)

Floorwork

Floor Work

2. Independent Work and Hand Use via Chores and Cooking. We do chores and cooking every day as part of Beth’s curriculum. I give her tasks or parts of chores to complete by herself and I help her by modeling and encouraging her to keep going.

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Cutting open the toilet paper to put it away (scissor skills!)

Helping unload the dishwasher

Helping unload the dishwasher

Doing Laudry

Doing Laundry

Folding Washcloths

Folding Washcloths

Making soup

Making soup

3. Math: Go Math for Now…

The local school district uses Go Math, so I tried that curriculum after buying the workbooks on ebay. After just a few weeks homeschooling, we are almost up to typical K with minor alterations and accommodations. What I learned by working with Go Math is: a. Ten frames are good for Beth-she loves putting things in distinct boxes while counting and it is an easy visual way to understand amounts, b. She loves to circle items while counting on worksheets and then noting the number, she is a natural at identifying “greater than” or “less than” number, and c. we just started addition and she was all smiles (and is showing some innate ability). Who knew? Not the public school she attended. They were still working on identifying and counting to 1 and 2 when I pulled her out. Eventually we may need a new program (it gets very verbal later from what I understand), but for now the K level of Go Math is going fine. Samples of Beth’s work and accommodations:

Go Math Workseet (slant board to help her visually attend, regular blocks instead of Unifix click blocks to reduce fine motor demand, sticky  Wikistix used to keep blocks from sliding).

Go Math Workseet (erasable pen to help with her light writing, slant board to help her visually attend, regular blocks instead of Unifix click blocks to reduce fine motor demand, sticky Wikki Stix used to keep blocks from sliding).

She circles items on a page to count them

She circles items on a page to count them

Greater than less than page (I read the instructions and choices, first three were find the greater number, last three were find the least number)

Greater than less than page (I read the instructions and choices, first three were find the greater number, last three were find the lesser number)

4. Language Arts: Harcourt Trophies (http://www.amazon.com/Harcourt-Trophies-Kindergarten-Teachers-Edition/dp/0153397322)

Harcourt Trophies is the program used for the typical kids in K at Beth’s previous public school. Her reading (decoding) is above the “at level” readers in the system, so we supplement with Lakeshore readers (see footnotes below-already done with level one sight readers). The Lakeshore non-fiction sight word books are excellent because they include basic geography, social studies, and science ideas. She reads best if I hold the book in front of her her in bed or she uses her book holder on the table (she needs everything elevated and she uses her finger to guide her eyes while reading due to oculomotor coordination issues and an occasional difficultly finding left to start reading).

In terms of comprehension, she has far exceeded my expectations. A lot of the activities have the students phonetically write answers and draw pictures. With very little coaching, Beth was able to do the work. Not only that, the suggested activities and library books (where I read to her and ask questions) in the teacher’s manual relate to real life and align with her intraverbal goals we identified in the VB-Mapp. I make some substitutions and simplifications with the books I have to read to her, but I think it is so wonderful she is being exposed to new ideas in the context of literature. So, for now, this program has worked out extremely well for Beth. We are still catching up, because very little of the literature program was covered in public school and I had to start over from the beginning. Here are some samples of Beth’s drawings in answer questions as part of the Trophies Harcourt program (phonetic writing samples are in the handwriting section below):

Me: "What did you do with your friend today? Look around the room and tell me? " Beth: "Played Guitar" Me: "Okay, draw a guitar...do you want to add a neck and strings?"

Me: “What did you do with your friend today? Look around the room and tell me. ” Beth: “Played Guitar” Me: “Okay, draw a guitar…great…now do you want to add a neck and strings?”

Beth, Self-Portrait. I asked if she wanted to add hair and ears. Her ears hang low...ha ha.

Beth, Self-Portrait. I asked if she wanted to add hair and ears. Her ears hang low…ha ha.

Beth in the swimming pool (I added the goggle straps later for fun). I love how she drew herself sideways with both arms and legs off to one side.

Beth in the swimming pool…she is sideways with legs on the left, both arms up, head on the right (I added the goggle straps later for fun).

5. Handwriting

Beth recognizes all letters, understands the strokes, and yet her handwriting is sloppy and she is very frustrated by attempts to improve her handwriting. We did Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) several times, but her handwriting did not improve much and she ended up getting stuck in whatever number/letter set was being practiced in HWTs. My solution was to provide a mixed program of practice and the school’s solution was to try HWT yet again. Of course she got stuck on the letters they were working on to the detriment of other letters and she lost the ability to write whole words. So, with the return to homeschooling I decided to back off on handwriting entirely and see what she did with just encouraging her to write her thoughts, numbers, words, etc in whatever way she wanted. I would only have her “try again” if I could not read it at all. Eventually in Trophies assignments, she started doing a mixture of print and cursive, which is an attempt to reduce the number of strokes and picking up the pencil. In fact, according to my research, a solution often used for kids who have significant dysgraphia is to teach them to write in cursive. Here are some samples of her phonetic writing in Trophies (the teacher’s manual says at this point the child should just be writing phonetically and to not correct the spelling on these assignments, note that I clarified what she wrote in parentheses and quotes):

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The assignment was to name her favorite color and then write things that were blue. Yes, she used to eat blue ice cream at local farm, so I accepted that!

