Wednesday, 26 September 2012

On early learning...

Anyone who knows me well knows that I research obsessively. I love learning new things and getting my facts and arguments right the first time. Ever since Phoenix was born my topic naturally, was Down syndrome. Being a teacher, it falls in line that I am very interested in early learning experiences for young children and now I have focussed my attention on children with DS. I was reading last year about a mom who had taught her 2.5 year old with DS to sight read. This is an incredibly impressive accomplishment in my eyes. Phoenix was about a year and a half at the time and I remember going into work and announcing that I wanted to teach Phoenix how to read by the age of 3.

Even as the words left my mouth I knew this was an impossible task. How on earth was I going to teach my daughter with DOWN SYNDROME to read by the age of 3 when most regular kids are not reading until kindergarten, grade 1, grade 2 and beyond. At the time I was still feeling competitive. Like I had something to prove. Like I had to prove that Phoenix was great because she could do all of these things so that maybe, maybe it meant I could have hope for her future. As time has moved on the feeling of competition is gone. I just want to teach Phoenix for the pure love of learning and knowing and remembering.

As I researched, I saw that many parents were using ipads to teach their children with DS. Our kids are visual learners and have a very strong capacity for remembering things they see. This makes learning through apps on phones or tablets ideal. Just before Phoe's second birthday Mike and I bought her an ipad. I know this seems like an extravagant gift for a 2 year old, but I personally consider it to be an assistive device. We used $400 worth of gift cards from rewards points on my visa and split the difference in cost. Then I started researching apps to use. There are many, many websites that list apps for special needs kids. I combed them and then picked apps that I thought would be a match for where she is now, and for where she is about to be - I am using the principle of scaffolding for any teachers out there.

It took her a little while to get the hang of the ipad and to be able to use the apps and then switch between the apps she wants independently.

We started out with apps to increase her receptive language - being able to identify and name objects. Grasshopper apps has a number of great (free!) apps that allow you to choose the number of items per page - we started with one so that it said the name of the object or animal and then she had to tap the screen to advance to the next object. Now we use two or three objects on the screen so that she has to tap the right one to move forward. This is a really good way to see their receptive vocabulary grow. Grasshopper apps also has an app called "I Like Books" which has 31 simple books that read aloud to the kids with real life pictures. Young kids love pictures of real things, and the language is simple enough for toddlers to understand.

Some of Phoenix's favourite apps are Meet the vowels, Meet the shapes and Meet the colours. The children have to pick the correct object out of three, with wrong guesses disappearing so the right answer is always picked in the end.

For the alphabet, I like Interactive Alphabet, Alphatots, and Meet the upper case letters flashcards

For early reading I like Little Reader. Little Reader is a free platform for a variety of lessons chunked by category. Each lesson is .99 cents, although there are a few free ones to get you started. We have had this one for 9 months or so and it is a real favourite of Phoenix's.

Many people use flashcards to teach their kids to read sight words. Phoe hates flashcards. She yells "NOOOOOOO" and waves her hand for emphasis every time I try to take them out - but she will tolerate flash card apps on the ipad. Again we really like "Meet the sight words". We have also ordered volume one and two of "Meet the sight words" dvd's through our public library. She is actually picking up some of the words on the videos.

Even with all of the amazing progress Phoenix has made, it still feels like an impossible task to teach her to read by 3. However, at this point I don't really care. I just want her to still be engaged in learning and to have fun doing it.


  1. Glad you started to blog. My little guy is one of the early readers. He is 4 now and reads 3-4 hundred sight words. We did not set out to teach him to read, but to help him with speech. Signing Time worked for us, and the added bonus was that we accidentally taught him to read along with the signs, which was good, as some of his word attempts we could never have understood without the sign. I look forward to following Phoenix's progress. Good Luck!

  2. Thanks Angie! My thinking this summer when we started with the alphabet was to help her speech as well. Phoenix is doing really well but I wanted to try to target specific sounds and help her produce a wider variety of sounds. I think it has really helped.