I have been wanting to blog about the great phonics reading curriculum we are using called Beginning Steps to Reading from Eastern Mennonite Publications (they do not have website). I did not even realize it until today but this material is even recommended on NATHHAN (Nathional Challenged Homeschoolers Associated Network) under resources for Down Syndrome which says it has been used by several families that have taught their child with Down Syndrome to read phonetically. Well, it certainly is working with my daughter and I will be telling you more about it soon. For now though, I wanted to share what we did the last few years that enabled my daughter to be ready for this step.
Several years ago, when my daughter was around 3 years old, I was really trying to find some ways to work on her speech. One thing I found in my research was that reading was able to enhance speech and they recommended teaching reading by using sight words. I am always willing to try a new approach and I was amazed at how well this really worked! We borrowed the book Teaching Reading to Children With Down Syndrome from our DS Support group and it had some excellent ideas on how to start learning sight words. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a child with Down Syndrome!
When I first learned of this book I thought it would be something I would not need until my daughter was school age and ready to learn reading. That is not true! In the book the author talks about teaching people with Down Syndrome to read starting at age 3 or 4 up to adults. Anyone person with DS can learn to read using these helps. In the book she does bring up how there are varying degrees of severity with DS and says that some people who have DS will never be able to grasp phonics. This is by all means, not the general rule but there is a possibility that some children will not be able to grasp the concept. She gave one example of a girl named Mary could not read her name. All she saw were the letters and could not blend them. She would always say them separately M -A - R - Y. But, once she was taught the word by sight, she could finally read it. From children to adults, new worlds were opened up to them when they were finally able to learn to read and express themselves through the world of print. Whether by sight or phonics, or a combination of both, reading is possible and can be mastered!
Anyway, we had tried some phonics with my daughter and could tell she just was not getting it. So we started teaching her to read by sight. In the book they have some really fun games to teach reading this way. They start with a game called "lotto" and it is really simple (the outline and complete instructions are in the book). You have a paper that has six circles and you make cards to go in them. The first "lotto" game we played was "Family Lotto." We printed up pictures of each member of our family and made just as many corresponding cards with our names written on them. We then had her match the name to each picture. Once she finished it, she would throw up her hands and yell "lotto!" She loved the game and it was not long before she could read them all. We moved from family to some of her favorite foods. She soon learned to read hamburger, chicken, taco, spaghettio's and pizza. Now when we went out to eat I could ask her what she wanted to eat and write down the words for her to choose from. For the first time she was able to communicate exactly what she wanted. This was such an amazing milestone for us!
We continued to learn sight words by just letting her read and teaching her words she did not know. I found the Sight Word Readers by Scholastic which were really great for this. It was so exciting to see her read her first book all by herself, even if it had just a few words!
We also continued to study her letters but did not focus on the phonetic sounds since she was struggling with that. In the meantime her reading skills really took off and she was reading all sorts of easy readers with us just helping her with words she did not know. Her speech also began to improve rapidly. Seeing the words in print seemed to help her vocalize it better and reading sentences helped her learn to talk in them. Even now, her speech is most intelligible when she is reading.
Then one day something amazing happened. As she was reading by sight, Gess started trying to attempt words she did not know. Her attempts were not just random though. If a word had the letter F in it her attempt would have the "f" sound. She started doing that with letters that had really distinct sounds. That's when I realized she was now finally ready for phonics! We then started teaching her letter sounds, but not really having her blend them together to make words yet. We waited until this last year to start blending and she is just great at it (I will share more about that soon). So now she can read not only by sight, but also phonetically! And boy can she read well! She has always loved books and there is nothing more rewarding then seeing your child sit down and read a book all by herself.