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



Aiding Beth at Summer Camp

With kindergarten fast approaching in fall, I started to panic. Other than short 1-hour gym and music classes, Beth hasn’t been in a school-like setting in a long time (the last time was at age 3-4 in a preschool). My friends were posting about summer activities and camps on their Facebook feeds, which got me thinking about camps to get Beth ready for school. Three minutes down the street there is a summer camp and they boasted about outdoor time and their swimming program, which Beth would love. So on impulse I called.

Making the Call

The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hi. My name is Tammy. I have a daughter who is 6 and I think she would love your summer camp. But she has autism and would need support while she is there.

Owner: We have other kids with aids and therapists who come in for sessions. She is more than welcome, but we only have openings in the 3-4 year old group.

Me: Actually, that is about where she is socially, so maybe that is a good place for her. (I am thinking, there are openings left? Now I have to think of a way to convince her it is okay for me to come with Beth. I really should have thought through the details.)

Owner: (Silence)

Me: Um, you actually know us. We started out in your school when she was 2 and you helped identify her autism. Then we took her out of your school after a brief time there due to her anxieties and the need to do intensive therapy at home. Do you remember Beth?

Owner: Yes! How are you guys?

Me: Well, it has been a long road. She didn’t respond very well to the intensive therapy techniques, so we did private therapies and I ended up doing a lot of direct teaching myself.

Owner: Yeah, sometimes it takes a long time to find the right approaches.

Me: Because I work with her a lot myself, we have a unique situation and I am essentially Beth’s aid. I aid her at Little Gym and a Milestones in Music Class and it is going very well. Would you mind if I act as her aid? (Way to work in the precedent.)

Owner: Well….we have never done that before, having a parent act as and aid, but we can certainly give it a try. (What? Really? She actually said yes?)

Me: Okay, yeah, let’s just try it. She went to another preschool at 3-4 with an aid and was not disruptive with support, so I don’t think it will be an issue. But if for whatever reason it is not working out, just let me know and I we will leave with no hard feelings.

So that is how we got into camp with me as her aid.

I am happy that report that the place that once was a source of great pain to me (I wrote about that here: is now a source of happiness. No longer will drive by the school/camp and feel like I am going to cry. But there were a few times in the beginning where I thought I made a terrible mistake.

The Struggle

Beth was quite stressed in the first couple of weeks of camp and it took me awhile to figure out how best to aid her. It didn’t help that we were in her old classroom, which was a source of stress by association for her. I know she remembered the class. She said at one point, “sit on the star!” through her whining. I was in shock. She used to be the star shape back when she was 2, but she was assigned a different shape for camp. The shape tells each kid where to sit, what towel to dry hands with, what cubby to sit on when waiting to go outside, what place mat to use, etc. She remembered her shape and her teacher telling her to sit on her shape 4 years later. I think I said to her, “You are sad now, but it will get better.” To myself I was I was wondering if Beth would make it through her anxiety to enjoy the camp.

Small Steps to Success

Fortunately, she pushed through the stress, and she enjoyed camp after a couple of weeks.  Her favorite parts of camp were play yard time (which was a huge field with swings, natural and man-made play equipment, and live animals behind the fence bordering the play yard), swimming, play-doh, and painting (not surprising-all sensory!). In the classroom she struggled with the free play period the most, because she didn’t understand what to do or where to be.  I eventually figured out she was most comfortable sitting in a chair at a table rather than the floor (I guess the chair grounded her, made her feel safe), and she needed to be kept busy and given lots of rewards to participate. As time went on she expanded her participation in the classroom in small, but significant ways. For example, she learned to do floor puzzles and food kits (the ones that go together like a puzzle) with the other kids, and she will happily play with those toys at home with me now.  I think it was invaluable for her and for me see how other kids play at the 3-4 year old level. I am not sure who learned more, me or Beth!

Pretend food was all the rage in the 3-4 year old classroom. She just stacked the fake food at first, but I guided her to put them together and pretend to eat them with the other kids.

The best part of camp was definitely swimming (it took awhile for me to convince them she could swim and did not need to stay on the shallow end)

For Beth, the best part of camp was definitely swimming

Cruicial Sensory Discoveries

While at camp, we experimented with a lot of fidgets, oral rewards, scented things, etc. The best discoveries were mint chewing gum, scented fidgets/stickers, and icy seltzer water breaks.  The scented bean bags and stickers (shown below) were popular not just with Beth. The whole class was after me for them! How many times did I hear, “Can I smell? Can I have one?” Gum paid a crucial role, allowing her play with play-doh instead of eat it and helping her sit through a 1-hour (!) magic show.

Thank God for gum. Now she can play with play-doh instead of eat it.

Thank God for gum. Now she can play with play-doh instead of eat it.

Small Victories with Socialization

I remember someone saying to me that a good aid will make friends with the other kids, because then the other kids will be drawn to the aid and the aid can steer the kids to interact with the special needs child. So I was silly, fun, listened to everything they said, and gave them my full attention when they talked to me. Then I looked for opportunities to have them interact in small ways with Beth. Each small, but important, interaction victory was key at first (I even bribed her just to stand next to the kids while watching a horse roll in the dirt, that is how small it was at first…just stand and look at something with the other kids and you get mints!).

Eventually I started getting creative (well, as creative as an engineer in a preschool camp can be). For example, Beth liked to climb up on a play structure to look at the trees. I started calling the structure “The Mountain” and told Beth to roar like a lion (something she likes to do). The other kids came along and I gave them some attention, then they asked what she was doing. I said she is playing “Lion on the Mountain” and they joined in.

Beth on "The Mountain" (she loved to go up there and look at the trees, so I encouraged other kids to play "Lion on the Mountain" with her)

Beth on “The Mountain”

A Big, Huge Victory with Socialization

In the latter half of camp, something unexpected happened. A little boy, I will call him Bobby but that is not his real name, started asking to play with Beth. It was hard to get a back and forth going, so I had them share her sensory toys, take a few simple turns, etc. At one point when Beth was struggling and I was trying to be firm with Beth, Bobby, the gentle soul he was, said, “I just want to help her!” Bobby gave her hugs, would swim over to Beth in the pool just to say “Hi” and would say, “I love you Beth” out of the blue. And for the first time ever with any school-like situation, Beth would, in her own way, talk about a kid at home. She would say, “Bobby!” while smiling and laughing. I would ask if she liked him and she would say yes. When I asked if she wanted to go to camp to see Bobby she would smile and say, “Yes!” excitedly. It was a breakthrough for her and it was so wonderful I was there to see the whole progression of how the friendship unfolded.

Final Thoughts on Camp

We went to camp for 6 weeks, 3 days a week. I am really going to miss it, maybe even more than Beth! I slipped a note to a couple of the parents in hopes that we could do a play date (If you are one of those parents and are reading this…call the number on the back of my card!).

I am still nervous about K, because camp was sensory rich and in many ways all the sensory activities helped her cope. They won’t have swimming or outside time in her morning K class (sadly, they don’t go outside much anymore for K at her school). But I did the best I could to prepare Beth by putting her in a classroom and trying to find things Beth could use to cope at K (fidgets, oral aids, etc.). There is nothing left to do but transfer the knowledge and pray and hope.

See, Beth can smile in a classroom

Proof that Beth can smile in a classroom








A Note to Myself 3 Years Ago

Dear Self 3 Years Ago,

You just received Beth’s autism diagnosis and quit work to stay home with her. I know you are depressed and anxious about your little girl’s future. And to be honest, life as you know it will never be the same and things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better. I don’t envy the road you will walk over the next 3 years, but you will come out the other side a better parent and a stronger and more compassionate person. You will let go the “shoulds” and “what ifs” and finally learn what true acceptance means. To help you on this difficult journey and to ease the path a bit, I have a few tips for you below.

You’re Welcome,

Yourself in 3 Years

  1. What Autism is NOT is Very Important. Contrary to what many believe, these things are not part of the autism diagnosis definition, and in many ways they are more important for understanding Beth and how to help her: low tone, dyspraxia, motor planning impairment, ADHD, anxiety, sensory processing disorder, and visual scanning/discrimination impairment. Look these terms up and study them at length. Several therapists will tell you Beth’s “autistic behaviors” must be ignored or controlled through bribery and they will not look deeper to the core issues. Do your homework and don’t accept that there is no reason for behaviors that get in the way of Beth’s functioning. She is trying to tell you something.
  2. Embrace your sensory kid. Careful observation and supportive parenting will take you a very long way with this sensory kid. It is not about a sensory diet, it is about a sensory lifestyle! Beth experiences her world by her senses in a very unique way, and she seeks out and avoids certain senses. It may help to think of her as still in the exploratory developmental phase in many ways. But don’t underestimate her, because her sensory seeking and avoidance will change often and mature with time. It is also hard for her to use all her senses at once and integration will come slowly, but it will come! 

    Eating Snow

    Eating Snow (Take my advice and just give her a spoon, because this will be the dominant snow activity for a long time.)

  3. Just Do Something. You don’t know where to start and you are afraid to fail, but trust me, dive right in and just do something. Once you start, whether it be a new play idea, an educational session, or an outing, you will find your way and there will great value in the ideas that do not work out as you planned. If Beth resists your attempts to interact with her or teach her something, divide the task or goal into smaller concrete steps or go back to a previous developmental step to work on foundations. Don’t be afraid to put an idea or activity on hold and come back to it. This is not failure, it is giving her time to develop on her own path and you time to process the attempt and come up with new ideas. Also, if Beth shows interest in something, don’t be in a rush to move on to the next level. Just enjoy interacting with her where she is for a while and look for signs of readiness before you try to add more complexity or go onto another developmental goal. For the most part, development will come in very small expansions on familiar ideas.
  4. “Well, at least my kid doesn’t…” Take the advice of Bob Newhart and just stop it with these statements, because most likely she will do these things ( She is not doing it now, but she will bite, kick, scream, meltdown, etc. but luckily for you she eventually grows out of it for the most part (for now, never say never, you still have the teenage years coming). The reasons for the aggression included communication delays, boredom, demand was too high for tasks, and extreme fatigue due to sleep issues. Also, she will be a big time stimmer, especially flapping and repetitive vocalizations in interesting voices. The stims will emerge over time and it shock you at first, but you will grow to accept them and learn how to use them. Her different stims will reveal her inner state and give you nonverbal clues to show when she is happy or uncomfortable (for example, sick, in pain, or needs to have a bowel movement). You will also learn how to use stims to motivate her to do non-preferred things and to help her cope in stressful situations.

    Flap Happy Kid

    Flap Happy Kid

  5. Sleeping. Brace yourself and pass the coffee. You will try melatonin with little success. You will try various locations and beds configurations, such as sleeping on the couch from ages 3-4, in a pack and play and a bed tent at 4, and finally sleeping in a large bed in the middle with several pillows surrounding her to prevent her from hitting walls when she flails her arms in her sleep. Foam board on her bedroom window to block out light and sound and the right noise maker helps. Exercise helps. But the biggest help is time. She will start sleeping much better at 5.
  6. Move It! She will have enormous difficulty moving from point A to B and moving her body. This issue is core, so it must be worked on every day. Music and imitation will be a huge help for her motor planning development. Also, hide her favorite mouthing items (edible toothpaste, floss) in various locations of the house and work from staring at the item a foot away to hiding it in separate rooms and using more and more complex hints. Any movement should be cherished, so welcome large therapy balls into your home, and encourage “traditionally forbidden activities” such as climbing on furniture and  jumping on the couch/bed.

    Yes, you be estatic when you find her hanging onto spindles while standing on the bac of the couch.

    Yes, you be ecstatic when you find her hanging onto spindles while standing on the back of the couch.

  7. Potty Training. Get out the Clorox wipes, because this is going to be a long, messy haul! Even now she struggles with understanding her potty signs and usually runs to the toilet only after the urge is dire. You made a lot of progress in tiny steps (first pee and poop on the little potty in front of the TV, then pee in the toilet but poop on the little potty in front of the TV, then you discovered she relaxes with certain visual stim like the iPad and marble run and used that to relax her before darting off to the big toilet for BMs, and now we are still working on requesting to go potty in public places). Through elimination diet you will learn she is sensitive to soy, almond milk and has lactose intolerance, and elimination or reduction of these foods will make BMs more comfortable for her and reduce the number from 4-5 to 1-2 a day.
  8. Respect the Physical Issues Behind the “Behavior.” Your biggest regret will be that you didn’t have PT and OT come watch the behavioral therapists while they worked with her and while she was at preschool. She can’t sit on the floor and in certain chairs because of low tone, so get her a fully supported chair, give her breaks, and let her stand at a table to work until she is ready to sit. She can’t pay attention to work presented to her because of visual scanning issues, so reduce clutter, use slant boards and recipe book holders, and encourage her to look across the whole field by sweeping across or circling the region she needs to attend to with your hand. She has tremendous difficulty with all motor planning, so reduce or eliminate these barriers, even going so far as to rest her hand on the table in front of a picture when you want her to point because it takes so much effort to raise her arm and then move forward. Because of physical issues, attending to tasks will take enormous effort, so short sessions are a must (at age 5 she is doing 12 minute sessions and uses a visual timer).

    This is where you are headed - distraction free work area, smooth backed chair with full support and foam tape on the floor to prevent chair from slipping, table at a good working height.

    Future work space: distraction free work area, stands for ipads and books to help her read more easily, smooth backed chair with full support and foam tape on the floor to prevent chair from slipping, table at a good working height.

  9. Developmental Trackers Like the VB-Mapp ( are Just Tools, They are NOT… a replacement for common sense, critical thinking, and good teaching. Because of the VB-Mapp, there is a time limit on how long the therapists will give your child to answer questions due to the core belief by behaviorists that taking a long time to answer is a behavioral issue. They will cut off your child’s thinking and feed her answers using errorless teaching, which she will grow to hate because she has slow processing and motor planning issues. You will argue that your child just needs more time, but you will compromise how long to wait, which will be a big regret. The therapists will want to work on all deficits, but use her strengths (naming colors, letters, numbers) or she will lose the skills and her confidence. The VB-Mapp advises that “barriers to learning” are mostly behavioral, which is wrong. Beth needs support due to all the physical challenges stated in number 8 above and it is the reason behind many behavioral “issues.”  Do not let the therapists use the same language with Beth over and over, because she has trouble with motor planning, so when she finally learns a language pattern it has a tendency to get stuck. Be very wary of the goals in the VB-Mapp that have “or” in them, because it will be the cause of missing core issues, such Beth’s face blindness. Also, read the details in the secondary skills tracking list even if it is not required because Beth meets the milestone on the primary list.  Otherwise, things like teaching yes/no will be missed. Fight for putting yes/no on the IEP even if the other therapists do not want to because it will “lead to less words.”  Yes/no is empowering for your child and any language that is empowering must be taught first. There are many other issues you will have with the VB-Mapp, so be wary!
  10. Play Will Come Slowly and Will Be Unique. For the love of God, DO NOT GIVE AWAY HER FAVORITE BABY TOYS AND “STIM” TOYS! She has an emotional attachment to certain toys and she will ask for them when she finally has the words and you will end up buying replacement toys. Let her dump things and set out invitations to play on tables, because it is the only way she can find things with her motor planning issues. Play games where she searches for her favorite edibles among the toys so that she can find where her toys are located. Practice taking toys out and skip clean up until she can manage it. Eventually when some of her sound and spinning stims calm down, you will be able to use them to expand her play. Before she can play, she needs to be able to use her hands. Using her hands is difficult, so incorporate hand use into her favorite activities, like using tools while cooking, squeezing colored seltzer water from condiment bottles into other containers on the light table, opening up containers to get her favorite foods and drinks, flushing toilets to watch the spin, and using a gum ball machine with a twisty ramp dispenser to watch the gum ball spin down. Interactive play will start at 5 with activities like ball play, balloon play, interacting on trampolines, singing songs, and marching while playing instruments, but everything you do with her up until that point is a foundation for future play.
    Turning the (Very Tough) Handle on the Gumball Machine

    Psst! She is motivated by the gum ball spinning down the twisty slide!  Use her spin stims to motivate her!

    Take note when she says "big bubbles" when you blow bubbles for her. She means it, and it is a huge opportunity for expansion of play!

    Take note when she says “big bubbles” while you blow bubbles for her. She means it, and it is literally a huge opportunity for expansion of play!

  11. Dressing. Dressing herself will come very slowly. Start with the things that are easiest for her, then move on. Independent dressing will unfold like this (from what will be mastered first to last): 1. taking everything off, 2. pants on, 3. socks on, 4. underwear on, 5. coat on, 6. shirt on, 7. shoes on (depending on the shoes, some are easier than others). The order is dictated by her motor planning, low tone, and body awareness, which impacts her coordination, balance, and ability to support herself while dressing. Teach her to find the support she needs while dressing (for example, leaning against a wall to put on underwear or sitting on the couch to put on socks).
  12. Find Your Peeps. Your peeps will be found on outings, at special needs music classes, and at special needs events you set up through meetups and closed FB groups. Online support will come from blogging, your Fumbling Thru Autism Facebook page, and the pages of special needs parents with a positive outlook. The most insight about your child will come from people who have autism and blog and/or write about their experiences (Judy Endow, Stephen Shore, Temple Grandin, John Elder Robinson, Daniel Tammet, just to name a few).
  13. Believe in Yourself. You will not believe me when I tell you this, but Beth will hit age 4 and you will decide that whatever many of the therapists are doing with your child is not working out, so you want to try some things on your own. You will decide to homeschool her for preschool at age 4 and Kindergarten. Several people will think you are nuts. But there is nothing wrong with letting your child learn to navigate the world, use her body, integrate her senses, gain more language to express needs, and cope better before she is expected to succeed in academics in a classroom setting. Isn’t that what we do for many young children and why should that be different for the child with delays and uneven development?

    Making letter A bread. Homeschooling is not as scary or crazy as it seems Mom, so relax!

    Making letter A bread. Homeschooling is not as scary or crazy as it seems Mom, so relax!

  14. Forgive yourself. You will get impatient, frustrated, raise your voice, miss cues, expect too much, expect too little, miss things, try things that don’t work for too long, etc. That is life. Forgive yourself, say sorry to your kid, and move on. You guys have work to do and a life to enjoy.

Homeschooling on the Spectrum, Post #5: Ladybugs and Bees

“1, 2, 3…4, 5, 6…7, 8, 9….10, 11, 12 Ladybugs came, to the ladybug picnic!” I introduced Beth to Ladybugs’ Picnic one day while reliving my 70s TV childhood via classic Sesame Street videos on YouTube. It was love at first viewing for Beth.

Since Beth has trouble slowing down to count while pointing or placing items, I thought an activity based on the Ladybugs’ Picnic video would be a fun way to work on counting. One idea lead to another and eventually we had a whole ladybugs and bees (with some other bugs thrown in) lesson.

Ladybug (and Bee) Math

Ladybugs’ Picnic Activities

I turned the 12 ladybugs in Ladybugs’ Picnic into a hands-on math activity. We made egg carton ladybugs, which was a fun and easy craft project ( and Then we used our bugs for sequencing and counting. If she lost interest during the math activity, I just sang the Ladybugs’ Picnic song and she regained her focus immediately.

Egg Carton Painted Red for 12 Ladybugs

Egg Carton Painted Red for 12 Ladybugs


Self-Stick Foam Spots and Self-Stick Wiggle Eyes (This one had an eye issue)

12 Ladybugs Made From an Egg Carton

12 Ladybugs Made From an Egg Carton

Ladybug Sequencing Activity

Ladybug Sequencing Activity

Ladybug Symmetry and Counting Activities

Google “ladybug math” and prepare to find tons of activities.  I chose the symmetry and leaf counting ideas from I found the black stones for the symmetry activity and painted wooden ladybugs for the counting activity at A.C. Moore craft store (you can check Etsy and Amazon for similar items). Note that putting wooden ladybugs in a bowl as shown in the picture below didn’t work out.  I had to hand Beth individual wooden ladybugs during the counting process (otherwise she just threw a bunch on the leaves and counted fast to a favorite number, which is usually 5 or 10).

Lady Bug Symmetry

Ladybug Symmetry Activity

Wooden Ladybug Counting

Wooden Ladybug Counting Activity

Bee Counting Activity

At this point, I decided to that we should study bees with our ladybugs.  Beth sometimes confuses where they live (hive), what they eat (flowers), and what they make (honey). Also, it is important to vary activities as much as possible, because Beth tends to get stuck on doing things one way.  So, I printed some hives off of Google Image (type in “bee hive printable” in Google Images) and bought some wooden bees at a local A.C. Moore craft store (you can check Etsy and Amazon for similar bees), and we did bee counting.

Bee and Hive Counting

Bee Counting Activity

An Introduction to Bees with Videos and a Collage

I backed up a bit after the bee counting and gave her a bee overview, starting with videos of bees. There are many videos about bees on Youtube. For example, this is a wonderful video showing bees making a hive:

Next I printed off several bee-related images from Google Images and we cut/paste a collage as an overall introduction to bees.


Bee Collage

Side-by-Side Ladybug and Bee Drawings

The Oak Meadow program showed me the value of drawing with Beth. We did simple ladybug and bee drawings together, where I drew on the right-hand side of a spiral sketch book and she drew on the left-hand side. Despite Beth’s attention and fine motor challenges, she was able to pay attention to this task because she is attracted to the movement of my hand as I draw. We first practiced on a roll of paper on our work table, and you can see the practice drawings in our ladybug sequence picture above (  I used no hand-over-hand, just demonstration, simple instructions, and pointing (draw a big circle, draw little circles inside, color in circles, draw a head, draw legs, draw wings like this (I demonstrate, then point on her drawing), draw an oval, etc).  The results are astonishing.  And it makes me think, why do we skip the step of drawing before writing with many special needs kids? Kids normally draw before writing, so in my mind it makes sense to do guided drawing before writing. Therefore, we will be doing mostly drawing, and some beginning letter writing, as we start this Kindergarten year.

Side-by-Side Ladybug Drawing

Side-by-Side Ladybug Drawing

Side-by-Side Bee Drawing

Side-by-Side Bee Drawing

Ladybug and Bee River Rock Painting

Beth is obsessed with walking on river rocks lately. It may be the sound the rocks make as she walks on them and they move against each other. It may also be an emotional connection to a past experience with river rocks, although I am unable to figure out the connection. Whatever the reason, they are a passion of hers and I decided that a popular kids craft, river rock painting, would be a nice addition to our ladybugs and bees lesson.

Walking on River Rocks

Beth Walking on River Rocks

To paint river rocks, I used river rocks form a craft store (I didn’t have ready access to some when I needed them), acrylic paint, and a clear acrylic sealer. Note that the craft store rocks seemed shined and we had problems with pealing after we were done.  Therefore I suggest using natural clean, dry, and rough river rocks, or you will need to do a surface priming on the craft store river rocks.

The trick was to help Beth slow down and create the likeness of the ladybugs and bees, since her tendency is to paint the entire surface. I used a few masking techniques  (with my hand or painter’s tape) and for the spots and wings a trimmed sponge brush and sponge worked best.  We practiced dabbing spots, making stripes, and sponging wings on paper before we dabbed on the rocks, and during the paper practice I taught her the language (dab, go down, one time, make spots, etc.).


Ladybug Rocks (first coat red already dry, ready to paint black head and dots)

Beth Paints Ladybug Heads (my hand is used as a mask for the rest of the rock)

Beth Paints Ladybug Heads (my hand is used as a mask for the rest of the rock)


Sponge Brushes (trim to a nub to use for ladybug spots and eyes)

Bee Rocks (painters tape used to mask when black is painted...let dry and pull off tape before making yellow stripes)

Bee Rocks (painters tape used to mask when black is painted…let dry and pull off tape before making yellow stripes)

Sponging Wings on Bee Rocks

Sponging Wings on Bee Rocks

Final Painted Ladybug and Bee River Rocks

Final Painted Ladybug and Bee River Rocks

Adventures with Ladybug Land

There were plenty of bees on flowers that I could show Beth this summer, but I tried in vain to find ladybugs. My solution was Ladybug Land. I dumped the larvae into their new home when they arrived.  As soon as I walked away, Beth had disassembled Ladybug Land and was washing it out in the sink. Most of them drowned, but I was able to rescue 4 from the bathroom floor and they made it from larvae, to yellow bugs, to mature red ladybugs. She was mildly amused as I let them crawl on her.  We will try it again next Spring, in addition to painting non-peeling river rocks for our garden!


Big Bugs at Morris Arboretum

As luck would have it, our local arboretum was having a giant bug sculpture display throughout their gardens.  One of the bugs was a ladybug, and the other sculptures were a great way to teach Beth about the overall bug category. The bug exhibit made me realize the value of incorporating the temporary exhibits at local gardens and museums into our lessons. She learns best by total immersion in a topic, and by syncing the exhibit content with our lessons it would prepare her for coping and understanding her environment better during the outing.

Ladybug Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Ladybug Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Grasshopper Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Grasshopper Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Spider Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Spider Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Other Ladybug and Bee Activities

Throughout the 1.5 weeks we studied ladybugs and bees (and other bugs), I wove in other books and activities, such as these.

Favorite Books:

Ten Little Ladybugs (

Ladybug, First Discovery (

Ladybug Girl (

The Honey Makers (

Bee and Me (

Itsy Bitsy Spider (

Honey Bee Tree Game:

Honey Bee Tree Game

Honey Bee Tree Game

Bug Magnet Scene and Puzzle:



Homeschooling on the Spectrum, Post #4: The Sunflower Lesson

Beth hates libraries. It could be the lighting, the rows of books that aren’t perfectly placed, the large windows that show her the outside world she would rather be in, past negative experiences with story times, or many other things.  Unfortunately, her hatred of libraries is a bit of an issue since we homeschool and need a lot of books. To combat her library opposition, I launched “Operation Library.” Our mission was to get in, look at books very quickly, pick up a book or two, get out, and, over repeated visits, figure out strategies to help Beth tolerate library visits. During one library tolerance mission, Beth was not doing well, so I grabbed a couple of random books off shelves and escaped the situation as quickly as possible. And in a wonderful stroke of luck, one book I grabbed led to this lesson on sunflowers.

Camille and the Sunflowers

Camille and the Sunflowers ( is one of a series of art-inspired children’s books by author Laurence Anholt ( .  In Camille and the Sunflowers, the author weaved together a story based on Van Gogh’s paintings of The Roulin Family (, one of which was a painting of a little boy Camille, and Van Gogh’s paintings of sunflowers ( I had to boil the story down a bit for Beth because the book was meant for a higher grade level, but it kept her attention because she was attracted to the colorful illustrations and beautiful copies of Van Gogh’s paintings. By chance we have one of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings near us at the Philadelphia Art Museum.  It was the same museum where I attended a fabulous temporary exhibit in 2001 called Van Gogh: Face to Face (, where I was lucky enough to see all the paintings mentioned in the book first hand. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to teach Beth about about art in a hands on way as preparation for an eventual museum visit? And that thought lead to our first experience in art appreciation (and much more) through a study of sunflowers.

Camille and the Sunflowers

Camille and the Sunflowers

The Hunt for Sunflowers

In an attempt to find sunflowers to study, we visited our local organic farm, Longview Farm and Market (  It is a wonderful organic farm with pick your own flowers, herbs, and fruit.  There is a store full of healthy foods and goods, animals to visit, and a variety of community activities that are offered on the farm throughout the year.

With Beth’s scissors in hand so she could practice her cutting skills on flowers, we made our way to the pick-your-own flower and herb garden.  The sunflowers were mostly dead because we visited so late in the season, but it gave me the opportunity to show Beth the seeds of the sunflower and have her a remove a few. Removing sunflower seeds was a great pincer grasp activity and seeing the seeds triggered another idea for the lesson, growing sunflowers from seeds (more on that later in the post).



Although the sunflowers were dead, there were plenty of other beautiful flowers.  Beth loved to smell and cut the flowers, and liked looking at the bees in the garden.

In the flower and herb garden area, there was a nice sized chicken coup with chickens of all shapes, sizes, and colors.  Beth learned that chickens scratch and peck to find food.  She also learned that their “cluck” or “bok bok” is too loud and sudden for her taste.  Moving on…

Longview Market and Farm has a wonderful natural-looking sand “box” with long-handled rakes, shovels, and hoes. What a fantastic idea! Since Beth hates sitting on the ground to play with sand, this was the perfect set up for her. She liked raking to make lines and pressing lines in the sand with the back of the rake.


We made our way to the market. Beth is enamored with our bathroom scale.  She loves to “look at the O” as she calls it. Which means she hops on our scale repeatedly and watches the dial move and eventually land back on zero. So she was definitely happy to find this large scale outside the farm store.


And inside the store we found sunflowers!  So we picked up a bundle for a gift and for our studies and stood in line to check out, which is generally a challenge for Beth.  But not to worry….


The store has apple cider slushies and cookies (including gluten-free and organic varieties) to help Beth wait in line.


We arranged the flowers in a vase to give to a friend as a housewarming gift, and we kept one sunflower so we could study it.


Sunflower Art

We first made drawings of sunflowers. For some reason, although it is well-known that drawing precedes writing letters (, most milestones charts I have seen for young children with developmental delays only lists drawing circles and lines as goals. Beth has been stuck drawing lines and circles for years and I did not know how to help her move on. The answer for us was to do side-by-side drawings, where I draw my representation of an object (in this case the sunflower) on one side and she draws hers on the other. I do some guiding by demonstrating while I draw my picture, pointing to areas on her page, moving my finger above her page to demonstrate strokes while I use language I know she understands (go around the circle, color the circle, go down, etc.). But Beth’s drawing involved no hand-over-hand and often she was making her own decisions and making purposeful strokes of her own creation. I plan to back off more and more in the guiding over time.


Next we made sunflower paintings like Van Gogh’s in the Camille and the Sunflowers book.  I wanted Beth to control the brush on her own, but without some guidance she would just paint the entire canvas one color.  I decided to use a two-step process, using a template for the circles and then filling in the other details after the circles dried.  We used cans to makes the circles, and I cut both ends of the cans with a can opener (I used this one which does not leave sharp edges  For each circle she made, I asked Beth if she wanted a small, medium, or large can.  When she answered, I gave her the can and she placed the can on the canvas.  I held it in place as she painted the canvas inside the can. This was a great hands-on way to work on the concept of small, medium, and large.




