Saturday, April 19, 2008

Homeschooling Your Child With Down Syndrome

Momto4 recently left a comment on a February post from this blog:

I had my daughter in public school, she is 6 in kindergarten and has down syndrome. They haven't a CLUE what they are doing. I was very disappointed in their lack of teaching. I will be homeschooling her and it will be interesting as I have never done such a feat. Is there anywhere one could go to help start off in kindergarten for my little girl? Is the curriculum the same? So many many questions. I do know this, anything is better than what we have now.

Since there might be other parents with this same problem, I thought I’d post my response here, where they can find it easily.

Momto4, I admire you for taking matters into your hands once you became unhappy with your daughter’s schooling experience. Pro-active parents are the best asset a child with a disability can have.

Every child with Down syndrome has unique abilities and unique needs, and that’s why I did not use a specific curriculum with my son with Ds, who is now 15. Having homeschooled three older children, I could see that my son was not at or near grade level in scholastic subjects at age 6. I decided instead to test him (using a test I rented for a very reasonable cost from HSLDA). There weren’t any surprises in the test results because I’d been working with him since he was 3 or 4, but you might find such testing very useful for you and your daughter. It will give you an idea of where to concentrate your efforts.

Anyway, after testing him, I continued working with him as I had since he was small, using my own IEP to chart the path we’d need to follow at his speed. We read many, many books, he practiced his printing every day, and we played lots of board games that stressed the different skills he needed.

For example, he had real problems grasping numbers conceptually. He could recite numbers but did not understand what they meant. We played the game “Trouble” once or twice a day and that helped him understand what “six” meant, because that’s the best number to get in that game. BTW, I frequently found the best educational games (sold in teacher stores) discounted at TJMaxx and Marshalls. For my son, educational games where he learns by using his hands instead of just sitting and listening are a real blessing.

My son is speech-delayed, like many children (especially boys) with Ds. I sat in on his sessions with the speech therapist and imitated what she did with him at home on a regular basis. We could not afford thrice-weekly sessions, which had been recommended, but at least this way he was getting daily speech practice. One of the most effective methods of working on speech sounds with him was something the therapist taught me: he’d say a word or sound and I’d reward him with a puzzle piece. So he had to make 100 sounds to get all the pieces of a 100-piece puzzle, and then we’d work on the puzzle together. (We still do this at least once a week, because he really enjoys it.)

In addition to working on his letters, number concepts and speech, we did lots of artwork, including working with crayons, paint, stampers and clay. He loved this, and it was a nice break from the “school” work. We also got him out in nature by going on bike rides (we used a third wheel attachment on my husband’s bike because our son loved to run off and we didn’t want to teach him to ride a bike on his own, thus helping him get away from us more quickly!) Visits to parks, zoos and the aquarium also widened his horizons.

One more thing we did as part of his “school” was to teach him how to work around the house. He’d seen the older kids doing their chores and wanted to be like them, so this wasn’t hard. In fact, he’s been a very eager helper. He also likes to work with his dad in his workshop. (I can still picture him at around age five or so driving nails into a piece of wood with great intensity.)

You’ve asked for specific materials that will tell you what to do with your daughter. There have been several books that helped me learn how to work with my son, and I will list them in a subsequent post. In the meantime, I’ve asked another blogger who homeschools a daughter with Ds to answer your question. You’ll find her post here.

The bottom line, Momto4, is that you are really doing something wonderful for your daughter. Homeschooling her will mean she will get much more one-on-one instruction, or “face time” as I like to call it. Not only is that much better for her, but it will help you learn more about how she learns. She’ll also be able to avoid the negative effects of school socialization, such as picking up bad habits and being bullied because of her disability. And, of course, the bottom line is that you know her better than any teacher can know her, so she’s getting a teacher who knows her well and wants the very best for her. I think your daughter is very fortunate to have you for a mom.

Feel free to ask any questions you might have, and I’ll try to get that book list together soon!


Amy said...

