Letters, numbers, colors, and shapes. As I wrote in my post about Teaching Preschoolers with Down Syndrome, we want to make sure our children are ready for concepts, especially abstract ones, before requiring our kids to work on them. Colors and shapes, which are attributes and not concrete objects, can be especially difficult for preschoolers with T21 to grasp.
A child’s readiness to learn a concept probably depends on combination of genes and environment, nature and nurture. Exposing a child to pre-academic concepts without requiring him/her to learn them may help a child’s readiness for them. Especially if you offer a variety of activities and toys. Young children love novelty — it’s part of their natural drive to investigate and learn. So the more variety you can offer, the more you will rouse their curiosity and internal motivation to learn.
That’s the challenge though — keeping a variety of interesting activities. Here are some activites I’ve found most helpful for teaching Junior letters, numbers, colors, and shapes.
Children with Down Syndrome tend to be strong visual learners. These crepe rubber letters which they get to fit into the puzzle is a great tool for learning letter names. I gave Junior the letters in the first row and we named them as he fitted the pieces in. Once he learned those, we added in the letters in the second row, and then the third. We also sang the alphabet and pointed to the letters. Now we talk about the letter sounds as he fits them in. Interestingly enough, once I introduced the lower case puzzle, he wasn’t interested. So we moved on to other things….
My son made these cards for Junior. You can read about and get them here for free 🙂 . I hung them up on our wall and together we point to the letters and say, “Big A, little A – ah, ah, ah”. Then we name the pictures — meaning I name it and Junior repeats. Or, if he knows the name, he beats me to it.
This board book is a colorful, inexpensive version of the Montessori Alphabet Tracing Board. It’s a great way to teach the letter strokes, since your child can trace the indented letters. Junior loves the flaps (what 3 yr old doesn’t?). Here is a good of example where hand-over-hand teaching can be useful as you demonstrate how to use the pointer finger and trace. It didn’t take long before Junior pushed my hand away and insisted on tracing the letters by himself.
Did I say variety is the spice of life? Junior was not interested in the lower case rubber letters, but he does enjoy playing with Melissa and Doug’s ABC Picture Boards. There are different ways to play with this:
- First, take out a picture board, such as the B picture board. Pull out the capital and lower case letter B. Invite your child to place correct letters in their place.
- Second, pull out the B board and put the capital letter B in. Pull out two lower case letters, one being lower case b. Invite your child to choose/match which one is lower case b and to put it in. Name the letter sound and picture as he puts the letter in.
- Third, pull out the picture board. Pull out two capital letters and two lower case letters, and help your child choose the ones that fit in, naming the letters and their sounds as he fits them in.
Sometimes we play with Melissa and Doug’s See n’ Spell. I let him choose a picture board and then pull out only the letters he needs to form the word.
Together we name the letters and say the letter sounds as he fits them into the board.
I bought this set from Learning Without Tears when my oldest was a kindergartener. Since then, all of my kids have used them to prepare for handwriting… and to make car tracks! This is a great tool for teaching your children the order of strokes even if they don’t have the fine motor skills to write letters yet. One side of each card is for building the letter on; the flip side of each card offers matching activities to help develop visual discrimination. Here, my adorable 5 year old nephew (also with special needs) has “written” his name!
Similar to the Lauri Alphabet Puzzle, this foam number puzzle is a great for teaching kids to count by rote and name the numbers as they fit in the pieces. My only problem with this one is that zero should not come after 9!
- Counting Cups
Such a simple and cheap activity! Junior counts the flowers as he puts them into the cups.
- Veggie Straws on Counting Cards
This is something we do during snack time. I lay out the cards and invite Junior to place veggie straws on the counting cards. Then I ask him, “How many straws do you want?” I them give him the card with the number of straws that he wants, and we count as he eats them. Frankly, Junior is not thrilled with this one. Maybe he just wants to eat without counting; maybe it takes too much work to place the straws within the boxes, or maybe he’s just not ready. Anyways, I’ve put this aside for down the road. However, you can download the cards here 🙂
- Two-to-one correspondence
This activity is much more agreeable to Junior than the counting cards. To develop his number sense, I ask him to place two veggies straws in each “cup”…. just for the first row. I don’t want to bore him! After that he gets to eat the straws. Once he’s mastered that, I’ll have him place three blueberries in each cup. Then four cheerios. Then five goldfish. You get the idea 🙂
These crepe puzzles another great way to develop number sense. I take 2-3 cards out, push out all the pieces, and leave them on a tray for Junior to complete on his own.
Like the ABC Trace and Flip Book, 123 Count with Me helps children to learn the strokes needed to form numbers by tracing. Then they can count the pictures on the page and open the flap to complete counting to the correct number. So cute.
- Sorting and Making Patterns with Pumpkins
Sorting and making patterns are important pre-math skills. I invite Junior to sort the pumpkins and squashes into two baskets. I also model making an ABAB pattern with him. The sorting is fun and easy for him; making the pattern is more challenging. You can do this activity with other fruits such as bananas and pears or apples and oranges.
