Homeschool Activities for Preschoolers with (or without) Down Syndrome

Ideas, ideas. I love great ideas for teaching Junior, our preschooler with Down Syndrome. As I promised in my post about Teaching Preschoolers with Down Syndrome, here are some of our favorite educational activities :

Speech, Language, and Literacy

  • Story in a Box

Junior loves when I pull out a story in a box (tupperware). I read or tell the story, and he holds the characters and moves them. The repeated phrases in The Three Little Pigs gives him lots of practice with his speech, especially with the sound of /f/ at the end of “huff” and “puff”. (You can download a free book here). Goldilocks and the Three Bears is great for teaching “too big”, “too small”, and “just right”, and for matching the bears to their porridge, chairs, and bed. Five Little Monkeys is another favorite for practicing repeated phrases.

These cards are great for expanding verb vocabulary. Junior now knows all of the actions, so we practice three-word sentences such as “boy is walking”, “girl is bouncing” and “girl is rocking.”

These Fall Movement cards are so much fun for gross motor skills, but they also serve has flash cards for learning fall vocabulary. Junior loves imitating all the actions.

Here’s a wonderful way to build more vocabulary while working on matching and classifying. Your child gets little pictures of items around the house and he/she gets to decide which room they belong in. As of now, we’re just matching the small pictures with the items in the rooms. Junior really enjoys this one.

I made this set of cards for Junior after our trip to the zoo. This builds vocabulary while giving him practice with the carrier phrase “I see”. The dots below the words act like a pacing board, helping him remember how many syllables he needs to say. We also talk about what sounds the animals make. Download the book here for free 🙂

By now you can tell that my big goal for Junior is to help him say two-three word phrases and sentences. See and Learn Phrases I by Down Syndrome Education is a very systematic way to do this. This program is based on research by Sue Buckley and colleagues, who believe that children with Down Syndrome can and should learn to read before three years of age!!! Her findings, described by Libby Kumin in Early Communication Skills for Children with Down Syndrome, are that:

  • When children learn to read new vocabulary words, they soon start using the new words in their speech
  • Practicing reading two- and three- word phrases accelerates the appearance of two- and three- word phrases in speech
  • When children practice reading grammatically correct sentences, it leads to better grammar and syntax in their own speech.

In short, we don’t need to wait until children can speak before teaching them to read. Rather, learning to read helps children with Down Syndrome learn to speak.

The print version is a collection of booklets and flash cards geared to teaching your child 2-3 word phrases and 16 sight words. There are six different activities you and your child do with this kit: read the books, match sight words, select sight words after hearing the word spoken, read the sight words, select sight words to match the picture, and match phrases to pictures. My goal was to teach Junior to say the two and three word phrases; I thought matching sight words would be too hard. But once again, he surprised us… not only did he learn to say all the phrases, he is beginning to match and recognize sight words!!!

At first, Junior was a little reticent about matching the sight words, but once he figured out what to do (and with the rest of the family cheering him on), he began to enjoy the activity. One trick: I usually do the matching activity with him while he’s having a snack or eating breakfast. I learned this with my other kids — they don’t mind hard work as much if they’re eating yummies at the same time! Mind you, I only let the little ones do that.

Anyways, the printed set is expensive. But here’s what you get:

You can get a digital version as an app at a fraction of the cost, and the Microsoft version has a free trial. We got the paper version because I want Junior to be able to “read” the books and play with the cards whenever he wants. This is the one activity we do every day because I think it is really helping him to say more and more two- and three-word phrases.

  • Favorite Books

These are Junior’s favorite books right now. Repetitive books are a fun way to practice targeted sounds and short phrases. Caps for Sale gives lots of good practice with the /c/ and /z/ sounds. Junior loves imitating the monkeys and saying “You, monkeys, you!”. If You’re Happy and You Know It, Jungle Edition is just a lot of fun. He names the animals and, of course, we do the actions. Silly Sally is great for practicing /s/ and is a wondeful excuse for tickling 🙂 . With What’s Up, Duck?, not only does he learn about opposites, I also turn reading the book into sentence practice:

Instead of simply saying “happy”, I say “Duck is happy”, and Junior repeats.

Alphabet, byAlain Gree gives us an opportunity to practice all the sounds of the alphabet and improve articulation while learning more vocabulary. If our current copy didn’t belong to the library, I’d put circle stickers under each word — one for each syllable — similar to what I did with the zoo book. I really like the simple font and pictures.

Fine Motor Skills

When I first presented this set of graduated cylinder blocks, Junior was curious but quickly lost interest. I put it aside and waited a few months. Twice again this summer I offered them to him, and he still didn’t want to play with them. Recently I reintroduced them, and all of a sudden he was very interested. When he tries to fit a block into a hole, we talk about the block being “too big”, “too small”, “too tall”, “too short”, or “just right!” He is so pleased when he finishes a set. This goes to show that waiting for readiness is so important.

