Learning to read isn’t always easy, even under the best of circumstances. But what if you have a child with a significant learning disability like Down syndrome? What’s the best way to teach reading in that situation?
Jennifer and Heidi are real moms with real kids who happen to have Down syndrome. But Down syndrome didn’t stop these amazing moms from believing they could homeschool their boys.
And it didn’t stop them from believing they could teach their sons to read. But both moms knew they would need the support of just the right reading program to help them teach their special kids. Read Jennifer’s story and Heidi’s story below to discover how they are teaching their sons to read.
Joseph has Down syndrome. Being the fifth child in our clan, it only seemed natural to us to homeschool him just like his older brothers and sisters. However, the rest of the world doesn’t always agree.
There’s a common belief that children with special circumstances need special education teachers. But we chose to homeschool Joseph because it’s what we know how to do. We’re comfortable with homeschooling, and after living with Joseph for five years, it didn’t seem like it would be much different homeschooling him with Down syndrome than it was homeschooling his siblings.
But after teaching four children to read using various methods, I wasn’t convinced that any of those open-ended methods would work for Joseph. And with our history of dyslexia (two out of four children), I wanted to find a reading program that was well laid out, specific in its instruction, multisensory-based, and dyslexia approved, and that still allowed for flexibility.
When I first looked through the All About Reading Level 1 parent guide, I immediately noticed the number of lessons—49. Only 49! So many reading programs plan for 180 days, or 36 weeks of lessons. To get through that many seemed nearly impossible. Forty-nine sounded so very doable.
Once we began Lesson 1 and I realized I had to break the lesson up into multiple mini-lessons, I knew I had made the right choice with AAR.
Each lesson is divided into multiple segments including “Before You Begin,” “Review,” “New Teaching,” and “Read-Aloud Time.” “Before You Begin” is perfect for the novice parent/teacher; it prepares you, in fewer than three minutes, to teach the lesson. The short prep time means more time actually reading with Joseph.
The “New Teaching” section is also comprised of smaller sections. I love that we can sit down for 7-12 minutes and complete one section, such as “Change the Word.” It’s a very short lesson, but anything over 15 minutes and Joseph’s eyes are too tired to continue.
The “Read Aloud” reminder is helpful. We all know how important reading aloud is, but with a pile of kids in multiple grades to homeschool, sometimes this cuddly, happy activity gets pushed aside for other, more important subjects. Before we begin the lesson, Joseph picks a book off the shelf and sets it next to him as a reminder to us both that a story will be read once the lesson is complete—a little motivation for him.
Homeschooling Joseph takes a lot of my brain power, and having the AAR script ready is such a blessing to my well-being. It’s one less activity I have to plan, and on hectic days it’s so nice to grab the bag, open the book, and begin. I wasn’t sure if I’d like that, but it helps me stay on track and not say too much.
Experiencing a beginning reader read his first sentence out of a book is a joyful moment worthy of celebration. Hearing Joseph read his first sentence from the Run, Bug, Run! reader brought tears to my eyes, and I’m so happy All About Reading helped that happen.
We were excited to hear from Jennifer recently with an update on Joseph’s progress! Here’s Jennifer…
It’s hard to believe that Joseph is now a teenager! He had his 13th birthday last week and All About Reading is still a part of our homeschool. It took a couple of years to get through Level 1, but it was a success, and he became a reader.
Joseph loves the Beginning to Read books by Margaret Hillert and picked up on the sight words very quickly. We spent a full school year reading through every single one of those books (there are many) before returning to All About Reading Level 2.
Level 2 is slow going, but I’ve always been a believer in progress over perfection when it comes to Joe. To some, remaining on the same level for 3 years in a row might be discouraging, but remember for a person with Down syndrome there can be many challenges to overcome. In addition to AAR lessons Joseph is also learning to write.
Learning is tiring for Joe and so I like to keep his reading lesson times short. Each year I add about 2 minutes of instruction time; this year he’s up to 15-18 minutes of AAR time. He loves the AAR readers and keeps those at his bedside—well, technically strewn about his bedroom floor—but they are treasures to him and when I say it’s time to read, he always grabs his Level 1 readers, sits down and begins to read. I enjoy seeing his confidence build as he adds another completed reader to his pile. And now that the new readers are in full color and the pages are glossy, it’s even better for him!
Our third-born son *Matthew has Down syndrome. We knew that Matthew’s Down syndrome would make learning to read much more difficult for him than it had been for his older brothers, and we were nervous about purchasing a “formal curriculum” for him. But a friend encouraged us to look into All About Reading, and after reading about how Jennifer taught Joseph to read, we decided to jump right in! It’s pretty exciting to now be able to share our story right alongside Jennifer’s and Joseph’s!
As expected, teaching Matthew to read is proving to be a S-L-O-W process. I have to constantly remind myself not to compare him to other children. We work on things very, very slowly. It took more than 2 1/2 years for us to work through pre-reading. That may sound extreme to some people, but when we look at how long it took Matthew to learn to walk (or do just about everything), slow is just fine! What seems extreme for some kids is right on track for Matthew! We’re in Level 1 now and after nearly 1 1/2 years, we’re up to Lesson 25. Slow and steady wins the race, right?!
Here are a few things that make All About Reading the perfect curriculum for Matthew!
If you’re teaching a child with significant learning differences, maybe it’s time for you to take the leap! You can’t go wrong with All About Reading!
Do you have a child with Down syndrome or another significant learning disability? Jennifer and Heidi would love to hear from you in the comments below.
Did you find Jennifer’s and Heidi’s stories helpful? Read more stories from Real Moms and Real Kids.
*Some names have been changed to preserve the privacy of the families featured in these stories.