Let’s Learn Letters! Early Handwriting Skills for Preschoolers with (or without) Down Syndrome

Last spring, I began teaching Junior to write letters. The more I work with him, the more I realize that he is capable of so much — I just need to find the right materials for him and/or make adaptations.

When all my other kids were preschoolers, we used materials from Handwriting Without Tears. However, while Junior is able to use the Wood Pieces Set for Capital Letters with ease, but he is not ready for the other materials.

So I made my own handwriting worksheets for him:

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Story of Civilization Vol. 2 Medieval World: FREE Workbook Supplement

Here’s a free resource for those of you using Tan’s Story of Civilization Vol. 2 this fall. It’s a BIG one…. 180+ pages! My friend Sue Clement and I collaborated on this project. We love Story of Civilization, but we wanted our kids to think critically about what they have learned and to have cumulative reviews.

This resource includes:

  • vocabulary lists
  • dates for a timeline
  • book suggestions for each chapter
  • map work suitable for older students (Gr. 5-8)
  • critical thinking questions that encourage students to think beyond the page and to make connections with previously learned material
  • cumulative reviews after every other chapter.
  • And, of course, a complete answer key.

It’s a HUGE project, which took a lot of time. (I think we burned some Purgatory time working on it). So I hope your kids will benefit from it.

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The Faith and Freedom Primer Adapted for Children with Down Syndrome

Once in a while I come across a pedagogical gem. The Faith and Freedom Primer is one of these. It is actually a combination of 3 smaller books, written in the 1950s to teach children how to sight read high frequency words. I’ve used it with all of my kids to teach them how to read sight words alongside teaching them how to decode phonetically. The book is a gem not just because it teaches children to read sightwords incrementally and systematically, but also because it portrays the Catholic faith and family life in a gentle and beautiful way.

Since Junior had been learning to read sight words with See and Learn Phrases, I decided to adapt the Faith and Freedom Primer according to the recommendations laid out by Natalie Hale, in her book Whole Child Reading. Junior would often pull the original primer off our bookshelf and pretend to read it, so I thought, “Why not adapt it for him and see if he can learn to read it?”

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The Catholic Homeschool Conference is Back!

Just a quick little post to say…. (drum roll, please ….) It’s that time of year again! Time for the Catholic Homeschool Conference! And as I said last year, the conference is for ALL Catholic parents, not just homeschoolers.

From May 19 – 22 you can listen to live key note speakers such as Kimberly Hahn, Laura Berquist, Sarah Mackenzie, and Andrew Pudewa. In addition, you can tune into 60+ pre-recorded talks including one by yours truly 🙂 For free! I’m so looking forward to it!

Whether you’re homeschooling or not, I think you’ll benefit from the wonderful presentations. There will be talks on homeschooling, of course, but also on marriage, family life, and virtue and character development.

And here’s what I’ll be talking about…

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Educating the Whole Child

Our school year is beginning to wind down. Yay! So this is also the time when I begin to think about the coming school year. And while my homeschooled kids take standardized tests to help me assess their overall progress, I also take time to think of the big picture.

After all, a real education is much more than just academics. Indeed, a real education entails educating the whole child.  There are many great thinkers who ascribe to the idea that a real education is more than book learning:

  • Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he has learned in school. – Albert Einstein
  • Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 
  • The primary goal in the education of children is to teach and give an example of a virtuous life. – St. John Chrysostem
  • A good school provides a rounded education for the whole person. And a good Catholic school, over and above this, should help all of its students to become saints. – Pope Benedict XVI

While that all sounds good and true, what does it actually mean to educate the whole person, and how do we go about doing that?

Sitting in a rocking chair and musing over this while waiting for Junior to get sleepy, I envisioned this little diagram (Thank you, Holy Spirit!):

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Teaching Preschoolers with Down Syndrome to Read – Part 2 (And Why We’re not doing Phonics, Yet)

Last post, I shared some videos showing how Junior is learning to read using See and Learn Phrases by Down Syndrome Education. We demonstrated the first four steps of learning to read using sight words.

Today, I’m sharing videos of the last two steps and discussing why we’re breezing through with sight words instead of slogging through phonics.

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Teaching Preschoolers with Down Syndrome to Read with See and Learn

This post is for my five-year-old nephew, Aidan, whose school has been shut down for the third time this year. Aidan has a lot of developmental delays that mimic Down Syndrome, and virtual school is… well… virtual. So my sister asked me to show her how I’m teaching Junior to read. She lives across the border, which is also closed. So, I made her these videos.

Having a child with Down Syndrome is such an adventure. Never did I think that it was possible to teach a three-year-old with T21 to read. All my other children had learned to read when they were about five, so I figured that Junior would probably begin to read around seven or eight.

Thus, I was both surprised and intrigued when I came across some papers by Sue Buckley and colleagues. She had done extensive studies on teaching toddlers and children with T21 how to read. Based on her research, she discovered that not only was it possible to teach many toddlers with T21 how to read sight words, it was also extremely beneficial. Buckley writes:

Reading activities may be the single most important intervention for promoting the speech, language and cognitive development of preschool children with Down Syndrome….. we are quite convinced that it (reading) is the single most effective way to help children overcome the learning difficulties associated with Down Syndrome.

Buckley, Sue. Reading and Writing for Infants with Down Syndrome (0-5 years)

And,

Children introduced to literacy as a language teaching activity in preschool years reach the highest level of achievement.

Buckely, Sue. Reading and Writing for Individuals with Down Syndrome – An Overview.

Needless to say, six months ago I began teaching my 3-year-old with T21 to read. The goal was to enable him to say 2-3 word phrases without being prompted. You see, Junior can repeat almost anything I say, but he has difficulty retrieving words from his mind without a verbal or visual cue. When he does say a word unprompted, it’s often unintelligible. But learning to read is making a huge difference. Once he learns to read a word, it’s not long before he starts using it unprompted in speech and with greater clarity. Furthermore, his MLU (mean length of utterance) is increasing, meaning his phrases and sentences are getting longer. I can’t tell you how exciting it is for both of us to see him learn to read and speak.

Today I’m sharing with you, step by step (videos included!), how I’m teaching Junior to read.

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Memory, Imagination, and How to Avoid Boredom

Rote memorization.  Do you use it in your homeschool?

There’s a popular educational trend that pooh-poohs rote memory in favor of imaginative and critical thinking. I think this is because too often children have been required to memorize facts and procedures they did not understand. Unfortunately, instead of seeking to improve conceptual understanding so that the material being memorized  by rote is meaningful,  many educators today emphasize discovery learning and creativity while foregoing rote memorization.

But this, I believe, is putting the cart before the horse. In his clever satire, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, Anthony Esolen writes:

Without the library of memory…. the imagination simply does not have much to think about or play with. 

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Spring Time Printables for Preschoolers with (or without) Down Syndrome

Aren’t you glad it’s spring? I definitely am! So I made this springtime bundle for Junior, all about woodland animals. More pre-writing, first letters, counting, pattern-making, and shape matching with some really *cute* artwork.

Come take a look:

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The Art of Writing an Essay

A happy and blessed Easter to you all! This past year, my oldest daughter has been writing essay after essay: essays for English and history classes, essays for college applications, essays for scholarships… it never seems to end.

“Since you are so experienced at writing essays,” I suggested, “why don’t you write an essay on how to write an essay? You know — for the plebians like us.”

So she did. Well, the essay was so witty and clever, I just had to share. Because sometimes we all just need a good chuckle:

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