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So, now what? Do I give up on print and go to cursive?  I researched cursive writing with young children and again was led to Montessori. There is a type of print that is pre-cursive and some of the letters look similar to how Beth is trying to write. So, our path forward is to do the Montessori Method using the pre-cursive D’Nealian print, starting from the beginning activities mentioned in this video to improve her control. Note they use two fingers to trace. I am praying that will help her with her control, as she can get her pointer out no problem, but two fingers out is hard. I also love the little tails on letters (will help her know where to stop, a huge problem right now is she keeps going down), the slanted middle part of the lower case “e” instead of horizontal (she naturally slants it), the two-stroke little “k” instead of 3, the curvy lower case “y” and “w” (which Beth naturally prefers). This may be a total fail, but at least it is a new idea based on intrinsic information (the way she is writing naturally). The sand tray, sandpaper cards, and other materials are on their way as I write this post…pray for us!

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6. Social Studies

I picked up this social studies book at the Lakeshore store near me (http://www.amazon.com/Me-My-World-Tracy-Edmunds/dp/1420692690/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1422635939&sr=8-1&keywords=me+and+my+world). It covers health, safety, all about me, body parts, five senses, and all the typical K social studies concepts that need reinforcement for Beth.

download

7. Play & Social

We have had many successful play dates with 1 other child at a time in homes or at indoor play places when it is not busy, and we are working at her play level and with her interests (play-doh, painting, ball play, jumping). At the same time, I am going back to basics to expand her interests. I set up the play area shown below that is easy for her to motor plan during play (everything elevated so she doesn’t have to transition from standing to floor a lot, which always seems to turn her off to play). I also have chosen the dollhouse pieces carefully…not too stimmy, sturdy pieces that are easy to use. So, we will try this set up over the next several weeks in a very slow, non-pressured way.

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In addition to individual play dates, Beth loves the group classes she attends and asks to “see the other kids” at “music” or “gym” classes. We also hang out with other groups of homeschoolers at houses, gyms and libraries for various meet-ups/playgroups. We have no shortage of social opportunities!

8. Music, Gym, Art, Science, and Geography

Music: We do a weekly group music class for older special needs kids and incorporate music into assignments because it is engaging for her.

Gym: We have 3 group gym classes a week: 2 special needs and one typical class (typical 3-5 year olds, Beth has dyspraxia, so she is still working at a younger level in gym classes). She also swims at least once a week at the YMCA.

Art: Beth does art with other children at play dates. As I just finally got Beth to stop sampling art supplies by chewing gum (she has developmental pica), being able to actually work with art materials and not just try to eat them is a huge step forward!

Science: Science terminology is incorporated into the literature curriculum, and we plan to do butterfly cycles and planting flowers in the spring.

Geography: I am currently researching the Montessori geography lessons and materials.

Stay Tuned…

If you are reading this, thank you for making it through such a long post! I will try to write some shorter posts on specific topics within our curriculum as time allows. If there are major changes to the curriculum I will do another update post. Please comment with any thoughts on Montessori and our new handwriting strategy.

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Lakeshore readers:

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http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/product/productDet.jsp?productItemID=1%2C689%2C949%2C371%2C928%2C364&ASSORTMENT%3C%3East_id=1408474395181113&bmUID=1422273907642

http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/product/productDet.jsp?productItemID=1%2C689%2C949%2C371%2C898%2C194&ASSORTMENT%3C%3East_id=1408474395181113&bmUID=1422273947640

 

 

 

 

 

What We Have Here is a Charlie Foxtrot

I have been sitting here staring at my computer screen, trying to think of what to say about our public school experience and why we are returning to homeschooling. Do I go off on how, as in my child’s early and intermediate intervention experiences, we once again had the problem of various team members thinking in silos when managing my daughter’s case? Maybe I should be kinder and say, she does have many co-morbid conditions and it is complex, so she is a challenging case and it is just easier for her to learn at home from one person who knows her whole history? But every time I sit down at the computer, one word pops into my head and will not leave, so I just looked up the exact definition for creative inspiration:

Clusterfuck (urban dictionary definition): Military term for an operation in which multiple things have gone wrong. Related to “SNAFU” (Situation Normal, All Fucked Up”) and “FUBAR” (Fucked Up Beyond All Repair).

