Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Adventures in Homeschooling

I am really excited for the new school year to start. This will be my second "official" year to homeschool Gess. Last year we did Kindergarten and she did really well. However, since she has DS I have been doing pre-school since she was three. See, when you have a child with special needs you enroll them in the system at birth. From Birth to Three they get in home services such as Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy and other necessary programs to help with the child's development. I found this help invaluable with Gess. She was walking by 14 months when I was told children with DS do not walk until after age 2. Birth to Three is a great tool to help new parents learn some of the ways to assist their child with special needs. However, when they turn three they are enrolled in a preschool program so that they can continue these services and prepare your child for school. Of course we opted out of sending Gess anywhere other than home. We could have continued to receive Speech and other services as needed at home, but we opted not to do that either. So for the next few years I became her speech therapist and preschool teacher.

I found some great resources and Gess was doing really well. She was even reading before Kindergarten began, although it was mostly by sight. However, after Kindergarten she recognizes all her letter sounds and can isolate the beginning and ending sound of words and does a good job at attempting some words she does not know. Much of her reading is still done by sight though but she knows her abcs. She can also count to 100 by using a chart or with a few helps without one, can count backwards from 10, can add objects if you help her stay focused and slow down, can use a number line to find which numbers have more, less and come before and after another and she can do some basic pattern work and things like that as well. We are definately ready for the first grade. Her handwriting skills are delayed as well but she can make every letter when asked, she just does not stay consistent with it. For Kindergarten work we used lots of stickers and let her pick the answers and put the appropriate sticker up instead of having her write them. She can tell you where she lives, her phone number, she can find her town on a map of Kansas and knows the five senses and what they do, etc.

While her mind is on hyper drive most the time and she is extremely independent it has been difficult to find materials for homeschooling that can channel her brilliance while addressing her delays. Most of the math curriculum I have looked at starts at a place she is at but it moves so quickly I know we would be left in the dust, not to mention it requires a lot of writing. The same with the reading program. She can read and has a good start but for First Grade most of them take off so quick I know it would not work for her. After attending the homeschool convention and taking some time to explore all the booths I think I have found some great resources to work with.

Before I go on I would like to make a comment for those who have a different style of homeschooling. I know many do not use curriculum, make your own unit studies or are more into unschooling and things like that. I have actually considered some those techniques and do believe there is a lot to be gained from doing an unstructured form of study and we do pretty much a little of both. In other circumstances I may have been willing to stick with more informal methods, but my daughter needs structured guidance. My daughter needed someone to show her how to roll over, crawl, walk, eat and all of that. While most children just do that on their own, my daughter needed us to show her how. Once we showed her she picked it right up but she needed the guidance. Its the same way with school. She is very much a hands on learner so our seat work is limited, but she loves doing "school" and that time of structured learning helps her tremendously. It is my hope that no matter what method we all use, we can still benefit and learn from each other and maybe find some resources that we might have missed.

I have the books "Teaching Reading to Children With Down Syndrome" and "Teaching Math to Children with Down Syndrome and other Hands On Learners" which are published by Woodbine House Publishers. Woodbine has awesome resources for many special needs learners, not just Down Syndrome. These materials have lots of great learning games to integrate into a program but in and of themselves are not really a curriculum. I need something to guide me so that I don't forget an important step along the way.

So for math I am trying the Math U See Primer set. They use manipulative's and have a cool way of explaining place value. I am hoping it will be a guide. Our additional activities from my Woodbine book will include games that teach the concept of more, value, matching and we will work on visual spotting to start with. I also purchased a clock for her to use to learn telling time and we made a calendar we will keep track of the days although she already knows the days of the week and how to find a date on a calendar.

For reading I have found what I think will be a really good curriculum. For seat work in Kindergarten I just used some workbooks from Rod and Staff and considered their reading program for grade 1 but it too goes really fast. At their booth at the convention they had another reading program that one of the ladies recommended. It isn't published by Rod and Staff but it is somewhat similar yet moves at a slower pace. We are starting with "Beginning Steps to Reading" even though much of the first part will be review. It is published by "Eastern Mennonite Publications." We will see how we do with it.

For writing we are continuing with Handwriting Without Tears. It was great for her last year. It was nice to know even though she couldn't always make the letter on paper she knew HOW to do with it blocks. The inability is in getting her hand to form the letter not teaching her mind how it is formed. She knows that part! We will continue with the Preschool book because the Kindergarten book expects the letters to be made smaller and she is not ready for that yet.

For Science, Social Studies, and Bible I got some really inexpensive workbooks from Christian Light Publishers. These will enforce some of the basic concepts from a Christian viewpoint and I will supplement with things I think that are relevant to her world. That is basically what I did last year, I saw some concepts she did not grasp and taught them to her.

For Speech we found a therapist that gave us lots of activities to try to encourage and teach conversational speech. I have been busy making some of the games and we have already played a few. I am confident that her speech ability will be greatly improved by them.

This is where we will be starting. I can't wait to see how well these materials do. Like last year I am sure I will improvise a lot as I find areas that need improvement. That's what education is about, making sure your child learns what they need to know to make it through life. Its not about the letter grade, its about how they apply what they learn to the world they live in. So First Grade, ready or not, here we come!

1 comment:

Laura said...

Just found your blog tonight. I have a 4 yr old daughter with Down Syndrome in addition to 3 other children. We are also Christians who homeschool. I have read a few of your posts and can tell this blog is going to be a wealth of information for me. Thank you!
I think I'll start at the very beginning and work my through as I have time. I will enjoy seeing Gess's progress that way.
Thank you for the curriculum recommendations. I am coming up on that very soon and appreciate your insight into what is working for you.
Just wanted to say hello and let you know that this is a great service/ministry to us out here. :)
- Laura

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