Spelling is another area that I was not sure we would be able to do yet since my daughter does not write very well. However, when I was doing my homeschool shopping last summer, I found this great magnet set at Mardel which turned out to be perfect for our needs. It comes with a magnet board (though you can use any magnetic surface) and several tiles of each letter including both capital and lower case. We now use this to teach spelling.
In preparing the lesson, I took some tips I learned from our speech therapist and tried to present the lesson in a manner in which it was easiest for her to succeed. So, instead of making every letter available I found just a handful of relevant letters and placed them at the bottom of the board. I have also separated the vowels and put them at the top of the board. In the middle I write a line for each letter in the word. So far we have only worked on three letter, short vowel words (though there have been a few four letter ones). Next I say the word I want her to spell. I am sure to use that word in a sentence and then I repeat the word again. The longer she takes to complete the word the more I repeat it to be sure that she hasn't forgotten the sounds. I try not to over emphasize any sound unless I see her really struggling with that part of the word. It works like this.
"Spell the word bed. The little girl went to bed. bed"
This has worked really well. I have noticed that my daughter does not always spell in order. Sometimes she grabs the end sound and sometimes the she grabs the vowel first. One of the things I love watching her do is reach for the wrong letter and stop herself saying "no, not that one." You can tell she is really thinking about what she is doing. That is why it is so important to present the activity in a manner in which promotes success. It takes extra effort to figure out where to put the letters if there are no lines drawn, and even more effort if she has to search through too many letters. Presenting the lesson in this manner allows her to only focus on how the word is spelled.
We also do not do more than five or six words in a lesson. She works really hard to spell and I think it is more important that she learns how to spell correctly, not how many times she can do it. Getting the concept is our biggest concern. While most children learn well by repeating things over and over, that tends to frustrate many children with special needs. That is the thing with children with Down syndrome. They can do most anything, but often they have to work tens times harder to do it. Whether it is walking, talking or spelling, they are giving it their all. Therefore I tend to cut some of her practice lessons in half and am careful to watch for clues as to when she is getting tired of a lesson.
Another thing I did to help with spelling and for her independence is get a large print keyboard. My daughter loves the computer but has a hard time finding keys on a normal keyboard. While she has glasses that help her see, she still seems to struggle focusing on smaller letters, even in books. She reads much more smoothly in books where the print is larger, I guess because her brain does not have to work as hard on seeing the letters and can instead focus on what the words actually are. It seems like we multi-task in so many ways that we do not realize we are doing it. Children with special needs have a harder time in multi-task situations and therefore anything we can do to assist her to focus on one thing seems to really help. Anyway, here is the keyboard we purchased, its called Keys U See. They run about $40 but I waited until I found a deal on Ebay and I managed to get mine for $18. They also come in three colors, we got this one, the yellow on black, but they also have black on white and white on black.
We have tried spelling with it, but it does not work for her yet because she is still not spelling the word in order. When she grabs the ending sound first she can't just throw it in place when she types, she has to delete or backspace and all that is too complicated for her right now. She can spell her name on it though. When she plays a game and gets the high score she types in "gess" lightening fast! (We will teach her about the caps key one of these days) She has tried a typing game but since she can't find the letters fast enough yet, she gets bored with it pretty quick. She is really finding her way around they keyboard though and she can find letters when you call them out at random. I think it has really enhanced her computer time since she doesn't have to search for keys as hard as she used to.
Before we used either of these things we first introduced the concept of spelling by playing the game Boggle Jr (which I also got cheap off of Ebay). Since my daughter first learned reading by sight this was a great tool to show her that the word was actually broken down into letters. In the game you have 3 and 4 letter word cards with the word actually spelled out on it. You have the ability to either cover up the words or show them and let the child just copy it. Then you have dice with letters on them and they have to find the letters and place it in front of the card. Just matching the letters and emphasizing how it was spelled helped Gess really get the "concept" of spelling.
With all of these activities she definitely knows what spelling is and is learning how to spell herself. She reads signs, menus, shirts, anything with words and she will often say each letter individually before saying the word. More importantly she is putting this into practice by reading everything around her and is able to communicate and experience life in a better capacity. Watching her explore the world around her because she has the ability to read and spell and understand it has meaning for her is an amazing thing. Nothing can put your smile on your face like having your daughter discover there is "no smoking" at your table. We took her to the Chinese food buffet the other night and they had a sign saying "No Smoking" on the wall in our booth. She read it and made this noise, like Oh no! We informed her it was alright because none of us were smoking. Still, she kept telling us "no smoking." I think she just enjoyed being able to tell us "no" for a change!
This what we do with all lessons, we find what my daughter needs to learn, identify the obstacles caused by her DS and search for ways around those barriers. These have all been very successful in helping my daughter to spell.