Junior has a tendency to hold pencils and crayons on the very ends. So, these finger crayons have allowed him to enjoy coloring with much more ease. Coloring is such a great activity for preschoolers because it builds hand strength as well as hand and eye co-ordination. More recently, on the advice of an occupational therapist, I have been giving Junior broken crayons, and he’s been doing great with those. The cute Little Book of Fall Colors, available for free from Real Life at Home, gives Junior even more practice repeating short sentences.

  • Spooning wooden beads

Using a spoon is still a big challenge for Junior. So we practice spooning with large wooden beads and a measuring spoon. Currently, Junior puts a bead in the spoon and then dumps it into the bowl. Once he feels really comfortable with that, the next step is to spoon the bead directly out of the chocolate container into the bowl. The third step is to spoon the beads from the bowl to the container. If anything, this is a great excuse to buy a box of chocolates and eat it all up 🙂

  • Opening and Closing Spice Jars

Here’s something you can do with empty spice jars. Fill them with small objects and loosely screw on the lids. Unscrewing the jars is challenging for Junior. I have to remind him to hold the jar with one hand and turn the lid with the other. Finding out what’s in the jar motivates him, though. Once he opens the lid, he likes dump out the objects and count them. Besides building fine motor skills, this is a great opportunity to talk about open and close. Since the objects are choking hazards, this is one activity I don’t let him do independently.

Playing with nesting boxes has been a big hit with all of my children when they were toddlers. In addition to building fine motor skills, these are great for talking about open and close, finding the matching lids, naming the colors, stacking, and nesting. Start off by giving your child only the three smallest boxes, and as he/she masters putting the matching lids on, add more boxes. (Unless, that is, an older sibling comes along and decides he wants to play with all the boxes. I can almost guarantee that if you have older siblings in the house, they’re going to play with the boxes.)

Gross Motor Skills

Dancing with scarves and the Mozart Magic Cube is one of Junior’s favorite activities. We use the scarves to talk about colors and to match colors, but most importantly, we dance with them! I try to encourage lots of crossing the midline to help develop coordination. The Magic Cube plays the instruments separately, and by pressing more buttons you can add in more instruments. This allows us to name the instruments we hear. Junior also enjoys when I hide the cube and play the music so he can follow the sounds to find the box.

  • Writing on a Vertical Surface

Writing on a vertical surface has many benefits for children, especially those with special needs. It improves posture, strengthens core muscles, improves spacial awareness, gives practice crossing the midline, and improves pencil grasp. This is why we got Junior an easel.

Together we draw circles (be sure to teach your child to draw circles in a counter-clockwise direction, since this is the stroke needed for the letters c, o, d, g, and q.) Junior loves to draw BIG circles! We also draw lines going up, down, and across. Drawing lines that go all the way up or all the way across is great for crossing the midline and strengthening his core since he needs to reach way up high to draw to the top of the easel. And to practice speech, we say “going up, up, up!” “going down, down, down”, “big circle”, and “little circle”.

I also draw faces for him: First I draw a circle and then I ask him what I need to draw next. He tells me (or I remind him) that we need to add eyes, nose, mouth, ears, hair, eyebrows, chin, etc. We draw happy faces, sad faces, mad, faces, etc. All of this provides opportunities for speech and short conversations.

The great thing about writing with dry erase markers is that your child can wipe up his “art work” afterwards — even more practice crossing the midline! Writing on a sliding glass door with dry erase markers also works. If too much light comes in through your window, try the activity at a different time of day or use a large piece of paper taped onto the wall.

  • Simon Says

This is probably Junior’s favorite game, especially when the siblings join in. It’s a fun way for him to practice copying all kinds of large movements: reach high, touch your toes, turn around, run, tiptoe, etc. It’s also a great way to practice the /s/ sound and to practice short phrases. Junior loves being Simon. The first time I heard him say a four word sentence (without parroting) was when he said, “Simon says reach high”.

  • Rolling the ball

This is such a basic activity, but one that is fun and develops coordination and tracking with the eyes. You can vary the activity by changing the size of the ball, the speed of the roll, and the distance between you and your child. We also use this as an opportunity to talk about fast and slow, near and far, and to practice saying short phrases such as “Roll the ball” and “Ready, get set, go!”

  • Nature walks

Going on a walk in the woods is so refreshing, and I can’t help but think that all the oxygen from the trees has got to be so good for the mind. Walking in the woods, over tree roots and uneven ground is a great way to build balance and endurance. So is throwing stones into the stream. Junior loves that! Soon he’ll be climbing over rocks and stepping over stones to cross the stream. If I had my way, we’d do this everyday, because nature is the best playground.

Well! This post is long enough, and we haven’t even got to numbers, letters, shapes, and colors. I’ll save that for next month. Stay tuned 🙂

5 thoughts on “Homeschool Activities for Preschoolers with (or without) Down Syndrome

  1. Marylou you are MARVELOUS!!
    So many great ideas in this blog. You are a dedicated mom and an outstanding teacher. That’s twice blessed. Kudos!


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