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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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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Pre-writing Skills, Counting, and Winter-Themed Printables for Preschoolers with Down Syndrome

One of the things I’m working on with Junior is pre-writing skills. Since he is all about penguins and polar bears, I decided to make an arctic-themed bundle for him. And I made him some Valentine’s Day activities as well. Here’s what we’ve been doing to promote pre-writing skills and counting:

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More Homeschool Activities for Preschoolers with Down Syndrome

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.

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Advent and Christmas Activities for Preschoolers with (and without) Down Syndrome

With many schools being closed yet again, I thought I’d share our Advent traditions and what Junior and I are doing for the month of December.

Here goes….

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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 :

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Teaching Preschoolers with Down Syndrome at Home

Last spring, I read an intriguing book, When Slow is Fast Enough: Educating the Delayed Preschool Child. It is written by Joan Goodman, a child psychologist who specialized in the diagnosis and early intervention of preschool-aged children with developmental delays. Her book is the result of extensive and highly detailed observations of twenty early intervention programs around the United States.

As a homeschool mom of a preschooler with T21, I was keenly interested in her work. Frankly, I could not put it down. I found her astute observations of these early intervention programs concerning and her recommendations enlightening yet challenging.

Although this book is about early intervention pre-schools, there are some important and useful ideas that parents can glean from Goodman’s work for teaching their preschoolers with Down Syndrome at home:

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Free Nature-Themed Alphabet Cards

You’re going to love these — you moms with preschoolers and kindergarteners. In the spring, Junior surprised us by learning all the upper case letters by playing with a foam letter puzzle and singing the alphabet. So, I gave him a puzzle with the lower case letters. But he insisted that lower case “a” was not “a”. I realized I need to present the letters in pairs, differentiating between “big letter A” and “little letter a”.

So I went searching online for alphabet wall cards, but I could not find anything to my taste. (I was looking for cards with real photos of things found in nature.) I asked my teenage son to make alphabet wall cards for Junior — beautiful ones with photographs of real things from nature. I could not have been more pleased. And now I’m happy to share them with you.

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How to Homeschool Preschool and Kindergarten

Some moms have asked me how I homeschool preschool and kindergarten. For many moms, homeschooling preschool is the testing ground. It is one way of discerning if teaching their children at home is something they can or want to do. Of course now, many parents have no choice but to do a little kinder-school at home. Distance-learning at such an early age just doesn’t work. But the good news is doing preschool or kindergarten at home can be simple and inexpensive. Plus, it’s really fun!

Each time I’ve homeschooled a preschooler, it has been different from what I’ve done with my other children. How I teach has evolved over the years based on family circumstance and the individual child. Some of my kids were eager to start “school” with books and crayons; others wanted to learn in a context of play. Doing “preschool” with Junior (which is essentially speech and occupational therapy) is a whole new ball game, but it’s so much fun. There is no one right way to teach preschool or kindergarten at home, but here are some ideas that I hope will help you find helpful:

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