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):


                 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,

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:

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:


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:

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

-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:


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

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


-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


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  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

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)




1-20 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!


(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: 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 ( 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.


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 (, 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.


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 (

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:


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!


(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.