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Christian Families Home Schooling a Child with Down Syndrome: Grade 1 Reading Suggestions & Resources
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Adapting a Reading and Phonics Program
The child with Down syndrome lacks the abilities to learn in one year what normally developing peers do. It may take three years or longer for some children. He must learn at his own special pace appointed by God. He also needs something more than just more time in order to learn. He will need strategies, mnemonics, and systematic teaching. Systematic means that skills are taught in an organized way and that skills are broken down as needed into smaller more manageable successful chunks. He will also need strategies and mnemonics that will help him remember the phonics rules for reading. Now let's look at some suggestions about adapting curriculum.
For your first year or longer at this grade level it is suggested to focus on learning the reading vocabulary words that are most meaningful to your child. You might be able to use the curriculum you used to teach grade one to your other children to get a list of words. If it is too confusing, look at Pat Oelwein's book. She suggests teaching phonics using word families. Whether you use Pat's book or your own curriculum to obtain a list, chunk the words that are most meaningful to your child into phonics groups such as short vowels (CVC), short vowels with final blends (CVCC), Short vowels with initial blends, long vowels and so on. Remember to use the words in oral and written sentences so that your child is developing comprehension skills. Use pictures and objects relating to the words whenever possible.
When teaching your child to read words with phonics, do not isolate each sound in a word. Read the word as a whole unit. It is frustrating for a child with speech difficulties to isolate sounds (some call this blending) and then put them together again to make a word. Phonics is only one tool for reading and you want reading to be a positive experience. As you read the word as a whole unit, however, you can say it slowly (not isolating the sounds) to help him hear the sounds, but he does not need to say it slowly. He can say it as a whole unit, which is less frustrating and gives meaning to the word.
The first year all you really need is a list of words, 3 X 5 cards, and your computer to type out sentences and short stories for your child to read. If your child can write well enough, you can use some workbooks to reinforce what you are doing. If your child can write, it does make learning more multi-sensory. If he cannot use a pencil, though, you can have him trace words with his finger to add another sense to learning. And as you teach him to read don't forget to read to your child and ask questions on his level, perhaps one question per page.
A comment needs to be made about the blends and other words that your child cannot pronounce. You may need to accept your child's pronunciation of a word as long as he understands the word receptively. If he can match the word "ship" to a picture of a ship then he knows the word even if he cannot pronounce it yet. (This is a speech problem not a reading problem.) You be his voice and say the word in order to model how the word should sound, but do not tell him he is wrong.
As your child works on a set of words, write sentences or type them on your computer. You might find some simple clip art relating to the words that he is learning to read. Put these computer stories into a first book for your child.
Finding appropriate readers can also be a challenge. The problem with most phonetic readers that they use short vowel words exclusively, the sentences given are not how you would say them in everyday life. For example one book had the word "bin" for manger.
The second year or so you might take the words he already knows and work on opposites, synonyms, and compound words with this same group of words. A note about reading needs to be made here. Children with Down syndrome can learn to read, but their reading vocabulary can sometimes get ahead of their comprehension. They catch on to phonics and may be able to read words at a third grade level, but their comprehension skills may be only first grade. Instead of introducing new reading vocabulary, work on help your child use the words that he has already learned to read.