Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tools I Use to Teach My Child With Down Syndrome to Read

I love sharing what I've learned (and am still learning) about homeschooling, especially homeschooling a special needs child.  I am a huge advocate for homeschooling children with special needs.  I truly believe that a parent's love for their child will guide them to find the best possible curriculum to meet their child's needs.  I'll do anything to help Joe succeed.

Research reading programs - ✔

Find musical DVDs to help him learn math facts, states, etc. - ✔

Sit with him for endless hours in the bathroom while working on potty training. - ✔

Teach him how to butter his own bread. - ✔

You'd do these for any of your kids right?  The difference when dealing with a special needs child is that often times the first thing tried doesn't work.  Or the second.  Or the third.  Usually around the 4th or 5th try is when I finally find something that works.  I hope my trial and error process provides you with more insight to help you know where to start.

For any homeschooling parent, especially if you are starting from the beginning, teaching your child to read is the skill that requires the most of your time.  

Over the years I've used many different reading programs.  I've purchased ready to go curriculum.  I've printed and printed and printed phonics worksheets and mini books.  I've spent my Dollar Tree budget on workbooks worth exactly what I paid.  I've bought my share of early readers.  Oh, how I despise most early readers.  Some have worked, others not so much.  I'll share two of my favorite series later in this post.

Here's what I'm using to teach Joseph (with Down syndrome) to read today.  I say today, because I do change things up a bit through the school year depending on what's working and whether I find something new I'd like to try.  However, I have no plans on changing because the following two reading tactics are working quite well for us.


All About Reading Student Packet

This is the phonics component to Joe's reading program.  It's really the spine, the meat, the backbone to how I'm teaching Joe to read.  Phonics play an important part in reading, even for kiddos with special needs.  I've read in numerous places how kids with Down syndrome can only learn to read through sight reading.  That's false and short sighted because really, are you going to make flashcards for every word in the dictionary?  Because that's what sight reading means - memorizing and learning to recognize words immediately.

Phonics is a tool for readers.  A tool to help them sound out a word using very specific rules relating to letter combinations.  And I love All About Reading!

It takes you through step by step using a sequence that makes sense.  Each step is scripted, which at first (if you haven't used a scripted curriculum) feels fake and slow. But once you pick up on the flow and script style, it's really easy to be natural and still follow the script.

Now that I'm very comfortable with All About Reading Level 1, I put my own spin on it.  Here's how:

Letter sounds come easy to Joe, but the blending of letters together to read a word is a slow process.  He definitely gets the process.  It's just his lips don't always want to move into the letter sound shapes quickly.  Say the word fun.  Look at yourself in the mirror as you say it slowly.  Your lips have to make 3 different shapes.  Then in order to say the word fast you have to be able to move your lips and tongue quickly.  That's where people with Down syndrome often struggle.  The brain power is there!  The necessary facial control is sometimes difficult.

All About Reading lessons include a section called Fluency Practice.  It's usually 1-3 pages of words, phrases, and sentences for your child to read to increase their reading speed.  Speed is important for reading comprehension.  As we've progressed through the lessons the Fluency pages are our least favorite part because they take a long, loooong, looooooooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnng time to get through.  Like Lesson 10 took over a month.

Looking at a whole page of sentences was overwhelming even if I covered up everything except what he was reading.  He just knew it was never ending.  So I grabbed a yellow legal pad, turned it sideways and started writing out the sentences word by word for Joe to read, and we haven't turned back.  It's working just as I had hoped.

The key to this style of fluency practice is to write one word at a time.

The 2nd key is to adjust the sentences so there's lots of repetition.  See my samples below.  In the first example the sentences are the same length; I just changed up a word or two in each sentence.  Reading the same words over and over again helps with instant recognition.

Lesson 10 Sentences

Lesson 12 Sentences - definitely harder than lesson 10.

Once the full sentence is written I let Joe read it again pointing on his own.  Then a smiley face and I start writing the next sentence having him read each word as I write it.  Once the page is full, we're done for the day.

----------------------------------Edited 4-13-18------------------------------------
Since this blog post I started a YouTube channel.  For a look at All About Reading Level 1 and how I customize it to make it work best for Joseph check out the video.

Like I said earlier, I've bought my fair share of early readers.  We've stuffed our library bag, too.  I'm hard to please when it comes to those early readers.  Some readers have advanced words.  We checked out one Level Pre-Primer from the library with the words tornado and lightning.  Clearly, those are not pre-primer words.  Some are simply stupid.

Thankfully, I ran across Margaret Hillert's "Beginning to Read" books.  Most of the books are familiar stories, simplified to only include words off the Dolch word list.  The Dolch word list includes 220 of the most often used words in books, textbooks, newspapers, etc.  Hillert's books are repetitive throughout and list the words used in the back of the book.  Her simplest books use just over 30 different words.

Original copyright hardcovers

New updated versions.  These include excellent additional literacy activities.  The rhyming activity is really helping Joe with his rhyming.

Books we've read according to number of words

34 - The Three Little Pigs
36 - The Three Goats
43 - The Yellow Boat
44 - Cinderella at the Ball
45 - The Three Bears
49 - A House For Little Red
58 - The Purple Pussycat
61 - Four Good Friends
61 - Dear Dragon Goes to the Library
67 - It's St. Patrick's Day, Dear Dragon
69 - Little Red Riding Hood
72 - Pinocchio

This is just a handful of her books.  Amazon has many, many more, but they are pricey.  Buying used is probably a good option.  Here's another option for purchasing used copies.

Here's how we use the Beginning to Read books.

Day 1.  I read aloud the story a couple of times during Morning Time or whenever time permits.

Day 2.  I read the title, then have Joe read the title from the title page.  I read the first few pages, then have him read a sentence or two.  I read a few more pages, then have him read a sentence or two.  This continues till the end.

Day 3.  I point, he reads.  If he gets stuck on a non-phonetic word (true sight word) I simply tell him the word and he keeps reading.  If he gets stuck on a phonetic word, I have him sound it out and go on.

Day 4.  Repeat of Day 3.

Day 5.  I quiz him on the words using homemade flashcards.  I write each word on a card, then set out 12 in front of him.  I say a word, he finds it and holds it.  Each time he finds a word, I replace it with another card so there are always 12 cards in front of him.  Once all cards have been picked up he gets a reward, usually a hug, high 5 or animal cracker.

Day 6.  Same as Day 5, except I put out 16-20 cards at a time.

Day 7.  Joe holds the pile, reads a card, then hands it to me.  Once I have all the cards (which I've done nothing to earn them) he congratulates me.  He's so funny.

Writing out the flashcards doesn't take much time because the words are used in multiple stories so I just reuse them over and over.

He also reads the book to himself during afternoon quiet time.  At this time, I don't correct him if I hear a wrong word.  I let him read it any way he chooses as long as he's reading quietly.  I want him to simply enjoy books.

Thanks for reading; that was a lot of information.  Do you have other questions about teaching reading to beginners?  I'd love to help.  Please leave a comment here at the blog or at the Camp Homeschool Facebook page.

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