After the circles dried, I had Beth add yellow and orange petals around the circles.  It quickly became clear that dabbing paint or making small brush strokes around the circles was something new and challenging to her, so we practiced dabbing on a separate piece of paper and then returned to finish the paintings. Then I directed her to add the green stems by pointing where to start and instructing her to go “down” with her stroke. The paintings came out remarkably well!



Planting Sunflowers

It was late in the season to plant sunflowers, so I went to a high-end nursery and they had some seeds left (Lowes and many other stores were out of seeds). If you want to plant in a container, make sure to get the smaller sized sunflowers (there are several kinds, we planted the Teddy Bear variety).  My goal was to get something to sprout to show Beth the seed to sprout process.  If we get a sunflower eventually it will be an added bonus!

I had an unused plastic container, so we made holes in the bottom with a drill so that water could drain from the bottom. Beth is usually terrified of drills, so it was a big surprise that she came over to me while I was drilling and wanted to try it.


Next we added the soil and Beth liked ripping the tops off of the bags and scooping the dirt into the container.



But soon she realized it would take a long time to transfer all the dirt, so she started lifting the bag. It was not easy, but she persisted and was able to manipulate the heavy bag and dump its contents, as shown in the picture and video below.


Next we planted the seeds per the directions on the packet. We counted the seeds as we planted.  We covered the seeds, she watered them, then she helped me sweep some. I was shocked at how much she participated and how much she enjoyed it. We had tried gardening the last 2 seasons and we made little progress, but this year it was a success.  Then we watered and waited for a sprout.




From Seed to Sprout Activities

Four days later we saw a sunflower sprout! I remembered a poem from the book Read Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young (, and I read it to her as we looked at her new little sprout.IMG_4982


To reinforce the idea of growing a flower, we read From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons ( and did a sequencing cut-paste-color activity (

Sequencing Activity

A Nice Beginning

The sunflower lesson, which I consider our first lesson plan for Kindergarten, really resonated with Beth and it felt effortless and fun. Somehow it just all fell into place and we were able to incorporate nearly all subjects during the process. The successful lesson gives me confidence that we are heading in the right direction in our approach to homeschooling. And what is that approach? I basically teach Beth like I would any other kid, with some minor tweaks to help guide and hold her attention.

Homeschooling on the Spectrum, Post #3: The Cooking Lesson

In a previous post (, I wrote about the book Language Lessons for Little Ones, Volume 1 by Sandi Queen ( In the book, we were instructed to do a picture study and discuss this copy of a painting:

William Bouguereau, Le Gouter

William Bouguereau, “Le Gouter”

Here is an excerpt of our discussion of the above picture (we also discussed what she was wearing, if the girl had long or short hair, boy vs. girl, what she saw behind the girl, pulled out a globe and found France, etc.):

Me: “What is the little girl holding?”

Beth: “A Bowl”

Me: I decided to roll with it, since she was having trouble getting the words out at the time, and I didn’t want to discourage her. A bowl it was. “What is in the bowl?”

Beth: Silence

Me: “Well, she has a spoon in the bowl.  Hmmm…What do you think she poured into the bowl?”

Beth: “Flour!”

Me: “What will the girl cook? Vegetables?”

Beth: Silence

Me: “What do you think she will cook in the oven?”

Beth: “Cookies!”

Beth’s answers are consistent with her experiences. Starting from when Beth was around 2.5 years old, she would insist “Want Flour! Want Flour!” and we would give her a bowl of flour to play with on the floor of the kitchen.  It was a freaking mess, but it was like an edible sand to her.  And since she ate sand, it was a good alternative for that type of sensory play. Now, at 5 years old, Beth has progressed to only using flour during cooking, but she still takes swipes and eats some. When we cook with flour, the thing we bake most often is cookies.

Maisy Makes Gingerbread

Cooking is wonderful natural occupational therapy, and we have been doing it for years. I want to expand off the picture study with a cooking experience, so I go to the pantry and find some Betty Crocker Gingerbread Cake and Cookie Mix. Then I remember one of Beth’s favorite Maisy the mouse books, Maisy Makes Gingerbread ( And soon we are on our way to a whole day lesson in baking and working together in the kitchen.

Maisy Makes Gingerbread

Maisy Makes Gingerbread

Maisy Makes Gingerbread is a great process-oriented book for young children.  Maisy is shown in her kitchen getting ready to cook, getting out the ingredients, mixing, cutting the cookies out, putting them in the oven, cleaning up, and, finally, eating them with friends. We read the book together and start to make the gingerbread cookies.

First Beth cuts open the bag of mix (I hold it for her), helps me measure and add the ingredients (just the mix, water, and butter), and she helps me stir it all up to make the dough.

Mixing the Gingerbread Dough

Mixing the Gingerbread Dough, Contemplating When to Stuff the Dough in Her Mouth

Next, we coat the dough with flour (Beth takes a few swipes) and roll it out.  This was the first time Beth did a majority of the rolling on her own. We just roll directly on a clean counter and we usually make a hug mess that I ignore until the end. What is important is to keep the process flow going so that Beth can connect the pieces of the process together.

