Before I begin, let me begin by saying this is an account from my experience in my 1:1 ABA session with my 4 year old student. With over 10 years of Montessori under my belt my fun on this journey has been making the connections between ABA and Montessori. You’ll be reading my epiphany as this was one of those days where the connections were made between both worlds.

Have you ever had a day where you had to personally dig deep to find your patience? This was one of those days where I had to take deep breaths and do my very best to center myself (and coffee wasn’t helping). Thankfully the lil one I had the pleasure of working with had the ability to give 1 word mand (request). When children are able to tell me what they want to work for, I’m able to focus on quick concise rapid responses versus trying to figure out what motivates them, thus eliminating one less puzzle piece/mystery  to solve.

With that being said, the lil guy turned to me and said, “bone-in!” I was quite perplexed and after he leaned toward my bin of reinforcers and repeated “bone-in.” I realized he wanted my ‘balloon’ with the pump attached. With this understanding I proceeded to have him work for the balloon. During this time, his lil fingers kept reaching for the pump placed directly ahead of him and furthermore, it prevented him from focusing what I needed him to attend to. Picture in your mind an impulsive lil one with fidgety fingers and ants in their pants. What is a girl to do to get accurate responses while prevent a tantrum from occurring? Moreover, what is a girl to do to not lose her mind? I put the balloon and pump at the end of the table. When he responded and gave me a correct answer, I moved the reinforcer closer to him to indicate that he was getting closer to receiving his reinforcer. One could say this was a physical, visual token economy indicated by proximity so to speak.  Well, this was easier said than done. I had to block him from reaching and I had to repeat “hands-down.” After what seemed to be the longest 2 minutes ever, by the 6th question with answer (this is called Stimulus Response…another topic we will discuss in the future), he completed the tact program and appeared to have finally understood the concept of quiet hands. It appeared that he felt assured and understood that his access to the reinforcer was going to be given when he realized that the proximity to his “reward” was getting closer. His responses were accurate and it was obvious to me that a level of calm was occurring when he understood the reinforcement conditions.

To extend this calmness, at the end of the program I thought I’d experiment by pumping the balloon and leaving it at the end of the table for him to watch. Was I pushing the duration of calm and quiet? Absolutely. The outcome….


Yes, I counted because I couldn’t believe my eyes. As I watched with intrigue and surprise, his quiet body reminded me of the reaction of my prior Montessori experience with students during the Silence Game. I begin to think about the implications and how while lighting a candle is not necessarily understood in public school settings, certainly a balloon and pump would be better received. Second, I thought about the numerous benefits for learning and how I have used it to reinforce responding that is worthy of sharing.  I’ll go into this in just a few… first, here’s some background knowledge on the Silence Game.

What is the Silence Game?

The following comes from The passage was so well written and a favorite that I included it here:

Dr. Montessori describes in The Secret of Childhood how she discovered the ability of the child to make silence, and to delight in the releasing of spirit. She brought a four month old sleeping baby into the classroom and asked the children to observe how very quiet she was. They couldn’t even hear her delicate breathing. Dr. Montessori challenged the children to become as quiet as the baby. Willingly, the children obliged. Soon they were aware of drops of water falling outside in the courtyard, and of the song of a bird in a distant tree. The children each silenced their own movements and produced a collective quiet that was for them a profoundly spiritual experience.

This meditative quiet creates a fourth state of consciousness. It is a liberation. Montessori thought of the silence lesson as a means for bringing children to this level of spiritual awareness. True meditation takes over the whole man, because it places him before Eternal Truth. It calls upon the faculties of intellect, affection and emotion. This experience of willingly and consciously sublimating oneself to the group will release within the children a deeper knowledge of their own capacities.

The Silence Lesson is a group lesson. In regard to the group, it is respect for others. It can be prepared for by many small exercises in listening. Through these exercises children can learn that silence is the cessation of every movement. To achieve silence requires effort and the attention of the will, and maximum control of self-the inhibition of every movement. This silence of movement suspends normal life, and raises the person to another level-conquest of self.

The Silence Lesson should never be played to calm chaos or disorder. Children who might be a disturbing influence can be sent into the garden or another room to do something special.

There are many ways of inviting the children to silence. The teacher can whisper the word “Silence” very softly or turn over a prepared sign that says “Silence” in very beautiful lettering. At first just a few children are aware of the spreading quiet, but soon all the children are quieting their movements and making the collective quiet.

After two or three minutes, when all are silent, the teacher can begin to whisper the children’s names from back of the classroom or from just inside the door to another room or the garden. The children may tiptoe quietly to the teacher as their name is whispered. The teacher should call those children first who are least able to remain silent, although you can stretch their capacity for silence by beginning to call them second or third rather than first. Everyone must be called.

After the children have been introduced to the lesson, they may also choose to turn over the sign from time to time when they wish to achieve this spiritual peace.


When children participate in this game they’re practicing how to make silence. The fun in making silence are the wonderful outcomes of developing self-discipline, inner peace, self control, awareness of self and an awareness of others. Was my lil one accidentally learning this as well? Yes, in a round about manner!

For more information and a lesson write up with additional ways to practice silence see:

How else can a balloon pump be used particularly in ABA sessions/or one on one learning time?

The balloon and pump is my favorite reinforcer. I’m able to do a variety of things! First and foremost for those kiddos that prefer auditory stimulation and cause and effect, this toy works wonders as it provides both. Second, I can either deliver a reinforcement at every response or intermittently by pumping air into the balloon.

If the child is working on rote counting, I’ll randomly grab my handy dandy balloon and pump and pump away at every number emitted in numerical order.

Another strategy is to have the child work for a specific number of reinforcements and then provide the reinforcer in this case, the balloon and pump.

Providing reinforcement is called a reinforcement schedule. Contrary to Montessori where the child learns to become self directed and self motivated, in environments where the child is ‘learning’ to learn or needs assistance in developing motivation, reinforcers such as edibles, toys, and iPad are used. Ideally, you want activities to be your reinforcer. In some schools where children are not normalized, a teacher might use the dangle the carrot method, meaning do this first before the activity of choice. Many will argue, this isn’t Montessori however when a child may not yet have the ability to focus and attend, gentle direction and guidance must be given. For those in ABA world, the use ‘dangle the carrot’ method stems from the Premack Principle.

Other ideas on how to practice silence in a small group:

The Exercise of Silence is a fabulous hands-on activity for active and impulsive lil ones. Rather than yell, criticize or shame the child we can be help them be active learners by having them participate in games that help them understand the benefits, thus having take ownership in developing their own inner discipline. Learning occurs best when you involve children. We must involve our lil’ ones so that the understanding becomes internal and one they learn to practice on their free will. Yelling at our kids to be quiet seems to be a poor example of modeling when we aren’t practicing what we’re preaching.

I want to thank my lil guy for teaching me how to be a better guide to him. Learning happens all around us. We just have to be openminded to make those connections!

Thank you for visiting!