Shapes and Colors
Junior picked up letters and numbers pretty quickly. Shapes and colors, however, have been more challenging. This is to be expected since children with T21 usually have a hard time generalizing. A banana is a banana. But it’s hard to understand that a banana is yellow and rain boots are yellow. We played a lot with shapes and colors in the spring, took a good long break in the summer, and started up again in the fall. What a huge difference this time around! He’s really starting to grasp these concepts, and it’s really exciting to watch.
- Color baskets
One week I put out a basket of red items and each day we would pull out the items and name them. “A red bell, a red ball, a red box.” The next week, I added a basket of blue items and we would name those. On the third week, we dumped the contents of both baskets and I encouraged Junior to sort them by color. But he had trouble sorting by color and would quickly lose interest so….
- Sorting Magformers by color
I found his older siblings’ Magformer set and pulled out red and blue squares. I stuck one blue square and one red square on our patio door. Next, I demonstrated how to sort the remaining squares by placing them onto of the squares on the door. Junior loved it! I think he enjoyed the satisfying “click” sound the square make when they attach to each other. So we sorted all our Magformers by color and then by shape.
- Sorting Foam Circles
To add more variety, I cut out foam shapes. In September, I helped Junior sort circles by color. Since he has mastered that, we are now sorting by shape. To add to the fun, I sometimes pour some water in a bowl and invite him to sort the shapes on the patio door:
He dips the shape into the water and then sticks it onto the window. When he’s done, together we wipe down the window… another great activity for crossing the midline. To help develop core strength, place a bunch of shapes just high enough so your child has to reach up high and get up on his/her tippy toes to reach them.
Playing with these foam puzzles has been a great way to teach Junior the name of the basic shapes. I give him one puzzle at a time so he doesn’t get overwhelmed with too many pieces. Together we name the shapes as he pushes the pieces in. Then we name the vehicle.
- Finding shapes around the house
To help Junior understand that shapes are not objects in themselves but are attributes, I point out shapes in real life. This is what his special ed. teacher calls “incidental teaching”. For example, things around the house that are circles are: bowls, clocks, the rims of cups, plates, the base of our desk lamp. Things that are squares are: saltines, tiles on the floor, the lid to his train bucket, etc.
- Matching paint chips
Sometimes we focus on one or two colors; other times I present him with an array of colors. With this activity, I lay one paint chip at a time and together we name the color (I say the color name and Junior repeats after me. If I begin saying the name really slowly, he sometimes says the name before I do.) Once all the chips from the first set have been laid down, I pick up a chip from the second set and say, “This is a pink chip. Where is matching chip?” If Junior points to the matching chip right away, I give him the card to place on top of the matching chip. If he’s not sure, I slowly move the chip along the other chips so he can when we get to the matching chip. For fun, we like to throw the paint chips up in the air and mix them up, and then sort them all over again.
For even more fun, I scatter the cards on the floor. Then we march around the cards chanting, “Stepping, stepping, stepping on colors. Stepping, Stepping, step on ________ (name a color).” When I add music and motion to learning, Junior seems to grasp concepts more quickly.
I bought this puzzle a year ago and it’s only recently that Junior began playing with it. Maybe that’s because he’s really into cars and trains lately. First we name all the vehicles. Then we dump out all the pieces and mix them up. (Dumping and mixing pieces is so satisfying for him! He loves to say “Mix them up! Mix them up!”). Next, he matches the pieces, and we either say the color or the name of the vehicle. Sometime the sly little guy purposely matches a piece with the wrong vehicle and then looks at me from the corner of his eye with a naughty grin. Then I say, “Oh no! That doesn’t match!” He laughs, puts it in the right place and says “Over there!”.
Junior never cared much for stacking blocks until we came across these ones during a speech therapy session. During that session, he practiced saying “on top” as he stacked one block on top of another. When we build a road for his cars and trains, we practice using the word “beside”. Other ways we use these blocks: sort by color or shape, talk about “in front” and “behind”, stack the blocks and count them, make patterns, build “houses”, and of course, make a tower and knock it down!
Here’s another toy Junior has shown zero interest in for a long time, and then all of a sudden he plays with it every day! There are so many ways to play with this: We nest the boxes and then stack them. When first nesting the boxes, only give your child three at a time. We match the cars and the boxes by number and/or color. We talk about big cars and small cars. We count the cars. But what Junior loves to do best of all is drive them on Ikea train tracks.
I hope I’ve given some useful ideas on how to teach your preschooler with Down Syndrome at home. If you’re still looking for more ideas (I always am!), check out Simply Classical Level A by Memoria Press. These are daily lesson plans for developmentally delayed preschoolers. You may find, as I have, that some of the activities are too hard, while others are too easy. But I just pick, choose, and adapt the activities I think will be most beneficial and interesting for Junior.
Happy playing (and teaching!)