In radio communication or polite conversation (i.e. with a very senior officer with whom you have no prior experience) the term “clusterfuck” will often be replaced by the NATO phonetic acronym “Charlie Foxtrot.”
Example: By the time the artillery came in the enemy was already on top of us. It was a total clusterfuck.
Okay, to be polite, I will say we had a Charlie Foxtrot. I tried my best to help guide them, but there was no leadership for my daughter’s case – no one person at the school that could understand all my kid’s challenges, problem solve to work around her issues, and simultaneously figure out her strengths. Thinking and working in silos led to an unsolvable mess, or at least a mess that could not be solved for a very long time (and not without expensive advocates and/or lawyers, with uncertain outcomes and a lot of unnecessary stress). Meanwhile my daughter’s development kept sliding downward and the clock was ticking.
In short, these are the negatives of the experience:
  1. I learned that our team thought they knew how to engage autism, but they are totally untrained for the “difficult to engage” child. I know they are not qualified because we have hired high-priced consultants and therapists who are masters at Floortime (no dear person at our first IEP meeting who thought she was a Floortime expert, it is not working on the floor, it is a method for engaging a child that requires you put your adult agenda aside [sort of, because you still have to have a firm grasp of development and keep goals in the back of your mind to gently expand the child] and it does require formal training). Orienting my child and helping her tune into her surroundings and other children was missing when I observed. There seemed to be the underlying assumption that she was very difficult to engage and there was nothing to be done about it. During 4 hours of observation during education week, I saw many missed “communication bids” from staff that could have led to an engagement. My offers to make custom visuals of favorite stories and send in motivating materials were brushed aside.
  2. My kid was getting less socialization in school than out of school. When I observed Beth at school she seemed disconnected. She was not being helped to tune into others and engage and “social group” is once a week. Need I say more? She got more out of going on play dates, to play centers, and going on community outings when we homeschooled.
  3. I now get why the “presume competence” crowd is totally pissed off. It is because the assumption in our school is that the goal is to catch up to peers in totality, and when you have a child with extreme uneven development in motor planning, fine motor, expressive language, play, physical capabilities and academics, he/she is basically written off as incapable. For example, staff simply cannot wrap their head around a child who can do academics, but only if given the right motor planning and expressive language supports. I am aware that my child cannot motor plan for shit, but we are working on it and she is making slow progress. So I begged the school in the beginning, please don’t let her die of boredom working on the same concepts over and over…fix the motor plan and expressive language used for academics so she can progress and work on different motor plans in occupational therapy and language issues in speech therapy. It seems simple, but I couldn’t get anyone to consistently fix the motor plans and language constructs due to the number of people involved.
  4. If you have a child with co-morbid issues like dyspraxia, visuomotor problems, low tone, and anxiety, it is hard for staff to remember how to support him/her. I would look up after trying to explain my child for the 50th time and see the familiar stare of deer in headlights. So the need for accommodations like elevating work, right table height, simplified layout, using her finger to guide her reading, working on the lower part of an easel, special prompting to help her move her body, etc. was lost on most staff.  Also, My child could not sit at school, but she can sit at home, so how can she reach her academic potential? Part of it was the totally unsupported seating at school, which was only resolved when I brought in our own chair from home because the mammoth system moved so slow. But also I think she was overstimulated and stressed. So while Beth was not totally flipping out in school now (yeah! progress from the old days!) she was still anxious. Which brings me to my next point.
  5. The final nail in the coffin was the behavioral report. I love that these reports like to “note” possible sources of “behavior” from parents, suggest OT assessments, admit history of anxiety, but in the end, our children are treated not as human beings with feelings, but children to be controlled by static “if child does this, then do that” formulas that a behaviorist can hand over to staff. I cannot live with that. I agree that Beth’s stimming can get in the way of learning and engagement is a problem, but I want to work with Beth to help her help herself. I want staff to own up to their end of the engagement problem and be trained to better engage her. I want staff to try to understand what she is thinking and why she is doing what she is doing when she is stimming. Otherwise, stopping “stimming behaviors” in a blind fashion will lead to worse behaviors and a child who feels powerless and misunderstood. When “behaviors” occur, I want all staff trained to see my child as a whole, and combine child psychology, behavioral strategies, OT techniques, and sensory strategies to help her. But that is just not the way the system works and I am not sure if it is a training issue as much as it is a mindset.

And these are the positives of the experience:

  1. I had an awesome home behaviorist and she had some good ideas. I will miss her. She encouraged me to weave intraverbal goals into play and throughout the day and that will be a big effort going forward.
  2. I learned we need to work harder on engagement and we need to work through some of the stim issues.
  3. Let’s just say my confidence in my homeschooling abilities is up. Way up.