Teaching Children With Down Syndrome to Read
Teaching Children with Down Syndrome to Read
Long before kids are ready to learn to read, you can help develop their interest in books by reading to them and looking pictures in books. When your child is capable of matching pictures, such as two apples in the game Memory, it is time to start learning sight words. (They do not have to know how to play the game Memory.) Show them a card with a picture of an apple. Ask them to find another apple, while offering them photo cards with an apple and a horse, for example.
When a child can pick the card that is the same, or find the other apple when asked, the child is ready to learn sight words. Preschool is a good age to implement sight words for a child with Down syndrome. Begin with words that have specific meaning to the child, such as their name. They do not have to be sight words from the Dolch or Fry sight word list. It is best to begin with things they know and love such as the names of family members and pets.
You will use flash cards and a word bank to learn sight words. If you have time you may supplement learning by adding place cards, labels, lotto games and homemade books. But, do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed by too many options. Focus on the flash cards from the word bank and track your progress on a spreadsheet.
How to Make Sight Words Flash Cards and a Word Bank
Later there will be plenty of purchasing options, but for now it is best to stick with homemade materials. The first sight words should be names of family and friends, so they will need to be very personalized.
- Blank index cards
- Glue or Tape
- Recipe Box - or other box for holding the cards (word bank)
- Secure photos to index cards using glue or tape. Leave a small amount of white space below each photo for writing the name, or word.
- Label the flash card with the name or word representing the photo. It is a good idea to print these words so the writing is not confusing for the child, but if you are comfortable with your printing skills, you may also label the flash cards with a black marker.
- Cut a second index card the same width as the flash card and the height of the word labeling the flash card. Write the word again on this smaller card. It will be used to match to the word on the flash card later.
Using the Sight Word Flash Cards
The First Card
This is how each new flash card is introduced. Begin with only one card that has a photo of the child and their name.
1. Show it to the child and ask them who it is. If they don’t answer, simply tell them, “That’s you! It’s Bonnie!” Point out the printed word below the picture. Look at it and say, “This says, “Bonnie.”
2. Then show the child the matching flash card strip with the word “Bonnie” written on it. Tell them, “This says Bonnie too! Can you match it?”
3. Model placing the small word “Bonnie” over the word “Bonnie” printed on the bottom of the photo.
4. Ask the child to repeat step 3 if you have modeled it for them and praise them for learning to match the word to the flash card. “You did it!”
5. Offering a choice: In this step, place 2 small word strips on the table beside the flash card for the child to choose from. One should be the correct word “Bonnie” and the other should be blank. Ask the child to find “Bonnie” and “Put it on Bonnie,” or “match it.”
6. Hold up the card and say, “This card says _______.” Allow the child to finish the sentence and see if they can tell you that the card says their name.
Once your child has mastered all the steps with the first card, you can move on to the second card.
The Second Card
Mommy or Daddy are great second words to choose. You can limit it to “mom” or “dad” if you prefer.
1. Show it to the child and ask them who it is. If they don’t answer, simply tell them, “That’s Daddy!” Point out the printed word below the picture. Look at it and say, “This says, “Daddy.”
2. Then show the child the matching flash card strip with the word “Daddy” written on it. Tell them, “This says Daddy too! Can you match it?”
3. Model placing the small word strip flash card that says”Daddy” over the word “Daddy” printed at the bottom of the flash card.
4. Ask the child to repeat step 3 if you have modeled it for them. Praise them for learning to match the word to the flash card. “You did it!”
5. Offering a choice: Place 2 small word strips on the table beside the flash card for the child to choose from. The first word strip should say, “Bonnie,” the second word strip should say, “Daddy.” Ask the child to find “Daddy” and “Put it on Daddy,” or “match it.” If this step is unsuccessful go back to steps one through 4 and repeat until the child knows the word. Reading is about visual repetition. Offering the child the right answer repeatedly and eventually they will learn to identify the words. When the child successfully reads word 2, move on to the next step.
6. Hold up the card and say, “This card says _______.” Allow the child to finish the sentence and see if they can tell you that the card says “Daddy.”
Adding More Cards
Continue practicing the words and adding a new word or two during each session. The speed at which you add new words depends on your child. Do not add new words until your child is mastering the existing ones. It’s okay if they have an off day and miss a few, but the majority of the time, they should know the existing words before moving on and adding more words. The key is visualization and repetition. During this time your child will be building a Word Bank, the index box used to hold your child’s words. You may also track their progress on a Word Chart, or a spreadsheet of all the words your child knows and their correct responses during each session.
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