Rolling the Gingerbread Dough

Rolling With It

Now it is time for cutting little gingerbread men. It is at this point that Beth can’t help herself, and eats some of the dough. The good thing about the Betty Crocker Cake and Cookie Mix recipe is it has no eggs, so sampling is not a worry. It has taken her years, but now Beth can push the cookie cutter in the dough, wiggle to loosen the dough from the surface, pull the cutter up, and poke the dough out of the cookie cutter. Transferring the cookies onto the cookie sheet is still a big challenge, but we will get there.

Cookie Cutter Pressing

Push, Wiggle, Up, Poke

The finished product (frost if desired):

Some Heads and Limbs Were Lost Due to Beth's Sampling of the Dough

A Lot of Missing Heads and Limbs, But That’s Okay!

Although Beth likes the dough, the cookies are not as appealing. So, she just has frosting instead, which is a favorite treat of hers (we call it a cupcake without the frosting):

Forget the Cookies, I Just Want Frosting!

Forget the Cookies, I Just Want Frosting!

Maisy Makes Lemonade

As Beth is downing her frosting, I start thinking about other Maisy books that are processed-oriented, such as Maisy Makes Lemonade (  I thought it would be a great drink to make on the hot summer day, and a good way to wash down the cookies (or frosting).

Maisy Makes Lemonade

Maisy Makes Lemonade

Like Maisy Makes Gingerbread, Maisy Makes Lemonade is a great process-oriented book. Maisy is shown being hot in summer, drinking all her lemonade and needed more, getting lemons from a tree, squeezing them with a friend, adding the other ingredients, and then drinking it with a friend.

I grab a recipe off the web ( and we head to the store to pick up organic lemons and a cheap hand juicer ( Shopping is a lesson in and of itself, and we have had a long history with it (  I am happy to report she is now doing outstanding in stores and no longer needs the vest, lots of edibles, or an electronic grocery list.  She seems to love shopping now!

We read Maisy Makes Lemonade and set up to make our own:

On No, What are We Doing Now?

On No, What are We Doing Now?

Beth helps with the measuring and pouring, and samples the sugar and lemons.

Beth Eats Many Unusual Things, Including Lemons

Licking Lemons (Yes, the Inside of the Lemon)

The juicer is hard for her to use on her own, but we will work up to that.

Time to clean up the huge mess in the kitchen. I would have read Maisy Cleans Up ( before we clean together, but it didn’t quite fit our kind of cleaning since it mentions using a vacuum (which terrifies Beth), mopping the floor (which I try to avoid whenever possible), and washing windows (which would be pointless, since all the double pane windows in our condo have broken seals and an opaque film between them, plus we have Beth’s bedroom window covered with foam insulation to block out street noise and light).

The Gaudi Bird House

Beth loves bird houses.  I have no idea why, but she notices them immediately in various stores and farms we visit, and she even comments “bird house” when she sees one. It is very rare for her to comment on anything, so that is quite remarkable.  I decided we should paint a bird house as a preschool art project since she seems to like them so much. I wasn’t sure if she would end up painting her hands or arms, as she usually does because she likes the sensation of paint and brushing on her skin, instead of the bird house. But I thought it was worth a shot. To my great surprise, she loved painting the bird house.

I let Beth chose the color of the paint (washable tempera), and of course she chose her beloved blue. She carefully covered the entire birdhouse. After we let it dry, I decided she should paint the bird house several times (letting it dry in between coats) since she enjoyed the process so much. I wanted to see if she would paint colors other than blue.  I was surprised again that she has expanded her acceptance of colors to those other than blue. Coat number 2 was orange, coats number 3 and 4 were purple, and coats number 5 and 6 were yellow.

Pictured below is the purple coat of paint. I gave her a bottle cap glued to a sponge to apply the paint, because if she held the bottle cap portion it kept the paint off her hands long enough to apply a coat of paint to the bird house (when she gets paint on her hands, she loves the feeling so much she only focuses on the paint on her hands and forgets about the painting project).


Unfortunately she ripped the bottle caps off the sponges, because she felt they didn’t belong there (they belong on bottles of course !).  So we used a brush for later coats. Luckily, since she really enjoyed painting the bird house, she applied a coat to the whole house with the brush before she would start brushing the paint on her hands. Here is a picture of a yellow coat on the bird house:


I joked on my Facebook page that with all the layers of paint it looked like a Gaudi bird house (for more on the artist Gaudi, click here I have been lucky enough to travel to the beautiful country of Spain and have seen Gaudi’s works. I love how he combines nature with modern art. My favorite Gaudi work is the Park Guell, with its intricate mosaic benches:

Inspired by Gaudi, we took the project to the next level and added mosaic nature tiles to the bird house (we used Elmer’s glue to adhere tiles from A.C. Moore to the bird house…the tiles were similar to these on Amazon I had Beth brush glue on to the back of the tiles and then press them on as shown here (she had a little help from my mom, who held the tiles a little longer if they started sliding after Beth placed them):



I had to keep her moving quickly through the project, because she loves to taste the glue and stick her hands together with the glue. But Beth really seemed to enjoy the process of putting the tiles on and I discovered her glue preoccupation has calmed a lot compared to a year ago. Also, she held the tiles with three fingers and then used her thumb to press the tiles on to the bird house. This is a fine motor movement I have never seen her do before.

So, here is our finished Gaudi bird house. It is hanging under Beth’s favorite tree and waiting for its new inhabitants!