I know so many people who have had similar issues as Momto4...and they bring their children home for their education.

Often they find peace - they don't have to struggle to get what their child needs to learn, services or meet for IEPs.

They often find joy again - celebrating when their child really gets something they have worked on for a long time.

They find freedom - freedom to explore the world that God created for us and see the joy in their child's eyes as they really live life instead of being confined in an artificial environment by the 4 walls of the classroom.

Great post Barbara!

Julie said...

My daughter has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. I have people coming to my blog all the time looking for curriculum for homeschooling a child with FAS. I have thought about addressing this, but each child with FAS has unique gifts and dis-abilities.

You have done a wonderful job telling people to work with their child's strengths and do the next thing.

My daughter had trouble understanding the concept of numbers too. She understood what three was if she was counting three objects, but understanding what three was as a concept with nothing to count... that was a way different story.

Sarah said...

I would love to have a list of books; I do hope you'll post this as soon as you are able.

My youngest (of three children) has Down syndrome. She is five, so we are at the point of searching for ideas on how to teach the three Rs with her. I homeschool her older brother and sister (finishing our third year), but it's going to be very different with her. She has significant speech issues and she is far...busier =) than her siblings ever were at this age.

I'm going to bookmark your blog and Amy's. My heart has been heavy about how to teach this precious child in the coming months (and years).

Thank you, thank you for posting to the Carnival.

Renae said...

Thank you for sharing your response. Someone commented on my blog wondering about educating special needs children. I'm going to send her this link.

Peace to you,
Life Nurturing Education

Jarrod J. Williamson, Ph.D. said...

My wife is a therapist for children with autism and its related disorders. She often works with children who have both autism and down's.

If there is a Center for Autism and Related Disorders (C.A.R.D.) in your area, you might want to speak with them. You can find a link to their homepage here. They are very good at what they do. (BTW, CARD is a privately owned company.)

Barbara Frank said...

Amy, your comment is true!

Julie, thanks for stopping by. Our former neighbor had FAS. Last I heard, she was a wonderfully accomplished high schooler.

Sarah, I'm almost done with the list. Hope to post it soon!

Renae, thanks for sharing the link. Hope it encourages someone.

JJW,PHD, thanks for stopping by and sharing that link.

Folks, by keeping JJW's link here, I am not recommending CARD because I know nothing about it. But you never know what will work for whom, so it's up to you to investigate it and see if it's something from which your child would benefit.

Thanks, all, for the comments!

Melissa said...

Sarah (and anyone else this might help),
We found an excellent program for helping with reading and language skills. It is called Love and Learning. Our daughter just turned two and her speech improved and she is actually able to read some words out of the books already. You can find more information at . I was Sceptical about this program and then talk to a developmental pediatrician at a DS Center in Cincinnati and she highly recommended it along with many books from Woodbine publishing company. All of these things have helped me tremendously!

mercey10 said...

Wow! This is so on time. I just pulled my son Isaac out of mainstream school. He was doing pretty good but was always sick. He has D's and very smart so I thought they could teach him even more. What is silly about this is I"ve been homeschooling my nine children for years. Graduated three and along came my precious Isaac and I didn't think I had it in me to give him what was best. Well I pulled him out today and I am going to trust the Lord Jesus Christ to show me how to teach him too. Thank you all for your encouragement. It's good to know there is help. Mrs. Woods

Barbara Frank said...

Mrs. Woods,

Congratulations on your decision to homeschool your son! It sounds like you are at peace with your decision. So glad you stopped by to share the news!

I don't blog here anymore; I now share info about homeschooling (among other things) at my new blog, Barbara Frank Online, which you'll find at:

At the main site, I have another post about Ds that might interest you, Book List for Homeschooling a Child with Down Syndrome:

Do keep in touch and let me know how it's going with your son!


HS Schulte said...

Love this post! Today, I decided to homeschool my youngest two boys with Ds. I've been wanting to do it for a long time, but doubted my abilities. This is so encouraging. Thank you for sharing.