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?”
In the book, author Natalie Hale gives specific instructions on how to format and make your own books so that your kids can read with greater ease and success. So I began making books. I made personal books, because Junior, like most kids, likes to read about himself and his family. I also made books using words from the See and Learn Phrases kits.
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.
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.
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.
Happy World Down Syndrome Day! Earlier this winter, I attended a webinar featuring Dr. Brian Skotko, the director of the Down Syndrome Program at Massachusets General Hospital. He gave a wonderful, highly informative presentation on how to keep our loved ones healthy, boost their cognition, and how we might mitigate the onset and severity of Alzheimer’s Disease. We all know that keeping our kids active is so important to their overall health, but Dr. Skotko’s presentation showed how this is especially crucial for kids with T21.
One of the easiest ways I keep Junior active is by playing music for him. He loves music, and he loves to dance. So we play music and dance several times a day, and he really gets a workout. Bonus: He learns the lyrics and starts singing along, which is great for his speech.
Today, I’m sharing with you his current playlists of songs and dance music.
Most of you know that our youngest child has Down Syndrome. We found out the day after he was born, when the pediatrician noticed several markers for T21. That day the nurses tried to draw blood so they could run a test to confirm the diagnosis. But the particular vein they needed to draw blood from was too tiny, and after seeing my son’s wrist full of needle holes, I asked them not to try again until he was older and his veins were bigger. My husband and I didn’t need immediate test results — T21 or not, he was our son and we loved him dearly.
Unbeknownst to my husband and I, the nurses drew blood for the test a week later. I didn’t know this until they told me that the test came back positive. I could have been upset that they drew blood without our permission, but I wasn’t. I could have been upset that the test came back positive, but I wasn’t. I was, however, tired and stressed because Junior wasn’t gaining weight, I wasn’t producing enough milk, and progress with his oxygen levels was painstakingly slow.
Later that afternoon, Junior’s nurse noticed that I was visibly upset. She thought it was because the test results had come back positive. “I’m sorry about the test results,” she said, sympathetically. Then she said something that shocked me: “Do you want to put him up for adoption?”
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 :
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: