Adventures with Montessori and Autism: Geography

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

continentsglobe

                 World Globe

Montessori Geography Puzzles

        Continent/Country Puzzles

United States Puzzle

                United States Puzzle

North America Control Map

North America Control Map

World Map with Flags

                     World Map with Flags

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

Globe and World Flat Map

            Globe and World Flat Map Puzzle

World Map with Sticky Note Labels

                      World Map Puzzle

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

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

Books about Continents (Scholastic Rookie Read About Geography)

Books about Continents (Scholastic Rookie Read About Geography)

World Map with Animals

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

North America Puzzle

                North America Puzzle

North America Puzzle with United States Flag

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

United States Magnetic Map

United States Magnetic Map (Imaginetics brand)

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

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

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

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

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Adventures with Montessori and Autism: Counting

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

Tumble Down Box

Available From:

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

Purpose and advantages:

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

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

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

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

Tumble Down Box

Tumble Down Box

Spindle Boxes

Available from: Montessori suppliers, eBay, Amazon

Purposes and advantages:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Spindle Box Set-Up

Spindle Box Set-Up

Spindle Box - Completed Acitivity

Spindle Box – Completed Acitivity

Number and Counter Match-Up Puzzle

Available from: Montessori suppliers, Ebay, Amazon

Purposes and advantages:

-Errorless

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

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

Drawbacks:

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

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

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

Number Match-Up

Number Match-Up Puzzle

Number Match-Up, 1-5 and 10

Number Match-Up, 1-5 and 10

Montessori Cards and Counters

Available from: Montessori suppliers, eBay, Amazon

Purposes and advantages:

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

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

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

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

Montessori Hundred Board

Available from: Montessori suppliers, other versions from Amazon

Purposes and advantages:

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

-Low distraction, grid helps guide placement

Semi-Drawback:

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

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

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

Picture/ Number Sequencing Puzzles

Available from: Lakeshore Learning

http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/

Purposes and advantages:

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

1-10

 

monkey

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

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

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

________________________

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

montessori book

Period Two

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

Period Three

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

Period Four

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

 

Adventures with Montessori and Autism: Practical Activities

We are all over the map with Montessori right now. According to the book I am following (1), Beth is in period 4 for Math and writing, and a mixture of period 2, 3, 4 for everything else. At this point it makes the most sense to write about each area of the curriculum (e.g., math, practical, or sensorial) in a post rather than talk about periods. One thing is for sure, trying to put a kid who is all over the developmental map into a typical development program is a challenge! We usually muddle through the lower levels and I push her to master the tasks as well as possible, but sometimes we move on a little prematurely before she dies of boredom and hates the work. I know, really scientific and rigorous, but sometimes you have to use common sense!

In this post, I will summarize our experiences with practical activities (chores, self-care, manners) in periods 2-4. This type of work is on my mind at the moment, due to this article popping up in our autism feeds: https://www.autismspeaks.org/science/science-news/autism-study-associates-self-care-skills-success-adulthood . Hopefully schools will finally realize it is not life skills OR academics. It must be a mixture for our kids.

Here is a summary of Montessori practical from periods 2, 3, 4: 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, pouring water from a jug and funnel, difficult dressing (bows and laces), advanced braiding, tying a tie, simple cooking chores, ironing, making beds,  responsibility for certain daily care of environment, helping and advising younger ones in a group.

As you can see, there are a lot of chores and preparation for later household duties.  Rather than getting wrapped up in the details, I just had Beth help me in useful ways around our house. I can’t tell you the last time I made a bed, polished anything, or ironed, so those are not a priority in our household. Instead of sweeping up saw dust with a small brush, we used her little broom and it was nice to see she can finally do the sweeping motion after years of trying. We completed all dressing frames except tying bows, and I am trying to figure out the best way to teach her how to tie. To maintain dressing skills over the summer, I have Beth do a dressing vest once a week. The one thing on the list that cracks me up is pouring…if I leave Beth alone in the kitchen for 2 seconds she pours obsessively. Yeah, we don’t need to encourage her to do that more, but thanks for the idea! Ha! As for the being silent goal, sitting and being with ones thoughts, blah, blah. Isn’t that the definition of autism? Yeah, ignoring that one too. We work on please, thank you, and greetings every day, so we have that covered. Our brand of “kindness to visitors” is, hey Beth, you must not run away when visitors come, okay?

Here are some snapshots of our brand of practical work:

Laundry time! Just don't eat the soap!

Laundry time! Just don’t eat the soap!

Putting toilet paper away-the hardest part is opening the package due to sensory issues.

Putting toilet paper away-the hardest part is opening the package due to sensory issues (the sound of the plastic and tearing with fingers).

Working on her knees...this took years for her to do. Transitions from sitting to standing, bending, etc make chores challenging.

Working on her knees…this took years for her to do. Transitions from sitting to standing, bending, etc make chores challenging.

Emptying in the dishwasher (we started with silverware, and have added plastics and pans). The hardest part is the noise...she hates clanging pans and silverware. When I work with her I have to keep the sensory issues in mind and work quietly.

Emptying in the dishwasher (she started with silverware sorted into just three compartments [spoons, knives, forks] and recently she has started putting away plastics and pans). The hardest part is the noise…she hates clanging pans and silverware. When I work with her I have to keep the sensory issues in mind and work quietly.

Putting away silverware

Putting away silverware

Working outside is hard due to distractions and her desire to go for a car ride. So we only go for small goals outside.

Working outside is hard due to distractions and her desire to go for a car ride. So we only go for small goals outside.

Encourage her to pour....ha!

