In her third article on education, Margi Leech provides tips for families to get their children truly included and get the most of out their time at primary school.

Children and young people learn best when they feel accepted, when they enjoy positive relationships with their fellow learners and teachers, and when they are able to be active, visible members of the learning community.

Enacting Te Tiriti o Waitangi principles, inclusive learning communities do the right thing by learners and communities (tika), with integrity (pono) and with care and sincerity (aroha).

Some schools are following an approach, the Universal Design for Learning. You can read more about it on the TKI website (www.inclusive.tki.org.nz). The guidelines enable teachers to understand and practise inclusive education. These key features are seen in every school and provide multiple means of:

  • Engagement – the ‘why’ of learning
  • Representation – the ‘what’ of learning
  • Action and expression – the ‘how’ of learning

We know from our experience that schools and teachers are on a continuum of practising these beliefs. This information will help you in your discussions with schools especially in writing IEP goals.

Learning is an interaction between the individual and the environment and people around them. Every person is therefore a valid learner. A teacher sets the stage for each child to learn, not trying to make the child learn in the setting that suits the teacher. The learning goals need to be really clear.

I think about how I can be flexible to enable children to access their learning. (Jon Munford, Kennedy Krieger University)

With Universal Design for Learning, there isn’t just one way to do it. As we think about design in terms of what a learning environment could look like- if we just embedded that slight shift in language – we are already embedding some flexibility.

Comfort is another factor in learning. Are the children in a physically comfortable environment? Are the chairs and table heights suitable? I can also ask, “Does this work or learning matter? Do students feel motivated by and connected in this work?”

Developing relationships and demonstrating those relationships within the classroom space is important. The teacher is key in helping students to get to know one another and support positive interactions within the classroom.

So, in your discussions with your schools talk about these points and clarify how the teacher will meet your child’s needs.

In my previous article I shared activities and skills you can develop with your child before school. Many of our children begin at five knowing more than their peers. This gradually changes through the months and years that follow.

Supported learning is really paramount to enable our children to be at the same table as their peers rather than being in a separate environment. There are other factors with our little people that means that for some of the time, they do learn best in a small group in a quiet place better. In both places, explicit teaching is important.

What can I do as a parent supporting the learning?

  1. Provide a good breakfast with lots of protein to sustain their hard work throughout the day.
  2. Ask the teacher for a goal for each week to do the same at home.
  3. Use a communication notebook. Realise that a teacher may not have time to write in it every day. The classroom is a busy place!

Maths

Maths is a language enabling us to talk about and record relationships and explore patterns.

  • Play with construction blocks, building and taking apart.
  • Play with inset puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, matching outlines and filling them up with blocks or fabric.
  • Have fun with dramatic/pretend play to build the understanding of ‘how many’ and learn social skills
  • Play with measuring spoons, jugs, containers, timers, rulers, different lengths of sticks
  • To be able to do the activity below, a child would need to understand ‘same’ and ‘different’. Play these activities in a variety of ways, continuing the pattern forwards and backwards, up and down.

We compare different sizes of objects, lengths of lines, Cuisenaire rods and Numicon shapes.

Give your child experiences of matching things that are the same; match the sameness, sort out to group objects with similarities. Sock sorting is fun! Putting dishes away after they have been washed, setting the table is teaching patterns and logic.

Enjoy counting songs and books to show groups of objects. We name those groups by using words such as ‘one, two, three’. Counting is actually very complex. It’s a compilation of many thinking and memory processes.

We know that for many children with Down syndrome, they have their own version of dyscalculia which is a difficulty with maths. One characteristic is not all the numbers we know exist for them. ‘Four’ and ‘seven’ are the most common that children struggle to learn and include with the other numbers. If your teacher is insisting that your child must count accurately before they can move them on, she is unwittingly providing a block in the road for learning.

My daughter really only learned to count reliably at secondary school. There’s a lot more to maths than counting which is a life skill, not the foundation.

Teach your child these skills too:

  • Recognising a problem
  • How to solve it
  • When and how to ask for help
  • Predicting outcomes
  • Checking
  • Working step by step in a pattern

Numicon has shown to be effective for all learners. It was written when teachers discovered their bright children failing the same time the Numeracy Project was introduced in their school in the south of England. They, along with a maths expert wrote 12 weeks of activities that became Firm Foundations. In that school was a student with Down syndrome. Her maths understanding and achievement really took off. Her enthusiastic mother began the trend that is now worldwide- of taking Numicon and its success to other families.

I was sceptical at first but saw first-hand with both of my girls how wonderful this programme is. Firm Foundations along with three following books has been rewritten to support children with special and high learning needs as Breaking Barriers. It’s highly successful with research and huge evidence behind it.

Schools using Numicon in New Zealand as their mainstream maths programme are reporting a substantial increase in success across all their year levels 1 – 8 when they introduce it.

I’m particularly thrilled about this. New Zealand used to be in the top four countries of the world when I began teaching in the 1970s. Now we are at 21 and slipping. The impact on our country is already being felt in trade, industry, further education.

Here’s the sequence for beginning maths with Numicon:

  1. Making sequences of patterns.
  2. Matching Numicon shapes and pictures of Numicon. Learning the colour names.
  3. Learning about ‘bigger’, ‘smaller’ and ‘biggest’ and ‘smallest’.
  4. Putting the shapes in order.
  5. Naming the shapes by number.
  6. Making the Numicon patterns with counters and objects.
  7. Matching the patterns to the shapes and numerals
  8. Joining and separating the patterns to learn addition and subtraction
  9. Balanced to show ‘equals’
  10. Repeated addition and subtraction leading to multiplication and division.
  11. Fractions.

Numicon sets can be borrowed from Linda de Kaat at NZDSA as well as other DSA’s. You can purchase in New Zealand from Edushop and use the PARENT code to receive a discount.

The online instant HTML editor tools make a great resource that will help you a lot in your work.

There are other resources that work well for children too such as Cuisenaire rods and Stern blocks.

Reading and Writing

People with Down Syndrome are often good readers, but do not always understand what they are reading.

Research shows us that it’s best to learn the ‘picture’ of the word and at the same time learning the sounds of letters that make words. These are the ‘whole word approach’ and ‘phonics approach’.

The first step is being aware of the sound and how it’s made then linking it to a letter.

If you are working with a speech language therapist, she will take you on the journey of learning the sounds and letters in a sequence. If you don’t have a speech language therapist buy a programme such as Reading Eggs, Jolly Phonics, Fitzroy Readers, Reading A-Z Decodable Readers and Handwriting Without Tears.

These resources are multisensory and lots of fun. You will be introduced to handwriting, spelling and the enjoyment of reading as well.

There are free resources you can download as well – Letters and Sounds, Fun Phonics, Oxford Owl for Home UK, Freereading.net, Speld SA Phonic Books with excellent videos.

To bring enjoyment to reading, the whole language approach is very effective. There are many choices in New Zealand – the PM readers, Ready to Read, School Journals, Sunshine books, Oxford Owl (online) which begin with books with no words, just pictures to talk about.

The New Zealand Government has produced two series – Sound Sense and Sounds and Words. You download a booklet about the approach at www.literacyonline.tki.org.nz

Enjoy these early years at school and expect to see great progress in the first year with explicit teaching that will continue through all their years.

The online instant HTML editor tools make a great resource that will help you a lot in your work.