My wonderful friend Adeye is doing a series on her blog answering people's questions about raising children with Ds. One of the questions pertained to homeschooling and since her girls with Ds, Hailee and Harper, are younger, she asked me to field that particular question. She has posted my reply on her blog but I wanted to put it here as well in case there were any follow-up questions you might want to post in my comment section for me to answer.
I don't pretend to have all the answers and some days I wonder if I know anything at all about schooling a special needs child, BUT, I do have quite a few years under my belt with which to glean from. So, here you go:
When Josi entered the school system at age 3, we were fortunate to have a developmental preschool placement at a church that was made up of the special needs school kids and typically developing children as well. This was a wonderful situation for Josi since she’s very social and loves being around people. She received all of her therapies in this setting for 2yrs. and made great progress socially and developmentally.
When it came time to transition to kindergarten at our neighborhood public school, we just assumed she’d flourish like she had the past 2 years. I was currently homeschooling our older son but we didn’t feel like God was leading us to homeschool Josi at this point.
Not much turned out the way we had hoped that year and by the time our year-end IEP meeting took place, we knew that God was giving CLEAR signs that Josi needed to be homeschooled. She had various behavior issues that year (like pushing and hitting) and overall didn’t seem to be learning and thriving like she had in preschool. I kidded with my husband that now that she’s at home at least I’ll know who and why she’s hitting and pushing (who: her 2 brothers, why: because they can be pests). hahaha I never was given satisfactory explanations for any of the academic or social situations the teachers wrote home about. Needless to say it was a frustrating kindergarten year, but even so I was very nervous to bring her home for school.
Josi has been homeschooled for the past 8yrs. and here’s where I wish I could give you a nice concise list of curriculum choices that are guaranteed to bring success in your child with Ds. The good news is there is a TON of stuff out there for our uniquely developing kids. The bad news is there’s a lot of trial and error until you find what works for your child—because just like on the ‘typically developing’ spectrum...the Ds spectrum of abilities is wide and varied.
In the beginning I kind of picked up where they left off in kindergarten with sight words, basic math skills (we used Barbies, counting bears, etc. to make it fun), simple handwriting tasks, etc. It was nice spending less than 2hrs. a day on school rather than sending her off at 9am and not seeing her until almost 4pm each day. She learned a whole lot by watching her brothers and playing and sitting with me while I read books aloud.
Josi’s strengths are in Reading, writing and spelling. Part of this is how God gifted her but I also attribute it to the fact that I’ve read with her since the day she was born like I’ve done with our other children. To this day I still read aloud to my 14 and 11 yr. old sons and Josi is right there listening as well. I can’t emphasize enough the benefit of reading A LOT—even if you think they’re not listening...they’re getting something I assure you!
Since she tends to like to use workbooks for these subjects we’ve used the following curriculums fairly consistently with success:
1. Spelling Workout
2. Spectrum Reading
3. Explode the Code
4. A Reason for Handwriting
We also get books from the Library that are high-interest to Josi. She still loves “Franklin” books. The difference now is that she’s reading them to me instead of the other way around.
Math is a whole different ball of wax. Somewhere on that extra 21st chromosome there’s got to be a math gene but so far we haven’t found it. OK, it’s not that bad, but it amazes me that a child who can remember EVERYBODY’s birthday in our entire extended family and most of my friends and their kids, still cannot remember math facts beyond the “doubles”, “zeros”, and “plus ones”. I’ve used most of the curriculums out there including Horizon, Saxon, Spectrum, Montessori Math, Primary Mathematics, and a few others I can’t recall. We experienced some success in each of these texts but when it came time to move on to harder concepts I’d start over with another company. We are currently using Spectrum Math which is a good fit for now.
I used to really stress out over not being able to move past the 2nd grade in Math texts but then I realized (through much prayer and seeking advice from others) that my goal for Josi is to make sure she can use math in such a way to be as independent as possible. So, I figured that if she knew how to use a calculator and had a grasp on money concepts then she was good to go. A few years back I started having her just count money (which is also a great way to learn to count by 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s). Of course when I pull out the money bucket she groans and says, “I hate money!”. To which I almost always reply by singing that song about money, money, money making the world go round the world go round. She sighs and starts counting. Next year I plan to set up a “store” and have her shop and pay for items around the house. Then we’ll eventually move on to some real life shopping experiences.
No school situation is completely perfect but we have found that the homeschooling setting is just right for Josi and perhaps eventually for Nadia (our adopted daughter with Ds-3yrs. old). We make sure she has plenty of opportunities for her social needs to be met through gymnastics, dance classes, Girl Scouts, homeschool co-ops, playdates, etc. Do I sometimes look longingly as the bus pulls away from our corner toward the local elementary school? Sure...especially during Math...but I know this is where God has called us to educate Josi for now, and so He provides me with the patience and creativity I need to be her teacher.