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 ( 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




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



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



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.


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)




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?)






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.






In the Small, Small Pond

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


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




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.








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

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

Reading Anything and Everything Beth Will Read. 

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

Language, Language, Language.

We spent several months this year working in this book:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lakeshore, Lakeshore, Lakeshore.

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

SuperDuper Publications Chipper Chat.

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

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


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


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

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

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


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: 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: and these hands-on approaches:





Montessori cards with mats,

Montessori cards with mats,

But after all the effort above, Beth still struggled. The answer finally came from the Montessori book I am using (David-Gettman, Basic Montessori, 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:




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

Adventures with Montessori and Autism: Shapes and Solids

In the first level of Montessori (1), the children explore shapes and solids (naming and categorization occurs in later levels). The Montessori program has a geometric solids set, a flat shape set (geometric cabinet), and a metal inserts shape set for pre-writing. They all tie together nicely, but Beth doesn’t really needs to know all the geometric shapes at this point. Learning new language receptively is hard, learning new expressively language is even harder, so I am not going to torture her with learning the difference between an ellipsoid and ovoid (a point which confused even me and my husband, both engineers with a fair amount of math under our belt) and the various types of triangles in preparation for geometry. So I cut some things out of the program, and tried to preserve any shape/solids teaching that might be helpful to Beth in real life.

Geometric Solids

I bought the geometric solids set from ebay for a reasonable price. This is a fantastic video on geometric solids that explains the whole process. Remember, at level 1, the children only explore the solids as in the beginning of this video.

As you can see from the video, Montessori takes a sensory approach and later teaches language concepts that are abstract on paper worksheets for kids like Beth. These language terms can be demonstrated with the shapes: roll, stack, flat surface, curved surfaces, pointy, blunt, you get the idea. These are the solids that relate most to the real world and therefore are the ones I am teaching Beth: sphere, cube, egg-shaped (called ovoid in the Montessori system, but I am going with egg-shaped), cylinder, cone (street cones being an obvious direct application), and the pyramid (we are using the square based pyramid, like the ones in Egypt, since I keep running into pyramids with Beth for some odd reason, usually in relation to camels).

Our subset of geometric solids. The circle, square, and triangle are bases used later in the program

Our subset of geometric solids. The circle, square, and triangle are bases used later in the program


Beth, me, a camel, and a pyramid, 2014 (Florida)

Beth, me, a camel, and a pyramid, 2014 (Florida)

Geometric Cabinet

What I love about the geometric cabinet: the process of feeling the edge of the shape to get a true sense of the shapes and the sequencing work with cards. What I don’t like about the geometric cabinet: Too many shapes with complex names and with the control cards, cabinet, and demonstration tray it is freaking expensive $$$$$$. I decided it was just best to use the metal insets to explore flat shapes (see below). It is not strict Montessori, but I think it is the best decision for Beth. So, we are skipping the geometric cabinet.

Geometric Cabinet

Geometric Cabinet


Demonstration Tray

Demonstration Tray


Geometric Cabinet Control Chart

Geometric Cabinet Control Chart

Metal Insets

In lieu of the geometric cabinet we are using a the metal insets for learning flat shapes and I will have Beth touch the outside of the blue inset and work left to right with the insets on the stand for the level 1 sensory flat shape experience (which Beth needs because she keeps confusing square with rectangle and the names of the shapes occasionally trip her up). Officially, the metal insets are for pre-writing (they are similar to a stencil) and in the book I am following it says they are not used until level 2 (1). Still, the metal inset set has more shapes than I feel Beth needs to know at this time, and some of the names are overly complicated for a kid with language delays. So I took about half the shapes and we will do level 1 with them instead of the geometric cabinet (touching the outside of the shapes).

Here is the full metal insert set…refer to control chart in section above for true Montessori names:

Metal Insets

Metal Insets

This is the set I decided Beth should work on for flat shapes in lieu of the geometric cabinet:


Set we are using for level 1 sensory experience of shapes. We are calling them circle, oval, square, rectangle, and triangle. I am not getting into the whole that is not an oval, it is an ellipse thing-that again confused the engineers of the house. It is an oval to us, so an oval it is!

Again I found these metal insets on ebay for a reasonable price, but they are still one of the more expensive items we have bought thus far. You can go with a cheaper plastic version sold on Amazon if the cost of the metal inserts is too high, but I felt we needed the heavier version for the pre-writing work.


(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:

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


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: and 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 (!)


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.


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 (

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 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):


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!




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!


6. Social Studies

I picked up this social studies book at the Lakeshore store near me ( It covers health, safety, all about me, body parts, five senses, and all the typical K social studies concepts that need reinforcement for Beth.


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.


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.


Lakeshore readers:






Beginning Math Adventures on the Spectrum

I remember a little over 2 years ago when I started homeschooling Beth, I couldn’t wait to jump in and start working on math. She liked numbers. She even liked counting. I loved math. I even had experience in my college days, where I worked as a math tutor for adults who had learning disabilities. How hard could it be?

Boy was I in for a surprise. Teaching Beth math was harder than teaching Beth to read (see my previous post on reading here: due to motor planning and visual scanning challenges and a puzzling prosody issue that sabotaged counting.

Rather than rehash the millions of things that failed, I am going to focus on what I finally figured out after endless hours of trial and error. This is not all-inclusive or it would be a very long post, but shown below are some of the methods and materials I used to help Beth achieve early math goals.

