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 We tried everything, including various apps (see this somewhat outdated post: http://wp.me/p2OomI-Iq) and these hands-on approaches: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.

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

Color Box 2

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

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

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

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

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

Beginning Dressing Frames

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

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

Period One

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

Period Two

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

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

The Pink Tower

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

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

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

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

Pink Tower in Basket

Pink Tower Blocks in Basket

The Brown Stair

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

Brown Stair in Basket

Brown Stair Blocks in Basket

The Red Rods

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

Red Rods

Red Rods

 

When to Move On…

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

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

Period One

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

Period Two

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

montessori book

 

Adventures with Montessori and Autism: Pouring Beans

Beginning Our Montessori Journey

Clearly this will not be the typical jaunt through Montessoriland (See end note below [1] for info on Montessori and the book we are following). Beth has autism with very significant stims, attention issues, motor planning core deficits, language impairment, and she is almost 7 years old (Montessori is usually started at age 2 or 3).  In Montessori, natural motivation is key, as is independence, but I am sure I will be doing more guiding than typical in Montessori. Maybe even some, gasp!, correction of errors. It is simply not possible to just demonstrate something a few times and have kiddo catch on and sometimes I have to directly instruct her to get around stims and other hurdles. Adjustments will be made, but not too much, because I want her to improve her non-verbal observation and processing skills and gain independence. It is a delicate balancing act. The beauty of Montessori as it relates to Beth’s autism is its focus on the senses and working on senses in isolation, visual scanning practice, practical work, and simple distraction-free materials. It is a good fit for Beth, but perhaps something she was not ready for when she was younger. I read somewhere that special needs kids often start the process later and it is “not easy.” Ha! We are all about doing things that are not easy. Bring it on!

Bean Pouring

We tried several Montessori activities over the past month and pouring beans is the most motivating thus far. When we first started I thought…easy peasy…this will be quick. Wrong. The crossing of midline, cocking of the wrist, maintaining eyes on work, scanning and picking up the beans. It is not simple at all for Beth.

But she has made great gains. Yes, I did have to directly tell her to cross midline and turn that jug on her left side (and not just non-verbally model as is typically done in Montessori). Beth has gone through years of not crossing midline very much and is in a firm habit of not using her hands in certain ways. Also, she has grown to rely on verbal cuing, so I used the minimal amount I could and chalked it up to reasonable accommodation. We skipped the typical small tray but we should have used it…it would have made placement more obvious. No this is not as perfect, as smooth, and focused as a typical kid doing Montessori. But she crossed midline 4o times a day for weeks, she moved from insisting on standing to working at the table, she learned to tilt her head to see what she was doing, she learned she must look and use her hands at the same time for the best outcome. I am calling this good enough, and time to move on. But I will leave the bean pouring jugs out as an activity because she loves it so. The klink of the beans on the ceramic and the pouring sound…there is just something about it.

Video I found helpful:

Beth pouring beans:

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

Period One

  1. Practical Activities – pouring beans between two jugs, opening and closing containers; buttoning; buckling; other simple dressing frames; carrying and laying out floor and table mats; saying please and thank you; carrying a tray; lifting, carrying, and putting down a chair, sitting down and getting up from a chair at a table; climbing up and down stairs; walking on the line; folding, hanging clothes on a hook;  brushing hair; dusting

  2. Sensorial – Cylinder blocks; pink tower; box 1 of the color tablets; presentation tray of the geometric cabinet; sensitizing the fingers; touch boards; presentation of Geometric solids; stereognostic bags presentation

  3. Language – Classified pictures exercises; speech stages – I Spy; book corner and library

  4. Math – none

  5. Culture – land and water presentation

montessori book