Encourage her to pour….ha!

Making toast

Making toast

Look Mom!  I made my own cereal while you were in the shower!  Points for independence. I need to buy more dish rags.

Look Mom! I made my own cereal while you were in the shower! Points for independence, but I need to buy more dish rags.

________________________

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

montessori book

Period Two

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

Period Three

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

Period Four

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

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:

IMG_8693

IMG_8698

IMG_4591

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.

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:

IMG_8492

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:

__________________________________

(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.

________________________________________

(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: Land and Water

When I got to the geography section and saw “land and water” I was pretty sure this lesson would be a hit. Beth loves water. I mean REALLY loves water. I would describe it both as an obsession and a useful interest. It is an obsession when we go to the park (all she wants to do is water play in streams to the exclusion of everything else and it dominates her entire attention) or anywhere we encounter fountains/ponds, etc..  But water is also an interest and a strength. Beth basically taught herself how to swim (a sort of breast stroke, see here…http://wp.me/p2OomI-111) and she is more social with other kids during swimming and some types of water play.

An Overview of Traditional Montessori Land/Water Lessons (My Interpretation)

The book I am following (1) said to just introduce this sand globe in period one and have the child explore the globe independently. Also, high-level geography terminology is introduced in period 1, such as earth (“we live on earth”), land (“land is something that is dry we can stand on”) and water (“water is something fish swim in and boats float on, etc.”).

Sand Globe

Sand Globe

 

And according to the book in period two (1), something called land water trays come after the globe presentation, where the children pour water in trays and learn where the water settles in various land/water presentations.  Many people online also use land/water sand cards to connect the sand globe to a flat surface presentation (a bridge to flat maps).

 

Land/Water Trays

Land/Water Trays

 

Land/Water Sand Cards

Land/Water Sand Cards

Eventually the children go on to name the bodies of water and land formations they explored in the trays and sand cards so they can identify features on a globe (for example, they learn isthmus, straight, gulf, island, peninsula). Also, they eventually do tons of map work, starting from continents, then countries within continents, and finally a map of the states within the U.S. (there is more, but I will stop there for now).

Sample of Land/Water Language Cards (Head over the Montessori Print shop for traditional cards and extensions).

Sample of Land/Water Language Cards (Head over the Montessoriprintshop.com for traditional cards and extensions)

With Beth’s love of water, her direct interest in and experience with certain every day bodies of water (for example, river, stream, ocean, pond, and lake), and because I felt she needed a more concrete approach to relating what she knows to the globe, I customized the lesson. So I am mixing period 1 and period 2 and modifying the land/water forms and terminology in a way that make sense for Beth.  Also, I changed the presentation order, and we explored DIY custom trays and land/water sand cards before exploring the globe (I even changed the globe to be more meaningful to Beth and to tie in better with the custom land/water cards). Why go through all this effort? Because this lesson directly relates to terminology I have been trying to teach Beth for a very long time. I want her to understand all these things she loves….ponds versus lakes versus oceans, rivers versus streams. The sensory approach and the Montessori approach are perfect for teaching her these concepts.

Our Version of Intro to Land/Water with Montessori

1. Sticking with what Beth knows and absolutely needs to know in the real world, what she needs to understand to bridge from direct experience to the globe, and thinking forward to flat map work, I settled on these target terms for land/water:

  • Continent
  • Island
  • Ocean
  • Lake
  • Pond
  • River
  • Stream

2. Custom Land/Water Trays: Many people have done the land/water trays in a DIY way to reduce cost so this was easy, because it is just clay + cheap aluminum or plastic trays + colored water. I used Crayola terra-cotta colored clay and it was messy, but she seemed to get that it was dirt/land. I combined trays to reduce the clay need. For example, we started by making a lake, poured the water off and added more clay, then made a pond. After we were finished, I poured the water off and stored the containers so we could re-use the clay. This was by far the best part of the lesson. Beth absolutely loved it!

Making a Lake

Making a Lake

 

From left to right: Ocean, Island, River

From left to right: Ocean, Island, River

Land/Water Sand Cards: There are many do it yourself options out there, such as gluing sand paper to blue paper. I had some blue paper and adhesive foam board and sand, so I opted for pressing the blue paper onto the sticky foam board for the water and then rubbing the remaining sticky foam board in sand for the land. It worked surprisingly well (sand did not come off much when Beth rubbed it), but I suggest buying a stickier brand of adhesive foam board (Try Just Stick It, because I was not happy with Elmers and there are lots of complaints online about it http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=adhesive%20foam%20board&sprefix=adhesive+foam+boar%2Caps).

IMG_4109[1]

On left pond/lake/ocean, middle river/stream, right island/continent

On left pond/lake/ocean, middle river/stream, right island/continent

Sand Globe: Beth has grandparents on Lake Michigan and she loves long car rides, where I point out every river we drive across. Unfortunately the sand globe (bought on ebay for a reasonable price) does not have the great lakes or a river in the Unites States, so I did my best to add those features with some blue paint:

Our Sand Globe

Our Sand Globe

Land/Water Language Cards (for later use, have not introduced yet): While I was at it I made the matching language cards. Basically printed out some blue background squares in Word, and got creative with sand-colored construction paper and contact paper:

Three Part Language Cards

Three Part Language Cards

Basically I just let Beth do the sand trays and stated the terminology while she was doing the exercise. I had the sand cards next to the trays and later she rubbed the sand cards. When she becomes independent with the trays and sand cards, I will move to the globe,the language cards, highlighting language in natural environments, and real pictures online to supplement.

_______________

(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