Counting and Number Recognition

I used a pocket chart for beginning counting because the numbers are bigger and easier to point to and are organized neatly in rows and the information is presented near eye level and vertically, which reduces the motor planning and visual scanning demand. After hours and hours of lightly touching her hand so that she would move over to the next number and coordinate counting with pointing and endlessly prompting her to find the beginning of the next row, this is where we are:

I would say the above is an exceptionally good clip. She usually makes the occasional coordination error moving from one number to the next or moving down to the next row, but for the most part she’s got it. So that means she knows her numbers 1-40, right?

Wrong. A few months ago I isolated the numbers using flashcards and realized she had a huge problem. She could not recognize numbers past 10 reliably. She tended to look at part of the number (e.g., would say “2” if she saw “12”) or had trouble visual scanning and reading a number from left to right (e.g., would say “21” if she saw “12”). In addition, we had some expressive language problems (or rigid stuck thinking problems?) with the teens, because she so wanted 11 and 12 to be “one-teen” and “two-teen.” Finally we had the problem if I worked on teens only or 20-29 only, for example, she would get stuck on what we just worked on and make a lot of expressive language errors. It was a mess. So while it looked as if she knew how to read numbers 1-40, she actually memorized the pattern on the pocket chart and was probably just looking at the last digit while she was reading off the numbers.

To address these issues, we used tactile cards (like sand paper cards, but softer texture and I had her trace the numbers and say the names out loud. Also we practiced with flash cards or by reading random numbers from the pocket chart, and I had her drag her finger from left to right, much as we do with reading, to help her visually scan the numbers from left to right. For Beth, it is best to work on many numbers at once (at the very least 1-30) to prevent stuck expressive language and to review often (we do at least a weekly review). We have made a lot of progress, but as you can see from this video she still gets tripped up sometimes:


Counting to a Specified Number

The kid just would not stop counting! I would say, “count to 4” and she would blow by 4 and continue on. I tried everything…holding stop signs, hand signals to stop, putting my finger on her lips, having her say “stop” or “shhhhh” after she reached the last number. Nothing worked…for YEARS. Then one day about a month ago I was so frustrated I started jumping up and down like a mad woman and being obnoxious about the way I counted. And…she stopped on the right number. It was miraculous. But why?

It turns out my kid has a prosody problem…she says all her numbers with the same tone and emphasis usually. Now try doing that yourself right now (no really reader, do this)…count to any number and try to keep your voice exactly the same even on the number you are supposed to stop at. It is hard to stop, isn’t it?  I think it is simply Beth cannot do naturally what most of us can do…inflect her voice on the number where she is supposed to stop counting. Here is a good example where I am holding up cards with numbers on it:

Now we are moving towards counting with counters and stopping. For years I thought she just wanted to fill out ten frames due to some sort of compulsion, but now we are making progress if we work on emphasizing the last number. Here is a video with a magnetic ten frame set  ( and although you cannot see it in the video, there were 10 counters on the table and she stopped counting on her own:


Number Ordering

We tried number ordering exercises with the pocket chart, but even that was too much visual scanning and motor planning for Beth. My friend introduced me to these Lakeshore Learning puzzles for sequencing numbers and letters ( ,, , I was skeptical Beth would be able to do it, but because the motor plan is so easy (all work is 2D, just slide the pieces into place), it was a success. It was nice to know that she can order numbers after all with the right accommodation. In case you are wondering if she is just making the picture…no she isn’t. She doesn’t even look at the picture until the end so it is more like a reward. Referring to a picture while putting pieces of a puzzle together is still very hard for her, even after doing puzzles with her for endless hours.



I am not familiar with the research supporting the need for it, but completing patterns is a common goal on IEPs. I guess it is some indicator of logic ability. Beth failed the patterning portion of the IQ testing for K, because the tester wanted Beth to pattern on a blank piece of paper (she needs at least boxes drawn in for placement), Beth wasn’t interested in the materials, and expressive language issues got in the way.

I have found that she absolutely must have boxes on paper or containers for placement and using very familiar favorite items that she has heard receptively in videos many times is helpful. It is crucial for her to say the items out load and to point to keep her focus and to keep track of where she is. It also helps Beth focus if she is guided to build the initial pattern. It is still hard for her, but it is possible with these accommodations. With more effort, I have been able to get her to pattern non-preferred things like colors and shapes, but getting that expressive language out is a lot harder for her. This Lakeshore Learning Patterning Tray works great ( for patterning manipulatives. I put her patterning tray on her slant board, which helps ease the visual scanning demand and helps with visual attention. In the videos below I used party confetti with her favorite Sesame Street characters and Halloween erasers from the dollar stores (she has a favorite Halloween video with ghost, bat, witch, pumpkin, etc so those words are easy for her). The erasers are great because they are thick and easier to pick up.  These videos show us working through AB patterning, ABC patterning, and missing items within a pattern:


Worksheets (Finally!)

This past summer we moved away from manipulatives and tried the first chapter of Go Math. Go Math is an example of curriculum that has a very nice layout for kids like Beth…not a lot on a page, clear boundaries between sections, and ten frame boxes for counting.  Accommodations would still need to be made if this program was used due to Beth’s language and motor planning/visual scanning challenges. For example, the word problems are too hard for her due to language issues, she would need magnetic counters because she uses a slant board and the counters were sliding everywhere, she would need to circle things rather than fill in or draw squares, she would need to use plain counter blocks instead of snap together blocks, sometimes I have to block off certain sections of the worksheets to help her focus, and I often use a sweeping motion over choices to help her visually scan. Counting with her finger by pointing and then picking up the pencil to write in numbers was a motor planning nightmare. So I prompted her to not put down the pencil and circle items to count them instead. When she writes numbers I try to give her a pass on writing…if it is legible at all I accept it because she tends to get frustrated with handwriting corrections. Here is a clip of a Go Math page: